The groups of islands that make up Laos’ 4,000 islands are mainly uninhabited, with three main islands where you can stay and chill out. Because chilling out is the name of the game when it comes to the four thousand islands. The name of the four thousand islands group in the Laos language is Si Phan Don – which is literally Four Thousand Islands, so you’ll see both names used to refer to this area as a whole. This guide will explain how to go from Pakse to 4000 islands – and includes specific details on travelling from Pakse to Don Det, Pakse to Don Khong and Pakse to Don Khone.
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The 3 Main Islands of the Four Thousand Islands
When people refer to the area of Si Phan Don or four thousand islands they are generally referring to three islands. Don Khong, the northernmost one is the largest, the least western touristed. Don Det is the smallest, and where most backpackers go seeking paradise. It has the biggest selection of places to stay, eat, drink and enjoy yourself. The third island is Don Khone, it’s connected to Don Det by an old stone French bridge. Regardless of which island you choose to visit, or start your visit to the four thousand islands on your route from Pakse is the same, at the start.
How to go from Pakse to 4,000 Islands Laos
The 4,000 islands of Laos are firmly on the backpacker trail and so it’s easy to get to the 4,000 islands from Pakse. The route from Pakse to Si Phan Don and the main islands that make up the group of 4,000 islands is the most popular route, with the route from Siem Reap to Pakse the second most popular.
The route from Pakse to the four thousand islands includes at least one bus and a Laos longboat ferry. You take this route regardless of which island you are visiting, so this covers going to Don Det from Pakse, Don Khone from Pakse and Don Khong from Pakse.
You can book your tickets for this route now
- Pakse to Don Det > Book here – bus leaves Pakse at 0800 – select the option to Don Det to get included ferry tickets
- Pakse to Don Khone > Book here – bus leaves Pakse at 0800 select the option to Don Khone to get included ferry tickets
- Pakse to Don Khong > Not possible to book online
One of the benefits of booking online is that it saves your cash. Cash is expensive to retrieve in Laos – as all ATM’s have a charge, we saved money travelling in Laos by using online booking and payment wherever possible to save ATM fees.
The bus takes you from Pakse to Nakasong “bus” station. (You can book a ticket from Pakse to Nakasong online and then buy your ferry ticket in person here) And then you walk a few hundred meters from here to the wharf where you get a ferry. There are two types of buses that you can get from Pakse to Nakasong, a local bus, or the tourist bus. The tourist bus isn’t fancy and you will find a few locals on it, but it goes once per day and you can book it online.
There are two primary ways to get from Pakse to 4,000 islands. The first is simple and you can either book the tickets online, at your guesthouse or at the bus operator themselves. The prices will all be similar and everyone is a travel agent in Laos, so you can book it at a restaurant or bar as well, just start asking and you’ll find someone who will sell you a ticket, we weren’t ripped off at all in Laos but get a receipt at least. This ticket will usually include the ferry.
The route from Pakse to Si Phan Don starts with a bus from Pakse to Nakasong.
Read about what to do in Si Phan Don with our guide to the best things to do in 4000 Islands.
Pakse to Nakasong
Your options for travelling from Pakse to Nakasong are either to book the tourist bus – it’s run by Green Paradise or to take a local bus.
Tourist Bus /Ferry Combo from Pakse to Si Phan Don
The tourist bus can be booked online here, with your hotel or hostel or with the bus company themselves. Booking a ticket for the tourist bus should automatically include your ferry ticket from Nakasong to the island of your choice. The tourist bus leaves only at 0800 / 0900 each morning.
Local Bus from Pakse to Si Phan Don
If you don’t want to take the tourist bus at 0800 you can head to the Pakse Southern Bus Terminalsometimes known as the 8km Bus terminal and take one to either Ban Nakasong or Muong Khong. The local bus route takes around 3 hours and costs about 40-45,000 kip per person. Note that this bus terminal is 8 kilometres (5 miles) to the east of Pakse city centre, so you have to factor in the cost of getting here as well.
You can take a bus from Pakse’s 8km bus terminal at 0800, 0930, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00 and 16:00.
Get the best choice of places to stay in 4,000 islands with Agoda – we used them extensively during our visit to Laos.
Nakasong to the Four Thousand Islands
Once you have arrived in Nakasong bus station (its basically a shed, and a yard where the buses and songthaews arrive and depart from), which is about 200 metres from the wharf, you need to get a ferry.
The ferries are Laos longboats. If you bought a through ticket on the tourist bus you will need to exchange it at the ticket booth for a ferry ticket. If you didn’t buy a through ticket, then you’ll need to buy a ticket.
