Island life in the Mekong
On a small island in the Mekong River in southern Laos, Done Deng, lies the village of Ban Houa Done Deng. The name means ‘village of the head of Done Deng’ as it lies at the northern tip of the island.
Life here goes on much as it has always done, I suspect. But the villagers benefit from the financial support of the nearby hotel, La Folie, which has enabled a school to be built here as well as in a couple of other locations on the island.
That hotel also means that visitors come to the island, us included. It’s a great place to relax and there are a few sights nearby, notably Wat Phou, a pre-Angkorian Khmer Hindu temple. Most of the hotel guests go there, I am sure. But very few seemed to venture out to explore the island itself, at least from what I observed. Their loss. We spent a very pleasant, if hot, morning strolling through the village. This gave us a great opportunity to observe, and photograph, island life in the Mekong area. So do join me on this stroll for Jo’s Monday Walks challenge.
This walk was a great opportunity to see something of island life. Most of the villagers we met were friendly and we exchanged lots of smiling ‘Sabadee’ greetings. Of those that appear in my photos, some agreed willingly to a request for a photo, while others are discreet (I hope) candid shots.
Wat Ban Huadone
Part way along the track through the village we came to its temple, Wat Ban Huadone. Of course we went in to investigate. There was some beautiful ornamentation on the various buildings (carvings on the roofs, painted walls etc.) Inside, the sim was small and plain apart from the array of eight golden Buddhas of various sizes.
We passed two schools as we walked, both secondary and primary. The latter is the one supported by La Folie’s community projects fund. But as education in Laos works on a shift system, with children attending either morning (7.00-11.00) or afternoon (13.00-17.00) there were some children hanging around in the village. They were a little cautious, but curious about us. A couple of young boys in particular seemed to keep popping up wherever we went, as if trailing us. One of them shyly posed for photos for me.
At the end of the track through the village we reached the northernmost point of the island, with panoramic views of the Mekong and its two banks.
A sign near here told of a legend about the name of the island, Done Deng [aka Don Daeng], which translates as Red Island:
‘Excerpt from the most widespread version of the story of Nang Malong (Princess Malong)
Legend has it a young beauty, daughter of a high dignitary, secretly loved the Prince of Campanak’on named T’au Basak. Being pregnant with the young prince and opposed to the decision of her father to marry her to a prince “kha” (T’au Bakhieng) from the Bolovens plateau, she fled the arranged marriage to join Prince T’au Basak who went hunting wild elephants in the forests of the south. During her journey, the pain of childbirth made her stop on the island of Don Pha Kam where she gave birth to a girl, Nang P’eng. While leaving the island she threw her bloody skirt to the river, which remained attached to the head of an island that has since been named because of this event Don Daeng or Red Island.’
After a short rest on a log on the beach, enjoying the river views, we retraced our steps through the village, taking just a few more photos as we walked.
That was the end of our walking, as with the day growing hotter we spent the rest of it by, or in, the hotel pool.
But I couldn’t finish without adding a photo of the sun setting that evening over the Mekong and Mount Phou Khao, taken from the deck outside our room.
I visited Laos in 2020
Just as in other Asian countries, the separation of the rich and the poor are very distinct here as seen in the old houses and the grand temples.
That’s true to a certain extent Teresa, but it’s worth remembering that despite having relatively little the poorer people here all give to the temple, so its richness is down to them as well as to any rich benefactors it might have. And although these houses are simple, by Lao standards the villagers are better off than many because of the work the hotel has created and the support for education etc.
A lovely snapshot and description of village life, I love the little girls and the little boy sitting in the tree, and for such a simple place the temple looks gorgeous 🙂
Thanks Eunice, glad you enjoyed this glimpse of Lao village life. All the temples in the country are grand – arguably this is among the more simple that we saw!
The people pictures are touching and give the feel of village life. I was brought back to memories of my brief journey through Laos. The photo of the pool at the bottom of the post was almost jarring – such a contrast.
I know what you mean about that contrast Ruth. In some ways it does seem out of place here, but the hotel has brought work to the community and as I mentioned has supported local projects including four schools on the island. We try to stay in places that are responsible and avoid internationally owned chains etc.
I love that you call it the “main track” (and not main street) 😉. Village life … you captured it so well. Lovely photos of “superman” and the little girls. As for your last photo of the setting sun … beautiful!
