The more we travel and meet different people, the clearer it becomes that over planning can be more costly, and that although we sometimes feel we are just going with the flow, there are others that have mastered the art. We have typically been running about 2-3 days ahead of our next move from town to town. Scouring Rome2Rio for the most cost-efficient way to reach our destination, searching all the available lodging in the area we are going to, and then doing all the booking online. After reaching Don Det and speaking with a lot of the travelers and residents of the island, a strong argument was made for taking a different approach.
Arriving on Don Det via bus, then a “ferry” (which was essentially a small boat crammed full of people like so many songthaews we have been on) was a cheap way to reach the islands. Not many alternatives there, but our advance booking of lodging is where I think we could have just winged it. Several people we spoke to hopped off the ferry and just started walking down the street looking for lodging to get set up in. If you like the way the place looks, go in and ask if there is a room available. To be honest that stresses me out, like to the max. What if there isn’t any available lodging? What if you have to sleep on the ground!?!? Of course, that is not the case, and later on in our trip we saw everyone who took this route on the island drinking beers at Ning Ning’s, a lively corner bar 2 minutes’ walk off the ferry. They had lodging, and they were paying a significantly cheaper cost per night.
We chose the online route, Booking.Com, and enjoyed a room with AC and WIFI on an island that could be walked around in its entirety in under an hour. Additionally, we had a free pick up from the ferry to our location. Our host came to meet us on motorbike however, so really it was free bag transport, which considering how humid and hot the 10-minute walk to the locations was, we were very grateful. For those amenities we paid roughly $20 more per night than some of the lodging we saw on our walk to our location. Trying to balance cost vs comfort is hard and sometimes, at the end of a long day of travel, the thought of now negotiating lodging is exhausting.
Which is better? Depends on budget and flexibility of the individual on travel days is truly what it seems. For us, the comfort of AC, the necessity of WIFI for Mandy’s school, and generally wanting our own private space has put our lodging at roughly $15-$25 per night. Still cheap; but saving even $10 per night in lodging every day would be $300 saved, which at hostels is another month of lodging. Time and money are often at odds as we choose between which holds more value.
Don Det itself was an interesting slice of expats and travelers. The small island is surrounded by the Mekong river and little islands pepper the area around creating a beautiful backdrop. Although we never could rise for a sunrise (insert too much fun at night) we were able to try and capture what was promised to be a beautiful sunset. Unfortunately the smog cover from local fires prevented that. Sounds familiar right Washington? Climate change is a crock though right? Sure. Explore your world and find out.
A taste for nightlife is needed to truly experience the beauty of Don Det. Our most adventurous night could have lasted until the sun came up if we let it. In the end, we passed on shots at the beach with our French bartender friend/hosts at 1am, beers a plenty were enough. The music we experienced that night taught us a couple of musical gems that are still with us now throughout southeast Asia. The song that ran through our heads for days was only recaptured with the help of our Canadian friend, Kaartik, days later. It involves love, fit into the conservative Laos culture. Digging for bamboo roots with a love interest. Totally funny, totally catchy. Listen to the link below and your welcome, or I’m sorry.
While drinking plenty of beers and enjoying the sights and sounds of Don Det we realized how people get stuck here. In truth, this was a true slice of the Wild East. There are no police, no authority. Everyone is responsible for themselves and no one is telling them what to do. Looking for a place to truly do whatever you want to do? Don Det may be it, but forewarned there isn’t a lot of room, it’s a small island after all. Your company will be locals, ex pats looking for nothing, and travelers looking for something. Sounds a place we could get stuck.