All the boats go from the same place. Their drivers will be yelling out where they are going and you simply jump in one when you’re ready to go. When they’re full they will go.
Nakasong to Don Det
Ferry tickets from Nakasong to Don Det cost 15,000 kips. This is a fixed price and you will get a ticket for it. The boats are busiest in the morning. A boat will require a minimum of 2 passengers before it leaves, if you don’t have 2 of you, just pay for a second seat and the boat will go. The boat ride to Don Det from Nakasong takes 10-15 minutes.
Nakasong to Don Khong
Ferry tickets from Nakasong to Don Khong cost 20,000 kips, again this is a fixed price and you’ll receive a ticket for it, the same rules about numbers of passengers apply.
Nakasong to Don Khone
Ferry tickets from Nakasong to Don Khone cost 20,000 kips, again this is a fixed price and you’ll receive a ticket for it, the same rules about numbers of passengers apply. The boat ride from Nakasong to Don Khone takes 20 minutes
Going from The Four Thousand Islands to Pakse
The route is the same to go to Pakse from Four Thousand islands just in reverse. You’ll take a boat from whichever island you are on to the wharf at Nakasong. Then you walk from the wharf to the bus station at Nakasong.
The tourist bus from Nakasong to Pakse leaves at around 12 noon and takes around 2.5 hours to return to Pakse. You also have the option of local buses from Nakasong to Pakse, which leave usually when full. Remember this will take you into the 8km bus station and you’ll then need to get the 8 kilometre (5 miles) from there to Pakse.
Our trip from Pakse to Si Phan Don
We travelled from Pakse to Don Khone, having returned from a few days exploring the Bolaven Plateau on motorbikes and leaving our backpacks in our guesthouse in Pakse.
Booking Tickets from Pakse to Si Phan Don
It was an easy trip. To get here we booked a bus and ferry combo from the Nang Noi Guesthouse in Pakse for 65,000 kips. You can book this online here
Pakse to Nakasong
A minivan picked us up and dropped us about 2 blocks from the guesthouse at the bigger, seriously decrepit air conditioning leaking onto shoulders, broken seated bus down to Nakasong, where we then caught a boat. There are several ATM’s here in Nakasong, but you’ll rarely find them working, usually, they run out of cash, as so many travellers are trying to get cash for the four thousand islands. There are NO ATM’s in Si Phan Don, once you leave Nakasong, we recommend stocking up on cash before leaving Pakse. (read our article on which Laos ATMs will cost you least here)
We left Pakse at 0800 and arrived at our end destination in Don Khone at 1310
Nakasong to the Wharf
From the “bus station” in Nakasong we walked about 1 minute down to the wharf. (Turn right out of the bus station, there are no signs, just follow the shops). The wharf here has boats going to the three main islands of Si Phan Don – Don Det, Don Khong and Don Khone, just ask and someone will point you to the right one.
Getting tickets for the Ferry from Nakasong to Don Khone / Don Det / Don Khong
As we’d bought a through ticket including our ferry we swapped our tickets for more tickets at the ticket office and hopped into a longboat full of locals heading straight to Don Khone.
Our experience from Si Phan Don to Pakse
On our return from Don Khone to Pakse, we bought boat and bus tickets for 55,000 kips from the nameless restaurant nearest to our room, where we’d been at last once a day since our arrival. You can book return tickets here
Don Khone to Nakasong Wharf
Our longboat took us back to the wharf, (running out of fuel on the way, but hey, there was a lot of time) and then we walked back up to the Nakasong “bus station”.
Then we stood around waiting for the bus for 30 minutes. Locals get the first choice of the seats while the surly ticket office staff won’t tell you which bus is the one for Pakse until the local are seated.
Nakasong to Pakse
After two and a half hours of air conditioning dripping onto virtually every seat and head in the bus we arrived in Pakse, where the bus dropped us off close to the Daolin and Saibadee Pakse Restaurants at the corner of Number 24 and Number 13 roads.
The bus leaves Nakasong at 1200 noon (so long boats leave Don Khone around 1030. Arrival is scheduled to be back in Pakse by 1430. If you’re heading out from Pakse on the same day, be sure to check out our post on how to go from Pakse to Vientiane, the night bus will suit you just fine!
Going from Pakse to Si Phan Don is Easy
The route and transport from Pakse to Si Phan Don is easy. The daily tourist bus makes it simple and even the local songthaew is an easy route. Your transport will eat up most of a day though, however, as you arrive in 4000 Islands you’ll realize that one of the best things to do here is to relax in a hammock and watch the Mekong River drift by.