A track is definitely all it was! The kids were great, and as fascinated by us as we were by them!
All your photos really capture the feel of the place, Sarah, and what a very inviting-looking hotel, the perfect place to end your day, especially with that glorious sunset view! 🙂
Thank you Alli – yes, the views from that hotel were wonderful!
Ah, you’re quite the traveler! That you traveled to Laos in 2020 is amazing. We had a trip planned to Vietnam that February but had to cancel it because of Covid – it was just too risky, too little was known then. I’ve been interested in Laos but haven’t been anywhere in Asia at all so it seemed Vietnam might be better to start with. Now I’m not sure if we’ll ever get to ether country. So I can enjoy this vicariously. I’m glad you explored the village independently and I love the photo of the monk’s robes. 🙂
We did a trip to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam that February. I talked with our tour company beforehand and they advised it was OK to go, which it was. Covid didn’t impact our trip at all until we got to Vietnam. There we saw signs of caution – sanitiser on hotel check-in desks, masks required in one temple we visited, a health declaration form to complete before our Halong Bay cruise. But we were able to complete the trip and got home about two weeks before the UK locked down!
Unfortunately our home wifi is having one if those spells where it’s putting its hands on its hips and flatly refusing to open photos on blogs. Your words are bringing the island to life but I’ve only seen about four of your pictures! Laos is such a rich country in terms of what it delivers, not least through its unassuming, modest people. Loved it. I’ll sneak up on the wifi later and see if I can scroll through the photos.
It’s possible it’s not your wifi. There have been a few problems with photos loading on my site, although I thought they’d been resolved. Please let me know if you still can’t see them even after your wifi decides to behave again!
I think it’s us tonight as most websites are behaving the same way. In fact I’m abandoning my “comments” run for tonight and will have another go tomorrow.
Thank you for the walk through your beautiful images, Sarah. Your photos of people remind me of “it takes village”. Their lives may be simple, but rich in many ways. Love the sunset capture. 🙂
Thank you Amy 😊 I’m not sure what you mean by ‘it takes village’ but I’m glad you liked the post!
I should say village people take care of one another. I remember when we were in Peru. The tour guide said they don’t have homeless people because the community take care of one another.
Maybe, it’s not quite the same… 🙂
That temple is so beautiful. A wonderful look at the people and buildings that make the community 🙂
Thank you 😊 The temple is relatively simple compared with many we saw in Luang Prabang, but striking in this simple village setting.
I find it amazing that the people you met, who have such simple lives (in the sense of material possessions!) have such a glorious temple. Interesting that this is their priority. A lovely post, getting beyond the tourist-trap destinations as usual.
Thank you Margaret. Their lives are simple compared to ours but the people have an unquestioning faith, from what I saw, and that steers their priorities.
Well, here’s another one to file away under our ‘Must Go To Laos One Day’ folder. Having seen so much of Asia, there is a familiarity to these places and people, but it also feels distinct enough to arouse our curiosity. Love the legend, the sunset and the people shots, as always. I hope Superman is doing well in life and still smiling.
I hope you get to Laos as I just know you’d love it! The people, the temples, the landscapes, the food – all wonderful!
Mike and Kellye Hefner
I loved seeing all of your pictures, but the kids… Isn’t it amazing that being a kid is so “universal”? This post was my biggest reason to smile today!
That’s so true, we’ve seen it all over the world 😃
It’s absolutely no frills living, isn’t it, Sarah? Except, of course, for the temple, which looks as rich as any you might find. I would do badly living that life. Our islands are miles apart, in more ways than one. Many thanks for sharing.
No frills at all, but better off probably than many similar villages in the country, thanks to the hotel. But the temples are grand wherever you go – most people may not have much but those who do give generously and everyone gives what they can, even the poorest.
Yes, I know that about the culture, Sarah. Beautiful though they are it always seems a little incongrouos to me. The money could be put to better use, but faith is a funny thing.
We saw the same in Kerala, where even the poorest give 10% of their income to the church. And the church buildings (it’s a largely Catholic population, unusually for India) are very grand and tower over the simple homes.
Nice impression of life in a village in Laos Sarah! This brings back so many memories of a village walk I did many years ago in Laos.
I really had hoped to re-visit Laos this year, but unfortunately I have to postpone it once more. But maybe 2023 will be the year it will finally happen 🙂
I’m glad this brought back happy memories Simone and I hope you get to revisit Laos soon!