Don Det is a little gem on the Laos backpacking trail. After the collapse of Vang Vieng as the Laotian party capital, tourists were forced to explore other parts of this beautiful country, and what they found was Si Phan Don or the archipelago known as the 4000 islands (although this is more of an estimate than an actual number). Don Det and Don Kon being the two most famous (or at least most frequented of the Islands) are the ideal place to kick off the hiking boots and relax for a few days by the beautiful Mekong. Just bare in mind when it comes time to leave your options are not limited, but not plentiful either. There are numerous tours offering onward transport to Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, but if you’re staying in the country you’ll most likely be headed to Paske, Vientiane, Thakek or Vang Vieng. From what we saw, all touts on the island charge the same but by all means have a shop around.
The prices we were quoted were Vientiane 180,000 (€18), Vang Vieng 250,000 (€25) and Thakek 210,000 (€21). As Vang Vieng was our next planned stop, we set about seeing if we could get there for less than 250,000 (€25).
From Don Det To Vientiane:
We booked a combo ticket from Don Det to Vientiane which included the boat, a minivan from Nakasong to Paske and sleeper bus onto Vientiane for 180,000 LAK (€18.50) per person. Not bad when you consider the Paske minivan costs 50000 LAK (€5.30) and the sleeper bus to Vientiane is 150,000 LAK (€15.50) so someone isn’t doing the maths but we’d already saved 20000 LAK (€2.30).
Boats from Don Det pier to Nakasong leave from the Souksan Bar, just veer to the left when you reach the port and head under the arch you’ll see the boats and touts.
From the pier in Nakasong, head towards the local bus terminal where a minivan will take you to the centre of Paske, usually dropping you at the company’s local office. Here they should store your bags for free while you kill the 5 long hours in Paske. Oh yeah… you’ll have 5 fun hours in Paske, that should be enough time to walk around the city.
Maybe visit Wat Luang or one of its many markets, cross the bridge and walk along the Mekong, eat delicious cheap food at the local eatery that sits on a corner facing the hospital, all the dishes are 18,000 LAK (€1.80)
At around 7pm or 7.30pm, a local bus or tuk tuk will collect you from the tour company office to bring you to either a petrol stop or bus terminal where you will wait for your Vientiane bound sleeper bus.
You should arrive into Vientiane’s south bus terminal at 7am, this is where the combo ticket becomes obsolete, you’re on your own from here… Just kidding.
From Vientiane To Vang Vieng:
When you arrive into Vientiane you will be greeted by throngs of share taxis and tour operators offering jaunts to the city center for about 15,000 LAK (€1.50). While this is not an unreasonable amount of coinage there is (always) a cheaper way. Politely ignore taxi men and tour guides and instead exit the bus terminal, swing a right, walk 2 minutes and at the cross roads take a left.
On the right hand side of the street, in front of the markets and next to the roundabout, a local green bus will stop, just in case it doesn’t stop be sure to flag it down and tell the driver “Talat Sao” central bus terminal. The journey should only cost you 7000 LAK (€0.70)
At Talat Sao bus terminal, don’t be surprised to find touts offering “VIP” minivans direct to Vang Vieng, priced everywhere from 70,000-100,000 LAK (€7-€10) per person. As you walk away the price will drop and you could easily haggle one down to about 50,000 – 60,000 LAK (€5-€6)
Or you could do what we did and take the #8 bus to the northern bus terminal for 5000 LAK (€0.50), where you will find both minivans and local busses to Vang Vieng, local busses being the cheapest but also slowest.
At the northern terminal, buses and vans to Vang Vieng leave outside from port no.9. Despite the fact that there was a timetable at the gate stating buses leave every hour on the half hour for 40,000 LAK (€4), all drivers told us there was no public bus.
When we pointed to the sign, they dropped the cost of the minivan from 50,000 to 40,000 (€5-€4).
We could have taken the combo ticket all the way from Don Det to Vang Vieng for 250,000 LAK (€25) Sure and we suppose overall it seems like a lot of hassle to only save yourself 20,000 kip (€2), however this is the part of travel we love, when you leave behind the comfort and ease of the transfers and join the locals. And sure, every kip helps.
As always if you have any comments, advice musings mumblings maybe a poem even, do feel free to get in touch, until then…
Happy travels TUG x