That time I almost had to sleep on a deserted river island in Laos

I had a late start to my day but was determined to break up the days of riverside hammocking in front of my bungalow in Don Det Island with a visit to the Don Khone Somphamit Waterfalls. I took my bicycle across the French-made bridge linking Don Det island with Don Khone and paid the entrance fee to get into the park. At first glance it didn’t look like there was much to do there if you weren’t ziplining, but I managed to spend several hours taking pictures and having lunch. I met a guy for whom I took a picture in an area past the “warning” sign with a great view of the waterfall.

After exhausting the park to the max, I had the choice to go swimming on the grounds but instead chose a nearby beach on my map. After the bicycle ride there and a walk through some sandy terrain, I saw that the beach was more of a boat dock than a swimming area. The sand leading to the water was slanted downhill. It wasn’t exactly what I had imagined. At that moment, I saw the guy I took the picture for at the waterfall and we started talking. He asked me if I wanted to share one of the boats to go see the dolphins. Seeing the nearly extinct Irrawaddy river dolphins was on my itinerary but I was concerned about getting back to the pier before sunset to get back to Don Det with enough light. The boat driver reassured us we would be back before sunset. We were off and the views from the boat ride were fantastic.

The boat driver pointed out the dolphins in the water before dropping us off on an island beach which had some a few tourists on it. He said he was going to see his friend and would be back in an hour. This wasn’t exactly the kind of tour I was expecting but to be fair, the island did have great views of the dolphins. We went to swim in the river to get closer to them but the current was so strong that it was truly impossible. Instead we went to the other side of the island to swim, which was calmer but without any dolphins. We went back and sat by our things, waiting patiently for our driver to return. The tourists were now gone.As I saw the orange sun hovering just above the distant mountain, I realized that an hour and a half had already passed and a wave of worry spread over me. There was a good possibility the driver would not come back for us. My new friend was waiting patiently in the sand but I decided to take matters into my own hands, literally. I went in to my knees and started waving my arms around wildly hoping a distant boat would come. After a few minutes, I was starting to feel silly but then in the horizon I saw a boat and I continued. It was clear now that the boat was heading towards the shore.

When the boat arrived, I saw the driver was a very tan, older woman in a red baseball hat with a lot of bags in her boat, probably filled with food. I did my best to explain to her we needed to get back to Don Khone and my new friend helped. She agreed, which was a huge relief. We got our stuff and jumped in the boat, which was very shaky with the 3 of us probably improperly positioned. My new friend sat in back of me and the woman motioned for him to sit in the very back of the boat. “I think she wants me to drive the boat!,” he said in a distressed voice. I looked back, thinking he was confused but indeed the lady wanted my new friend, a guy from Singapore to drive the boat. Maybe in her experience, all Asian men are able to drive boats or maybe she just assumed everybody in their right mind knew how to drive a boat.

Once she realized we were useless, we were off and heading back to Don Khone, where our bicycles were waiting for us. The current on the way back was so choppy, I was sure the boat would get swept up on the sides of the islands we passed along the way. Luckily, we made it back.

We ran to the bicycles and sped back to Don Det with the last tiny bit of light guiding us back. We had dinner and beer to celebrate not spending the night on that tiny little island without food, water, and electricity. I guess it could have been a better travel story to describe the night sleeping on the island. Who knows what could have happened? Personally, I’m okay with missing that experience, however narrowly.

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