Si Phan Don – Four Thousand Islands



The Lao language is similar to that of the Burmese, very tonal – but pretty easy to learn the basics.

“Kop chai” for instance is thank you.  Add a “lai, lai” and you’ve got “very much” on the end of it.

“Sabaidee” is hallo.

“Biya” is obviouslybeer.

“Si” is four.

“Phan” is thousand.

“Don” is island.

So we’re here in Si Phan Don. Four Thousand Islands.

Si phan don - Mekong Sunset

Where is Si Phan Don?

It’s the proliferation of islands (most uninhabited) down here in the south of Laos, near the border with Cambodia.

We read that it’s a backpackers paradise. This seems to mean that it’s a path well-trodden by lots of folks who seem to wear barely more than a bikini, smoke heavily and accentuate each set of words they cludge together with more than one “fuck” and several “likes”. I can’t bring myself to call what they say a sentence as it’s simply not constructed.

Like, At All.

When folks refer to Si Phan Don, they’re 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 place to stay, eat, drink and debauch (as the Lonely Planet tells me).

Si phan don - Don_Khone

We’re on the third island, Don Khone. It’s connected to Don Det by an old stone French bridge, but there’s a 35,000 kip entrance fee, so there aren’t a huge number of day trippers between the islands at this stage in the season.

We passed under the bridge on our way in, but not over it.

Si phan don

Where we stayed in Si Phan Don

Our guest house, the Somphamit has about 6 rooms and, we paid 100,000kip (US$18.68) a night for a room with a private bathroom with a hot shower, air conditioning and wifi that never works. Our river facing deck is shared with two adjoining rooms and is directly above the Mekong River. Sunset is glorious  in a murky off season way.

Si phan don - sunset

Only the far room is taken, with a young German couple who have incredibly heavy feet and an incessant loud pitched giggle that indicates they’re younger that we thought.

I feel like a grumpy old woman. But I am just tired. We’ve been on the road for 17 months now, and this will be a short break. It’s just nice to not get up to an alarm or a rooster or the incessant whine of motorbike engines.

Si phan don - the deck on the Mekong

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.

Si phan don - view from the deck

And despite what I’ve typed, Don Khone was great. We ate well at a variety of local restaurants, we slept well, lawn mowers aside.

Si phan don - river boat

Lazing Away in Si Phan Don

We read, I wrote some of this, caught up on some reading and we did a whole lot of nothing.

Here you can find the largest waterfall in Asia by volume of water, but we didn’t. Here you can walk along the old railway tracks that the French put in, but we didn’t. Here, you can sometimes spot the rare Irrawaddy dolphin, but we didn’t.

I feel decadent, lazy and relaxed, so it’s a push to get on the long boat back to the mainland where we join the “like fuck” brigade again for the 3 hour long bus back to Pakse for a shower at the NangNoi guest house before hopping onto an overnight bus to Vientiane.

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 kip. 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.  We left Pakse at 0800 and arrived at our end destination at 110


From there, we walked about 1 minutes down to the wharf. (Turn right out of the bus station, there are no signs, just follow the shops).

Si phan don - walk to dock

Si phan don - boat dock

We swapped our tickets for more tickets at the ticket office and hopped into a long boat full of locals heading straight to Don Khone.

Si phan don Ticket Office


Si phan don - Boat dock


Si phan don - Boat Ticket


We looked at three places before we decided on the Somphamit on the basis of location and price.

On our return we bought boat and bus tickets for 55,000 kip from the nameless restaurant nearest to our room, where we’d been at last once a day since our arrival (they have great wifi and a friendly dog that tries to chew your toes, legs, anything).

Si phan don

Si Phan Don to Pakse

Our long boat took us back to the wharf, (running out of fuel on the way, but hey, there was a lot of time). Then we stood around waiting for the bus for 30 minutes. Locals get first choice of the seats while the surly ticket office staff won’t tell you which bus is the one for Pakse until this happens.

After two and a half hours of air conditioning dripping onto virtually every seat, shoullder and head in the bus we arrived in Pakse, where the bus drops 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 back in Pakse by 1430.

There’s enough time for a shower and relax after lunch at the Nang Noi and we’re getting the overnight bus to Vientiane.

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About Sarah Carter

Sarah Carter is an avid reader, writer and traveller. She loves hiking, sailing, skiing and exploring the world through food. She left a successful career in IT security and compliance in both the UK and US to travel the world with husband and partner in adventure, Nigel.

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