Don Det, Si Phan Don, Laos

Heading south on the Mekong River in a typical Laos fishing boat, we head toward the Cambodian border.  It's 36 degrees Celcius (97 degrees Farenheit), bright and exteremely humid.  We cruise past picturesque riverside villages on our way to Don Det, an island in the middle of the Mekong River.  We pull on shore, unload our gear and head to the nearest cafe.  Our traveling companions, Niels and Ron from Denmark, wait by the gear as we go in search of accommodation.  As we set out on our quest, a cool breeze kicks up and we notice a storm cloud on the horizon.  After walking for a few kilometers, the storm clouds break open and rain starts to drench the parched soil, marking the beginning of the monsoon season.  We don our rainjackets and sprint back to the cafe to report the accommodation situation back to our Danish friends.  The report goes something like this, "Every single bungalow is exactly the same: bamboo and thatch huts on stilts with verandahs overlooking the Mekong River, no electricity but they come with mosquito nets, shared bathrooms with squat toilets located on the edge of rice paddies.  All this for the low, low price of 10,000 kip ($1 USD) a day."  As the rain continues to pour down, we all decide to stay right where we are at Mr. Sidae's cafe and bungalows.  We drop off our backpacks in our bungalows and head back to the cafe for some Beer Lao whereupon the Great Danes whip out a barrage of instruments.  Niels plays the guitar as Ron passes out several bongo drums and other percussion instruments.  We all, including the Sidae family, settle in for a long night of music and merry making with much consumption of Beer Lao and lao lao (locally brewed moonshine). 
Heading toward Don Det on the Mekong River, we pass rural Lao villages and fishing boats.
Karen sheltering herself from the intense sun on our journey down the Mekong River to Don Det.  In the background is our friend Niels and Mr. Sidae at the helm of the boat.
Our First rainy day on Don Det spent jamming with new friends and the Sidae family in their cafe.
One thing that sets the bungalow operations on Don Det apart from each other are their unique and often funny names.  How can you resist a name like Magical Moments with Mr. Man Bungalows?
The next morning, we awake to the sounds of laughing children bathing in the Mekong River and discover that Don Det is one of the most idyllic places we have ever visited.  Our bungalow has a view of the dirt path that rings the island.  The only traffic on the island consists of pedestrians, bicycles and the occasional water buffalo; it's great to be away from the everpresent motorcycle traffic of Southeast Asia.  We soon find our daily routine mirroring that of the locals, which means waking at sunrise, bathing around noon, napping in the hammock during the hot afternoon, bathing again and then dinner with our gracious hosts, the Sidae family.  After dinner, we sometimes teach Mr. Cum, the partiarch, how to play backgammon (which he bacame quite adept at very quickly) over bottles of Beer Lao and lao lao (you wonder why we call it blurry travel).  Over the course of ten days, the hospitable Sidae's adopted us into their family and made our stay on Don Det feel more like a home than a guesthouse.  We cannot thank them enough for giving us an insight into Lao culture and allowing us to become part of their family. 
Karen Ppeping out the window of our bamboo and thatch bungalow at Mr. Sidae's. Brian reading our Laos guidebook on the verandah of our bungalow.  This is how we spent a good portion of our day in Don Det.
Young boys casting their fishing nets in the Mekong River looking for dinner. 
The view from our verandah of the path that rings Don Det.  Staring down this path waiting to see who or what would come along was a favorite activity for us.  In Don Det, staring is considered an activity.
Local traffic jam.  He'll move when he's damn good and ready. 
Fishing nets hanging to dry in the heat of the midday Sun.  Fish and rice are the local staple foods and everyone on Don Det fishes contributing to the family diet.
Sunset on Don Det.  Paradise.
Sunrise on Don Det.  Paradise.
A local house on the island of Don Det. Mr. Sidae's shy yet inquisitive daughter, Noy.  She would wake us up every morning by sitting on our balcony and singing.  We can't think of a cuter and more charming alarm clock.
A neighbor of the Sidae family who particularly liked beating Karen at checkers.  Neighbors on Don Det are very close and are like family to each other.
This small neighbor of the Sidae family was crying until we showed him photographs of the family on our digital camera.  He loved to see his photo and instantly became the happiest boy in the world.
Brian and Mr. Cum playing a game of backgammon while the family and neighbors look on.  These two little girls went everywhere together.  Every morning we would see them catch at least four fish in the Mekong River.  As we said, every person supplies food for the family on Don Det, even small children.
Drinking lao lao with friends of the Sidae family.
Mr. Sidae, his son and a neighbor.
Brian and Mama on what we thought was our last night in Don Det.  We returned many times due to the Sidae's wonderful hospitality and we would have many more "Last night" parties in Don Det.
Karen and Papa on what we thought was our last night in Don Det.  Notice the white strings on Karen's right hand; they are baa sii.  Baa sii are tied around the person's wrist in order to keep the their 32 guardian spirits attached to the body.  It is a ceremony performed when someone is beginning a journey and it is believed to bring them safety and good luck in the endeavor.
Some more curious children.  The one on the left was quite a trouble maker but, damn, could she fish.
Another neighbor stopping by adding to the crowd asking to have their picture taken.
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