Done Daeng Island, known as the “Red Island”, offers a tranquil environment and sandy beaches. There are approximately ten villages located on the island, bordered by the Mekong river on both sides. On the opposite shore is Mount Lingaparvata (now called Phu Kao) where lies the ancient temple of Wat Phou.
Transport to the island is via a Lao ‘catamaran’ and dok dok to transfer the several hundred feet of sand that appears as the dry season approaches. You can hire bikes to ride around the island, which is exactly what we did.
The largest village on the island is Ban Hua Done Daeng, where you can sample some of Mrs Khamtha’s whiskey directly from her distillery if it is open. Apparently the whiskey is made by mixing 8kgs of sticky rice with around 10 litres of water and a couple of egg-sized yeast balls.
The fermentation process take around ten days from which the mixture is heated metal drums. The alcohol fueled steam condenses on the cooler lids of the drums and drains off into large ladles. This produces around 5 litres of Lao Lao whiskey that usually has a mild taste.
There is a community guesthouse on the northern tip of the island where you can rent a room from the head of the village. Turning right from the guesthouse will take you along the eastern side of the island and through the villages of Ban Noy, Ban Si Chanto and into Ban Peuay Lao.
Unfortunately you cannot ride completely around the island and at Ban Peuay Lao you will be forced to turn right and head back through the middle.
This part of your trip will take you through the many rice paddies that fill the island’s interior and on to Wat Pha, an incredibly old temple of which only a single chedi remains. This is a very sacred site for the locals on Done Daeng and we were lucky to be present during a Baci Ceremony whereby the local Shaman blessed a woman from the village who had returned from study in Canada.
As the family sat down to begin the ceremony we got up and moved away to allow some privacy, but the shaman instructed the girl to ask us to stay. At the conclusion of the ceremony we both had our palms read and were offered a blessing.
Wat Pha is practically in the centre of the island and from there you can continue your journey west to the village of Ban Si Moungkhoun.
Turning south you can visit the villages of Ban Xieng Vang, Ban Boung Kham, Ban Si Souk and Ban Dan Thip. Turning north will take you Ban Bang Sai and the La Folie Resort, which happens to be the only other accommodation on the island.
Long sandy beaches surround the Done Daeng on many sides and provide a great walking experience. Life on Done Daeng is very traditional. Most of the villagers live in wooden Laotian houses on stilts, gathering hay and planting rice, with children and chickens running everywhere.
Occasionally the tracks will be blocked by a docile water buffalo, but other than that life on Done Daeng doesn’t get much more exciting. Which is just how we liked it 🙂