The Challenge: Learning to Relax in Si Phan Don

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You know what’s worse than being woken up by a rooster?  Being woken up by a cow and baby who are currently having a scream-off.





Welcome to Si Phan Don.

I came to Laos’s Four Thousand Islands, or Si Phan Don, knowing very little about them.  I knew they were nestled into the Mekong, just north of the Cambodian border, and that they were extremely rural.

24-hour electricity arrived only this year. There were no banks or ATMs.  I had no idea if there was WiFi…or even internet!

Strangely, despite this lack of infrastructure, word had it that Don Det was a sort of “party island.” That’s all I needed to hear.

I arrived on Don Det, promptly checked into a $3/night bungalow with a view of the sunset, and decided to explore the island.

Beauty everywhere.  An extremely rural beauty.

Like everywhere else in Southern Laos, animals roamed free: from cows, goats, and pigs to kittens, dogs, and chickens herding their flocks.  You have to look out for overzealous hogs running through the grass!

Once you got away from the backpacker-filled northern tip of the island, Don Det gave way to ramshackle bungalows on stilts and four-generation families cooking together.

After a lunch watching the boat races at Don Khon and drinking a mojito made from Lao moonshine (don’t ask), I strolled back, deciding to take a few minutes in the internet cafe.

What I found there horrified me.

It was bad enough that internet access was $3 per hour, the same as my bungalow’s nightly rate!  But it got worse — there was no access to Gmail.  Or Facebook.  Or Twitter.  Or Hootsuite.  Or  (Strangely, the only site I could pull up was A Dangerous Business, for whom I had recently guest posted!)

I would die surrounded by goats and chickens, and nobody would be the wiser.

That’s when it hit me — I had no CHOICE but to relax and enjoy the setting. There was NOTHING else to do.  I had no SIM card or phone plan for Laos, so a phone card wouldn’t have helped.  There were no real beaches.  There were some cafes, but obviously none had WiFi.


I’m not one to relax. If ever I’m going to sit down, I might handle it for a few minutes before needing to grab my iPhone, or write in my journal, or get some kind of work done. I need to be doing something at all times.

But I could try to let go for once.

And that’s when I got into my hammock.

Oh, God.  It was like a happiness I had never known.

Maybe this is why I had never been able to relax…I had never done so before in a hammock.  Yeah, I’ve been in hammocks before…but not like this.  Was it being so far from everything?  Was it that there was no internet?

I didn’t care.  I proceeded to not move for the rest of the afternoon.

One more full day on the island, then I’d leave for Phnom Penh the day after that.  I could deal without internet for that long…couldn’t I?

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23 thoughts on “The Challenge: Learning to Relax in Si Phan Don”

  1. I felt the same way on my cruise to Croatia this summer. The day literally consisted of breakfast, an afternoon swim, lunch, an afternoon swim, dinner, repeat. And some partying, but I didn’t know what to do during the day! I felt so unproductive. But I guess that was the point of the vacation.

  2. I know the hammock feeling very very well.

    One of my trips to Mexico, i was staying with my sister in a small boutique eco hotel. While there were mod cons everywhere, i still had no laptops or internet or phones. Finding nothing to do, i found a hammock that overlooked the Caribbean. I sat there for 6 hours straight, looking out into the ocean and feeling nothing but content.

    Listening to the ocean crashing on the rocks below, watching storm clouds rolling over the water miles off shore and just being there. Its the greatest, indescribable feeling in the world. Its also one i tell people everytime they go to travel anywhere, Just find a spot and do nothing. Literally nothing.


  3. Glad you finally just got to relax, Kate! Though, I’m sure not having any Internet access was driving you nuts for a while. Haha.

    When I went on a cruise this past summer with my family, we had basically no Internet or phone access while at sea (unless you wanted to pay a RIDICULOUS amount for it), so I spent a lot of time just sitting on deck and watching the ocean slip by, or sitting inside watching movies and live shows, or sitting somewhere reading a book. It was frustrating at first, but eventually I was able to relax and enjoy it.

    Also, Don Det looks gorgeous!

  4. Argh! It sounds scary – for a little while! And then you realise how nice it is not to have to worry about responding to emails, sending tweets. Nice place to relax!

  5. Sitting around in a hammock? All day? Doing absolutely nothing? Just you and your thoughts? How ever did you manage it? There’s gotta be some kind of award, lol! Glad you found some time to relax…

  6. cow baby scream off sounds fun?!?! I am so like you, always needing to do something – we’re heading to Laos in Feb so I’ll also be forced to chill!

  7. “I would die surrounded by goats and chickens, and nobody would be the wiser.”– that had me dying. Too funny.

    I think there’s something to be said here about how technology has taken over our lives. We’re all addicted to Facebook, email, our blogs… when we can’t get at them, we suffer withdrawal. It’s almost like we have to reteach our minds how to just be, how to calm down, relax, and enjoy life instead of constantly thinking, ‘how can I turn this moment/experience into a blog post’?

    I’m glad you found the hammock, and I’m glad you were forced to enjoy yourself for a while 🙂

  8. It took us a long time to be fully able to relax because we were just so used to always being busy and stressed. At first we nearly panicked when we got to a place without internet but now we’re able to appreciate a few days offline without freaking out 😉 Sometimes you just have to do NOTHING, and hammocks are exactly right for that 🙂

  9. $3/hour!! Ludicrous. I can see how this site would be blocked though. You do write about transsexual Thais.

    Haha, glad you found time to relax! Amazing what a hammock can do for ya. I have a great hammock story to share with you should we ever meet.

  10. Ah sounds all too familiar! The slow, incredibly overpriced internet. And the being woken up at 6 or 7am every morning for animals and vehicles repairs (like trying to fix a motorbike outside your window…oy…).

    Though, I absolutely adored that hammock and literally spent almost the entire day just lounging in one at my bungalow at Si Phan Don (though I stayed on Don Khone). It was pure bliss, as was the whole rustic nature of it, like walking around Don Det at night and needing a flashlight to find my way!

    I could access all those sites you mentioned so it must’ve been that particular internet cafe…

    Did you at least enjoy the “party” on Don Det (I know, it’s not Thailand or even Vang Vieng)?

  11. I think there are few things better than being unplugged, once in a while, and great to hear you got to do that in Four Thousand Islands (though I can imagine getting antsy if you’ve had constant connectivity and want to check stats &c)…

    The most beautiful thing I saw in your neck of the woods (now = Cambodia, right)? My spawn showing the local kids how to use the instant editing software on his phone. They were away! These kids who barely had access to a computer for the school, just shooting pictures of me and turning me in to, well, into an, err, fat-arsed clown, or monochrome image, or whatever…

    Very beautiful. And they got it, as your Lao lady did, very, very fast indeed…

  12. Your post is why I love to get away to the peace, quiet, countryside or mountains. When you hear the birds chirping, see the beauty of nature, and don’t hear a car around, a piece comes over you and allows you to relax. While you loved the hammock, I am sure that was just part of the total experience of everything that was around you! 🙂

  13. Just left Dom Det a few days ago and while spotty at times, there was WiFi at the 4000 Islands bar and you could get to all the sites you mentioned at the expensive Internet cafe. I resisted as best I could though and did manage two naps in my hammock!

  14. Hey Kate

    I am heading to Don Det tomorrow. I know it was a while ago but any advice where to stay? Your recommendations are usually golden!

    Cheers Gemma

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