The 4000 islands of Laos or Si Phan Don in the Laos language are to be found on the Mekong River just north of the Cambodian border. The vast majority of the islands are uninhabited and remain natural and in a pristine state, making this area an important habitat for the endangered Irrawaddy Dolphin and other species. The largest of the four thousand islands is Don Khong, but the most often visited at Don Det and Don Khone. The islands are famous for several specialities – palm leaf hats, palm sugar and Lhao Khao gum –strong alcohol. Which island you wish to visit depends on the type of trip you wish to have.
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Where Are the 4000 Islands?
It’s the proliferation of islands (most uninhabited) down here in the south of Laos, near the border with Cambodia. When folks refer to Si Phan Don, they’re generally referring to three islands of Don Det, Don Khone and Don Khong.
Which Island to Visit in 4000 Islands
The three islands that are most visited in the four thousand islands as Don Det, Don Khone and Don Khone.
Why Visit Don Khong in the Four Thousand Islands?
Don Khon is the largest and most northerly of Lao’s 4,000 islands and is the capital of the district of Khong. Visit Don Khong if you want to see temples (there are 15 here) and French colonial buildings. You’ll find 19 villages on the island and visiting here will give you a very local feel to the islands. You can rent motorbikes and bicycles to ride around the island, which is 24 kilometres (15 miles) long and 8 kilometres (5 miles) wide. – check out where to stay in Don Khong
Why Visit Don Det in the Four Thousand Islands?
Don Det is much smaller and the favourite on the backpacker route. Don Det is the cheapest island to visit – in terms of accommodation, food and drink. It’s also the easiest island to visit when it comes to arranging activities. Check out where to stay in Don Det
You will find westernised backpacker food here, cheap drinks happy shakes and bars, but they’re all usually closed by 2300. You can find a cheap dorm room, or a bungalow facing the river with a hammock swinging in the breeze for seriously cheap prices. Go a little further out from the backpacker area and its quiet and very rural. There are no cars on the island, so you’ll have to rely on roosters waking you up in the morning. The western side of the island is the quieter side.
Why Visit Don Khone in the Four Thousand Islands?
We opted to stay on Don Khone – sometimes Don Khon – as we wanted to chill out, so we didn’t want a totally local experience, just something of it and after 17 months of continuous travel, we didn’t want any noise, party, we just wanted to sleep. Check out where to stay in Don Khone
Don Khone definitely gave us that good sleep. It might look busy from the main street, but it was seriously quiet. Our room with a deck overlooking the Mekong River with requisite hammocks was seriously relaxing. The food was great, we found somewhere local each day to eat the Laos food that we’ve become seriously fond of. We sank a few Beerlaos and tried the local firewater, laolao.
The Best Things to do in the Four Thousand Islands
You’ll find the internet access isn’t as good here as other places in Laos (and that’s saying something), and that life goes a little slower. Lao’s four thousand islands are seriously one of the best places to rest and recharge your travel batteries for a few days, but that said there are a few things that you might want to try and see and do while you’re here.
Chill out and relax in the 4000 Islands
I’ll start with this because this is 90% of what we did in Lao’s four thousand islands. Nothing. Well, not quite nothing. There were hammocks involved. We read a few pages of our kindles and then dozed off for a while. We seriously chilled out without having an alarm to get up and without huge lists of things to do. We heard no roosters. No motorbike engines (there was one longboat engine, but heck, that’s pretty good).
We ate well – and there are great Laos food places to eat on Don Khone and at cheap prices. We drank Beerlao and LaoLao.
Internet access isn’t great here, which is PERFECT. It means you just, well, chill out and relax. The accommodation here is some of the cheapest that you’ll find in Laos – and that’s saying something. So you might end up staying longer than you anticipated. So when your batteries have recharged, there are some interesting things to do in four thousand islands
Go and find Irrawaddy dolphins
The critically endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins live to the south of the island of Don Khon. There are less than 80 of these freshwater mammals alive in the while. They’re never hunted or trapped by the Lao people, as they’re considered sacred reincarnations of their dead relatives.
You can take a boat trip from the pier or the beaches at the southwest end of the island (ask anyone where). You’re most likely to spot the dolphins in the early morning or early evening.
