Hotel Review: LaFolie Lodge, Don Daeng Island, Laos
As you go further south into Laos there is less and less infrastructure. By the time you get to Champasak and Don Daeng Island, the gateway to the 4,000 Islands region, the feeling is palpably relaxed. Largely unperturbed by modernity the island is a glimpse into a forgotten way of life. Depending on your attitude, that could be either an unacceptable tradeoff or, as we saw it, a wonderful benefit. Here the accommodation runs mostly from backpackery to homestay with one luxurious exception: La Folie Lodge.
To get to LaFolie Lodge you must take one of the hotel’s long-tail catamaran boats from the boat dock in Champasek or from the tiny village of Ban Meuang just off Route 13 to Don Daeng Island. It is a wonderful sensation to cross the Mekong River aboard one of these remarkably stable boats, sitting in a comfortable wicker chair just watching the bucolic scenery. It normally wouldn’t be an easy place to get to but the staff at La Folie can make arrangements for a car and driver to pick you up in Pakse, have the boat waiting for you at the dock and before you know it, you are on an island that time seems to have forgotten.
The accommodation at La Folie Lodge are a dozen roomy duplex bungalows strewn along 300 meters of Mekong riverbank carefully designed to fit comfortably into the scenery, not overwhelm it. Each of the well laid out, carefully constructed wooden structures is outfitted with modern appliances yet decorated with local materials in island style. All rooms have river views and a deck where you can sit in your robe and watch the boatmen and fishermen, unspoilt nature and I am told, in the dry season, amazing sunsets over the mountains near Wat Phu Temple. No television, no phones, no worries.
The centerpiece of La Folie is the lodge which is set above a large, inviting pool. Decorated in a subtle French colonial style the bar offers a full range of wines and cocktails, the food a mix of Laotian and Western cuisines, is artfully prepared by a skilled staff. Breakfast is included and delicious. There are bicycles available for exploring the island, or if you like, you can arrange to take one across on a catamaran to Champasak and pedal to the UNESCO world heritage site of Wat Phu. The grounds are beautifully maintained and landscaped and filled overflowing with nature. Wi-Fi is available in the bar.
This is another area where LaFolie Lodge shines. They are friendly, attentive and ready to offer suggestions as to how to enjoy Don Daeng Island. Many of the staff come from the local villages are being trained in hospitality services so that they may one day venture beyond the island. The staff that deals directly with guests spoke excellent English (and apparently some French and German as well) and everyone was ready with a smile.
Don Daeng Island lazes in the middle of the Mekong River as the gatekeeper to the remarkably undisturbed 4,000 Islands region. The narrow island is nine kilometers long and is encircled by a, sometimes muddy, track that passes through each of the islands eight villages. Life for the islands 3,500 friendly residents revolves mostly around fishing and rice farming and they were to a person very welcoming. The kids enjoyed practicing their “hellos” and “goodbyes” and waved, and sometimes chased along beside our bicycles as we passed through their villages. In addition to providing employment to many island residents the owners of La Folie Lodge go out of their way to be good neighbors on the island and sponsor many civic projects. Constructed largely with funds provided by La Folie Lodge the Ban Bangsai School was recently completed. They are now helping to build a first aid clinic / dispensary for the island’s residents. We love that La Folie gave us the opportunity to see this wonderful island and hope to return again one day.