Location: Don Det, 4000 Islands, Laos
I once found myself standing on the corner of the sidewalk where the uptown A-train meets Canal Street on an extra frosty, windy morning in late February. The bottom of my right boot had finally given in to the constant battering of hard steps on cement and gray, snowy slush had begun to seep into my sock through the hole in the sole. As yet another person shoved past me, running for cover into the putrid, if less frostbite-y, subway station below, I stared at the salt-and-grit crusted black tops of my shoes. I could no longer feel my toes; they were completely numb. In my misery, I wished I was somewhere without cars, without sidewalks, without streets, even. Just somewhere quiet and warm and mellow.
Then I felt the ground shake beneath me, heard the roar of my train rumbling into the station. As with a flick of a switch, I came out of my daydream and the world turned back on. I scrambled down the steps, digging my metro card out of the messy depths of my handbag and lining up with the rest of the bundled lumps on the way to work.
Don Det is the place I daydreamed about that morning, even though I had never even heard of it. It’s part of 4000 islands, an archipelago on the Mekong River at the very southern end of Laos. You can only reach Don Det by slender, wooden, half-sinking, handmade boats. They carry up to ten passengers at a time and are guided only by a man with a hand controlled motor. It’s inhabited by just as many chickens, cattle, and water buffalo as villagers themselves and the closest ATM machine or bank is several hours drive away in Pakse. It is a sunny, timeless place, one where days can pass without much happening and you wouldn’t notice or care.
Most restaurants are lay down, which means they’re filled with knee-level tables surrounded by pillows and cushions. You can sit crosslegged or fully sprawl out until your meal comes. Nobody seems to mind how long you hang out, as long as you order at least one dish - or a “happy shake,” which I can only assume is laced with THC or shrooms. The other main attractions are pretty much limited to biking to the waterfalls on the nearest island, dolphin watching, and a particularly lazy activity where you rent an inner tube and hire a boat to drop you upstream so you can spend your afternoon drinking beers and floating downriver.
It’s the place you dream of when staring at the rough, gray felt of your cubicle wall. The hope you hope when the weather forecast only predicts rain for the next week. The back up plan when your nine-to-five becomes too brain-numbing and you don’t know what you’re going to do if your manager busts your balls one more time about the color coordination on your latest spreadsheets.
At least, that’s what I imagined I’d imagine if I was still employed. But there I was, drifting down the Mekong in a black, rubber inner tube, beer in one hand, the other dipped into the lukewarm green water around me. I swirled in my floating device, the river reeds and swamp bush reminding me of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I could be Tom Sawyer in that moment, I knew the peace Mark Twain described on the river, in a world without highways or speeding automobiles or asphalt spray painted with yellow lines.
I couldn’t help smiling as the sun browned my shoulders. I closed my eyes as I soaked it all in, daydreaming about my old daydreams.