Source: Wikicommons Foto: Stefan Brending
If you prefer to exercise while you wildlife spot you can take a kayaking tour to see Irrawaddy dolphins and combine it by kayaking to see the largest waterfalls in SE Asian, Khone Phapheng. While you can book this from any agency you find in Si Phan Don (again just ask), you can also book online here
Rent a Bike and Explore Don Det and Don Khone
It won’t take you long to fully explore both Don Det and Don Khone. You’ll pay around 10,000 kips per day, but the islands are pretty flat. Rent from your guesthouse, restaurant or shop on either island and ride around the rice fields, to the waterfalls or go to the beaches on Don Khone. Helmets aren’t usually available, but locks are if you ask.
Watch the Sunset
If you’re lucky – or well enough planned – to have a bungalow, room or deck that faces the setting sun, then there is nothing better than a sunset in 4000 Islands. Acquire cold beer. Get into your hammocks and relax. It’s glorious. (note you’ll want to apply bug spray before doing this, you are on the edge of the Mekong River and the mosquitos can be particularly nasty – and also spread malaria, so take precautions.
One other great place to watch the sunset is the old railroad bridge between Don Det and Don Khone.
Watch the Mekong River
The river here is seriously wide and depending on the time of year you visit, i.e. if its wet season, then its wider than the dry season. There’s nothing more mesmerizing or relaxing than watching the river slide on best. This is best seen from a swinging hammock.
Eat Laos Food and Drink Laos Beer
If you’re staying on Don Det you’ll have much more access to western-style food, but head over to Don Khone for Laos food. It’s tasty, cheaper than we found anywhere else in Laos and seriously good. Check out what you should eat in Laos in our guide to Laos food and drink.
See the largest falls in SE Asia – Khone Phapheng
You’ll have to pay 55,000 kip to enter the falls as a foreigner, and you’ll get shuttled around, but these are the largest waterfalls in SE Asia. If waterfalls are your thing, then head on here and see them. You can also take a kayaking trip to see the waterfalls.
Source: Jakub Hałun [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
Find the Old French Steam Engine in 4000 Islands
The Khone Phapheng falls were the reason that the railroad was built here. This 7 kilometre (4.3 miles) track was built by the French so that they could create a trade route up the Mekong from Cambodia to Laos and then China. The boats were loaded onto trains below the falls and then put back in the water above them. This practice lasted until 1940 when a road was built around the falls. See an old locomotive and check out the old railroad bridge that links Don Det and Don Khone. There are no trains today, but pedestrians and two-wheeled traffic can use the bridge.
Source: Basile Morin [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
Where To Stay on Don Khone
We chose to stay on Don Khone – which has a laidback local vibe. Our guest house, the Somphamit has about 6 rooms and, we paid 100,000 kip a night for a room with a private bathroom with a hot shower, air conditioning and WiFi that never really worked. It probably does now. But you know, to be honest, WiFi isn’t why you come to 4000 islands. After about 6 hours it didn’t phase us at all. It was SO NICE not to be connected. > Check out costs and rooms at Somphamit here
Our river-facing deck is shared with two adjoining rooms and is directly above the Mekong River. Sunset is glorious in a murky offseason way.
Looking for other places to stay in the 4000 Islands? > Check out your options here. This may be the cheapest place you stay in Laos, so don’t just go cheap, go for better than you normally would have and enjoy the luxury!
After being on the road non-stop for 17 months now, and this will be a short break because we are seriously tired. It’s just nice to not get up to an alarm or a rooster or the incessant whine of motorbike engines.
Instead, I wake one morning convinced that someone outside is mowing their lawn with an old petrol lawnmower. Of course, we’re on the bank of the Mekong and it’s a long boat with an engine making more noise than forward motion. But that’s ok because once I’ve figured it out I go straight back to sleep.
Leaving 4000 Islands
There are generally 2 routes that people take when leaving 4000 Islands. They either head from 4000 islands to Pakse, or they head over the border to Cambodia. Both are easy routes. for us, we’re heading back to Pakse, and then from there onto Vientiane. Where will you go?