Sometimes you just find one of those places, where your mind and body reach a zero-state. There’s no past or future, only the present moment.
Don Det, an island on the southern tip of the Laotian Mekong, is one such place. A place which has become well worn by the traveler trail, but turned out to be incredibly peaceful and secluded in the scorching pre-monsoon off-season. A couple of dirt paths circling and crossing the island, a few small shops catering to twisted-out munch heads, three euro bungalows on the river and open-air restaurants with thatched roofs and swarms of geckos taking care of all the nasty river bugs. A stereotypical, but nonetheless sublime, traveler ghetto.
I wake up in my bungalow whenever the heat of the sun reaches my roof. I wobble to my terrace and continue to doze on and off for a couple of hours in a hammock, sometimes reading a book or listening to music, sometimes just staring at the wooden ladle hanging from the roof or the slowly flowing river and pondering life. Once hunger strikes me, I walk a dozen steps past roosters and chickens for a delicious breakfast at the closest restaurant. I sit, eat, lay down, drink, think and doze off again. Repeat, and repeat for lunch and repeat for dinner and add a few beers and whiskey and some relaxing smokes and snacks and watch the sun drown into the Mekong. Repeat for another day and another one. Maybe go ride a bicycle around the island or through the jungle of neighboring Don Khon or to the waterfalls or just to say hi and bring sweets to the local kids. Maybe go hang out with a gang of local men at a cockfight. If not today, then maybe tomorrow. Maybe. All too easy to get absorbed into a place like this.
This paradise is not spotless however. And, I’m sad to admit that, it’s largely been the fault of us friendly Finns. A travel show called Madventures might and should be familiar to many. After the aforementioned show featured Don Det in the early 2000’s, Finnish travelers flocked to the island in search of cheap drinks, drugs and days in hammocks. The crowd brought with them a few bad seeds. As the owner of a particularly famous local bar told me, after one proud Finn nearly beating a pig to death with his bare hands, two other “sons of the north” brawling in his bar and a few other odd incidents and dramas, the island nearly closed itself off from tourism. At least from all those drunken crazy Finns. In fact, the Thai term farang has on this island been replaced by finlan and many of the menus feature “Finnish versions” of happy drinks and shakes.
Since Finland has no real history of colonialism or foreign wars, I’ve not had to be ashamed of my origins in any other part of the world. But hanging around in Laos, especially with a misbehaving, drunken and shirtless Finn on the island at the same time, I felt a constant and unnerving sense of shame. Bad vibes for such an awesome place.
But I don’t let things like this harsh my buzz. Oh hell, I’m starting to sound like “one of them” already. How many days have I spent on this island? I must continue on or be lost forever. Goodbye Don Det. Stay as still and sleepy as I remember you to be, and keep them pesky Finns out!