Laos: The 4000 Islands of Si Phan Don

April 30, 2014

Islands that are a dip in paradise in Laos.

Congratulations! If you’ve made it here, you must have conquered one of several fronts. You’ve either traversed the mighty Mekong as it flows south through Laos, or you’ve handled the corruption riddled border crossing from Cambodia with ease. At the very least, you’ve made the bus trip down from Pakse. Whichever way you made it, welcome to paradise.

Si Phan Don, or the 4000 Islands, is one of the most beautiful places in Laos, let alone Southeast Asia. Surprisingly, unlike most other areas, the best time of year to indulge is the dry season. The Mekong will be at its lowest point, you really are able to see why it has this moniker. Islands are sprinkled across the river as if it were an ice cream cone. Some are tiny, tufts of grass and weeds, the size of a dinner plate. Others are full scale islands where you can relax, and enjoy glorious sunsets. There are three primary islands in the area, with plenty of places to stay and things to do, or if you prefer, nothing to do at all.

Don Khong

If you're in need of a place to string up your hammock, swing back and forth with a good book and a spectacular view for endless hours, then this is the island for you. Basically, this is not a party place. Despite being the largest of the islands, this is probably the least visited. There are a smattering of guest houses to choose from, about a dozen in all, and all relatively nice. While there are things to do here, like a motorbike drive around the shoreline, or rising with the sun to gather with the rest of the village at the morning market, but really, this is the best place to rest your bones. The pace of Don Khong is sleepy like the river around it, and you’ll never feel the need to rush. Take after the local water buffalo, and just lounge around.

Don Det

Though still fairly laid back, Don Det is where a bit more of the action in the area is. Right when you hop of the long boat, you’re inundated with restaurants flaunting wifi and bungalows flanking the riverside. Head to the left from the boat, and you’ve got the sunrise; to the right, sunset. Many people their accommodations based on which they’d rather see every day. All fall in the range of about 30-50,000 kip a night (around $3.75-$5.50). Air conditioning though, can run you a pretty penny, despite how hot it gets here.

The further away from the main dock you get, the quieter and cheaper you digs. Most though, like to stick around near the “town.” Several Indian places, a convenience store or two,a BBQ rib shack and a few bars are what you  have in store. Rogue Adam’s is a backpacker favorite. Not only is it an excellent place to beat the heat and watch a flick, they can upload (for a fee) hundreds of movies, TV shows, books and music to the device of your choice for your travels ahead.

If you’re looking for small and mellow, Don Det’s sister island Don Khon (not to be confused with the first island!) is perfect for you. A short walk over a bridge from Don Det will bring you there. Biking is very common here, as there are several beaches to explore as well as rapids down the river.

Being along the Mekong obviously makes watersports fairly popular. Your guest house or any of the shops along the street can arrange them for you. Fishing and grilling up your fresh catch is one delicious way to spend the afternoon. Kayaking and tubing around the major islands is also a fantastic treat. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled as you enter the water area shared with Cambodia, as there is a family of river dolphins living there! Most trips also make a detour to Khone Papheng Falls. A pretty breath taking sight, this is the largest waterfall in Southeast Asia (by volume).

Two important things to keep in mind on the islands:

- Safety first! It is H-O-T. Constant reapplication of sunscreen (especially while out on the river) is incredibly important if you don’t want to get a severe burn. Some trips reach up to eight or nine hours in the sun, so drinking and carrying plenty of water with you is also necessary.

- There are no ATMs once you leave mainland. Some shops will offer cash advances, but charge a fee while also having terrible exchange rates. Try to estimate how much cash you’ll need ahead of time, and bring enough for your whole trip.

The 4000 Islands is a great place for a little R&R, while also a spot for a bit of an adventure. Whether it’s lounging on the beach or dolphin spotting that gets you going, you’ll find your own slice of heaven here. Dip into paradise with Trekeffect today!

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Maria Tugayeva
Mariya is a Marketing guru and writer, with a world experience from living and growing up in different countries. Her work quote is: "In a word: pleasure. It's like, my pleasure in other people's leisure." -Daniel "Spud" Murphy, Trainspotting
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