Don Det, Laos

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Don Det, Laos

No, We’re NOT Cream Filled

Loving Memory from February 2011

I won’t soon forget our first visit to the island of Don Det in Si Phan Don, located in the southern tip of Laos. Our bus from Pakse would drop us off at a small, simple bus station, leaving us to walk with our packs on 20 minutes in the scorching heat of the day to the water’s edge of the mighty Mekong River. We trudged along the bank along a dirt path to a small plank scarcely a foot wide providing a bridge from the dry dirt to the small floating pier where a worn wooden boat waited for tourists to arrive. Following a short wait, we were instructed to set our packs in the very front of the boat before piling in and resting on the wooden seats resting mere inches from the bottom of the boat.Don Det, Laos

Our driver pull started the oily beast of an engine secured to the rear of the boat, a large black cloud of pollution bellowing out behind us. We pulled out slowly as his counterpart pushed us from the bank with a long piece of bamboo, allowing the man enough clearance to drop his rusted, spinning prop to drop into the murky water and begin pushing us down the river. With an absolutely terrifying fear of drowning, each slight turn as we navigated through a small portion of the 4,000 islands making up the area seemed to pucker my butt to its tightest capability with the edges of the boat dangerously close to submerging due to our full capacity of occupants. My fingers gripped the splintered edges of the plank seat beneath me, my white knuckles displaying my discomfort.

Eventually we reached Don Det, an island large enough to sustain local life and enough guesthouses to provide a popular tourist destination. With a single internet café on the island capable of keeping us connected with our friends and family back home, we had found another special place to stay a bit off the grid. After enough shopping had been done, we could finally drop our big packs off at our new home for the next few nights, allowing me to remove my shirt and ring out the sweat dripping on the ground. A slight breeze began to provide a bit of relief while resting in the hammocks just outside our room, prompting me to release a sight of contentment and regain my usual smile. I could finally rid myself of the sopping wet shorts forcing my nether region to endure the sauna trapped inside them.

The unbelievable heat quickly drove us to seek out further refreshment, slowly walking alonLocal girl playing on tube on Don Det Island, Laosg the path circling the island to reach a section of the river well suited for casual swimming. Jesus Island, nicknamed for scarcely breaking the surface of the water and giving the appearance from land of walking on water, seemed to be the
perfect spot for us to paddle our inner tubes out and wade into the river whenever we pleased. Accompanied by a newly made friend of ours, we reached our designated spot of relaxation with ease, but we wouldn’t be alone for long.

The sound of splashes and children’s laughter quickly grabbed our attention, forcing us to turn our heads and take notice of a small group of local kids swimming in our direction. Their collection of recycled water bottles tied to together and hugged tight under their arms provided the perfect floatation devices to ensure their successful arrival. As they found their footing on the incline of the island’s gradual banks, they leaped up towards us with excitement, unable to fully communicate with us due to their lack of understanding English. They seized the opportunity to sit on our jet black inner tubes, burning their little brown butts on the hot rubber. My own cheeks tightened with empathetic agony as they screamed playfully and tossed water onto the hot surface. We had been ambushed by a group of adorable, naked little kids eager to play with the new white people in the village!Don Det, Laos

The three of us relished in the entertainment of watching our friendly companions taking turns trying on our sunglasses and beginning to rub our shoulders as if mimicking what they had seen from their mother’s, no doubt earning living performing the massages so common throughout Southeast Asia. With their small hands sliding over your slightly sweaty skin, a look of shock swept through the group, noticing the presence of bright white sunscreen oozing from our pores. Tiny fingers began poking our skin, leading to further expressions of astonishment. No doubt they began to wonder if we only had lighter skin because we had painted ourselves earlier in the day.

My imagination began to run rampant as I wondered what they might be thinking. “Are they melting?” Another finger pushed on my shoulder, releasing further ooze onto a curious finger. “Are they cream filled like a cookie?” That same finger pushed against its neighboring thumb, rubbing the substance with confusion. “Why would they put toothpaste on their bodies? That’s why they are so white! That magical whitening Crest works on skin, too!” I lowered my head, shaking it from the stupidity of my improbable daydream.

Within seconds the majority of our liquid protection was stripped from our arms and shoulders and rubbed in their palms with curious looks of absolute confusion. Were we melting in the sun? Although this was a very real possibility with temperatures capable of causing unconsciousness, it was far from the truth. We had come to the realization that the world still held plenty of mystery, and it didn’t take much to find it.

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