“Do Nothing” Culture

Let’s do nothing and have a ball.

What’s the allure of the infamous Si Phan Don, known as “4000 Islands”? It’s that you can do absolutely nothing and feel pretty good about it.

Yes, take a day to bike around the islands, they’re quite beautiful with all manner of charming bungalows and waterside restaurants. Walk along some torrential waterfalls, even kayak if you’re feeling motivated. Then take a pontoon, which is really just two canoes wrapped together with bamboo and a motor, into the delta to sneak a peak at the elusive freshwater Irrawady dolphins. You can do all of this in one day… so then what?

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The motivated crew floats along the Mekong to spot some Irrawaddy dolphins.

So then do everyone’s favorite activity on the islands: Do Nothing.
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I attempt to “Do Nothing” but fail as I can’t help but succumb to the impulse to read something.

I couldn’t wrap my head around it when I first arrived. Long ago Western culture hammered to my bones the idea that every second of my time must be spent doing “something”, whether that be producing things for society or absorbing some knew knowledge or function. How many times have you eaten breakfast without reading the newspaper, listening to music, or browsing Facebook? Is it easy to watch a movie without feeling like you should also work on your computer or be eating? Can you sit outside for an hour and just enjoy being there without any extra stimulation? I call it being branded by “progress”.

Nothing wrong with this, of course – it gives us nice things and we learn a lot.

Day after day, I witnessed a girl “Do Nothing”. She stayed at the bungalow all day, every day and just lay there. No phone. No books. Nothing. She’d lain there for 2 months.

I investigated.

Police never enter the island of Don Det. The local island economy is not monitored strictly. Drugs, mostly marijuana, can be purchased at any bar and many bungalow owners pay foreigners with it to help them in business. Everyone smokes at every time of day. And it’s not a big deal. Laos people are already easy going, slow-paced people. On Don Det, the pace is crawling.

Next to the docks the restaurants serve “Happy” whatever-you-want as the waiter smokes the biggest doobie you’ve ever seen, forgetting your order for the last hour while pounding his bongos and shaking his dreadlocks.

One door down they play movies like “The Hangover” in a lounge while causually handing out “Shroom Shakes”. Across the street for $10 a guy sells a USB Drive with 500 pirated movies of your choice. Or you can choose 300 movies and 400 music albums.

This is all not to say that everyone partakes in the drug scene. Many “Do Nothing-ers” stay simply to indulge in an atmosphere that doesn’t pressure them to move, spend money, or be something. It’s a land of tranquility and acceptance.

Don Det of the “4000 Islands” is fun, friendly, intoxicating and welcomes the title of being another “Backpacker Black Hole”. Twice I postponed my bus to hang out with friends and “Do Nothing”. Then enough was enough, and in the early morning hours, before 99% of Laos had awoken, I sailed a boat to the mainland catching a bus to the Cambodian border, escaping the haze. If I didn’t leave at that moment, I may never have.

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I acquire a boat and leave Don Det as everyone sleeps soundly.

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