Kayaking offers the opportunity to explore this unique riverine archipelago from the water with dolphin viewing, visits to the local waterfalls and a sunset paddle home.
We booked an all-day kayaking trip with Mr. Mo whose restaurant and travel office are next door to Baba Guest House. A couple of outfits in Don Det offer the same kayak trip. I doubt that it matters who you book through as all the trips do the same itinerary. Some groups did start earlier and I’m guessing they also finished earlier, i.e., before sunset.
Kayak Trip Itinerary
The trip starts with breakfast at Mr Mo’s. Breakfast is a warm yeasty roll and choice of eggs. In our case the fried eggs were cooked in too much oil, but otherwise fine. He offers tea or coffee in an inky Lao style that you may or may not like.
After breakfast we went down to the dock under the restaurant and were on the water around 9:30. They provide life jackets and dry sacks, but I wouldn’t trust the dry sacks. In Laos in general most of the dry sacks are well worn, if they ever were truly waterproof. If you have electronics and such that absolutely can’t get wet, bring a good dry sack from home. I double sacked, putting my dry sack in theirs.
The kayaks and paddles are old and worn with patches on the bottom of the kayak. At one of the stopping points Mr. Mo actually had to re-patch the bottom of his kayak, melting some kind of patching material on it. Paddles have notches out of them looking like they’ve battled sharks.
The first 30 minute paddle is downstream to the small waterfall Khanepaksy. With all the narrow channels between islands it’s difficult to get a sense of just how wide the river really is. We pass through some small rapids from time to time but nothing too challenging. Lovely to be on the water in the morning.
To reach the first waterfall you leave your kayak and walk along a road and cross a suspension bridge.
The fishing traps at the falls are interesting but otherwise the small falls are a non-event.
From here you cross back over the bridge and continue walking downstream where the kayaks have been moved to get around the falls.
The next paddle is similar to the first, about 30 minutes through narrow channels to a beach.
From here we would board a boat to the dolphin viewing area. Since other groups arrived before us all the boats were taken.
Mr. Mo suggested we swim in the water while we wait for the boat, about 15 minutes.
While we were swimming another group arrived and they crammed both groups into the boat four to a seat, Lao style.
It takes about 20 minutes up stream to get the dolphin viewing area, 10 minutes on the return.
A unique kind of endangered dolphin lives in these waters. Sightings are mostly just their dorsal fin and since the dolphin is the same color as the brown water, it’s difficult to get a good photo. We did see one catch a fish and for a brief second saw the odd shape of his head.
There isn’t much space on shore and everyone scrunches together, sitting on a bare spot on the side of a hill which is actually in Cambodia. We watch the dolphins while we wait for the guides to cook lunch, the typical meat skewers we’ve had on other day trips, this time chicken and vegetables.
Mr. Mo’s group was given one skewer each, some fried rice and fresh cut watermelon and pineapple for desert. All nicely done.
Although another group left before us and took our boat, the timing worked out well and the boat had returned to transport us back to the kayaks when we had finished lunch.
Back at the kayaks at 1:30 we are given another chance to swim before the hottest and hardest paddle of the day. The river is very wide here so the current is weaker and you have to work to get across the river to the mainland. Even on the water it’s hot with the sun beating down. To liven up the paddle and cool things down a bit the guides pick water fights with the guests.
We’re now back on the mainland of Laos and are supposed to have motorized transportation to the big falls.
Unfortunately a crane, in the processing of moving a barge, blocks the dock so the truck can’t get down the ramp to load the kayaks.
In a disorganized process, with the guests finally pitching to help, the kayaks and other equipment are carried up the ramp and loaded on trucks.
The kayaks and guests all go on the same dilapidated truck. With kayaks lying on the bed of the truck, the guests have to walk along the kayaks to sit on the bench seats that run along the sides, like a large tuk tuk. One of the other group’s trucks broke down so again we are two groups in one truck, a little crowded but not too bad.
The drive to the big falls is pleasant along good roads.
The grounds surrounding the falls, green grass neatly mown with beds of well-tended plants, is one of the best manicured gardens I’ve seen in Laos. The fancy bathrooms have toilet paper and hand soap. There are also large terraces for dining and viewing the falls.
These are impressive falls, not high but with a huge volume of water, even now in November, passing through a relatively narrow channel. The width of the falls is quite long but compared to that of the Mekong at this point it’s narrow. We don’t have much time here because of all the time taken moving kayaks, but it was enough see the falls and take photos.
We load back onto the truck and head to Nakasang where we first got the boat that brought us to Don Det the day before. We unload the kayaks near the dock and paddle across the river and back down to Mo’s restaurant dock. Mr. Mo is in a hurry to get to the dock before dark. This is supposed to be a sunset paddle. The sun is setting but we’re still about 10 minutes too early to see the sun actually set. Not as much color in the sky as on the previous evening. It took about 20 minutes to reach the dock.
Mr. Mo has a number of bad reviews for his kayaking trips warning tourists not to go with him. I couldn’t find any reviews for any other kayaking outfit in Don Det. My assessment is that all the kayak companies are about the same. They all have similar itineraries and you will see other the other groups on your trip.
I hesitated to go with Mr. Mo because of the bad reviews, but the Green Paradise office remained unmanned all day. Giving up in the afternoon, we arranged the trip with Mr. Mo because he was actually at the office. The Green Paradise folks did show up after dinner.
The other groups we saw had more kayakers, some with as many as 10 kayaks. They also had more guides. We were 5 kayaks, 8 guests, and one guide. While the guide watched to make sure everyone was accounted for you are not closely monitored so you should know what you are doing. This is relatively easy kayaking but you do need to be responsible for yourself, pay attention and keep up with the guide.
Also this is still rural Laos where things happen, cranes block the road, trucks break down, and boats don’t show up. Try to help out and make the best of it. I don’t know that Mr. Mo is any worse or any better than the rest of the bunch. He did his best to make a good trip and satisfy his customers. These are cheap trips, $25/ person including breakfast, lunch and the entrance in the big falls ($5), don’t expect too much.
November 13, 2018
For links to all the posts in this series see the Laos/Cambodia page.