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If you’re looking for the best place in Laos to while away a few days sipping a Beerlao and relaxing with a view of the water, Si Phan Don is for you. Also called 4000 Islands, this archipelago stretches over a section of the Mekong River in the Champasak province in southern Laos.
Although the name makes it sound massive, many of the “islands” are simply small sandbars that are submerged during the wet season. However, there are three major islands that are popular with tourists. These islands all have affordable guesthouses, restaurants, and things to do. The most popular activity by far, however, is simply relaxing.
There’s nothing better than going for a leisurely stroll or taking a nap overlooking the river. The pace in Si Phan Don is even more laid-back than in the rest of Laos, so this is the best place to come to relax and rejuvenate.
Which Island to Stay on?
The archipelago may be named “4000 Islands,” but there are only three main ones that tourists typically stay on: Khon, Dhet, and Khong. It’s not hard to travel between them via boat or bridge, but you may want some advice in choosing which to stay on.
1. Don Dhet
The most popular island for tourists is Don Dhet. Dhet has the largest tourist infrastructure; you’ll find a variety of guesthouses and bungalows to choose from for cheap prices. If you’re looking for nice hotel-style accommodations, you can find that too. It will also be easy to rent bikes or water equipment.
There’s always a stream of travelers around Dhet, and it has a young, party-friendly vibe. If you’re looking to have a laid-back party with some beers on the beach, Dhet is the best place to do it.
2. Don Khon
Don Khon is a little quieter and a little more luxurious than Dhet. You’ll find a smaller selection of cheap accommodations and more high-quality guesthouses and resorts.
There’s also a decent selection of nice restaurants, and being on Khon puts you closer to some of Si Phan Don’s best sites. Khon is a little more toned-down than Dhet, and it tends to be quieter.
3. Don Khong
Don Khong is the largest island, but it’s also the least crowded. Tourists visit Khong the least because there aren’t as many activities to do, but the opportunities for relaxing and enjoying the scenery are limitless.
Khong has a good selection of cheap accommodations, making it budget-friendly. It’s also home to some beautiful areas of forest, farms, and villages. If you prefer to be away from the hustle and bustle of other tourists, Khong is the island for you.
Getting Around Si Phan Don
Most of the time, you’ll be able to travel around Si Phan Don by foot. The islands are small enough that you can criss-cross them by walking. If you’d like to cover more ground, you can rent a bike.
There are plenty of bike-rental places catering to tourists around the islands, and you can typically rent a bike for around 10,000 kip a day. Make sure that you check the bike tires for any punctures or deflation before you head out.
Whether on foot or on a bike, you’ll have to pay 20,000 kip to cross the bridge between Don Khon and Don Det.
The other method of transport around the islands is boats. You’ll need to take a boat to arrive at and leave the island, and a boat tour can be a fun way to look around the islands as a whole.
If you want to travel by water, you can rent a kayak or hire a local to take you somewhere by boat. Keep in mind that many of these boats will be small. You may get a little wet on your journey, but that’s all part of the fun.
Waterfalls to See
Khone Phapheng Falls
One of the highlights of the 4000 Islands is its waterfalls, including the largest waterfall in Laos, the Khone Phapheng Falls. These falls are a 13-kilometer stretch of rushing rapids, including a number of cascades. The largest drop is 21 meters (69 feet) high.
The appeal of these falls is the impressive rush of the water, sending mist billowing up over the river. In fact, the rapids are so powerful that they prevented the Mekong River from being used as a navigable trade route.
Another attractive waterfall is Tat Somphamit, another group of rapids located close to the French Bridge on Don Khon. Depending on when you go, you may get to see local fishermen precariously lowering bamboo fishing traps into the rapids.
The Mekong River is home to an endangered kind of dolphin called the Pakha or Irrawaddy dolphins. The best way to catch a glimpse of these rare dolphins is to take a boat tour from the village of Ban Hang Khon on Don Khon. The dry season is usually the best time to see them, but you may spot a couple at any time of the year.
Other tours may lead you to a place on the beach where you might be able to see dolphins off the shore. If you have the chance, it’s a rare opportunity to see a beautiful and endangered animal.
If you’ve had your fill of napping, relaxing, and reading, you’ll be able to find a handful of fun outdoor activities to keep you busy.
- Swimming is an ever-popular option, and there are a few places you can do it easily. Close to the Tat Somphamit waterfall, you’ll find a small beach that’s great for swimming.
- You can also get out into the water by renting a kayak or tube to go floating in. If you’d like someone to guide you around the Mekong River, you can book a kayaking tour. You may even spot some Irrawaddy dolphins! If you’re tubing or kayaking, stay aware of the current. It can be deceptively fast in some places, and you don’t want to be swept away from your friends.
- Other than these activities, the best thing to do is enjoy a leisurely walk or bike ride around the islands. There are plenty of farms, villages, and beautiful sites to appreciate as you meander around.
© 2019 Sam Shepards
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on April 23, 2019:
Thank you, Laos is a great place to visit. The 4000 islands in the south is great for relaxing before going into Cambodia or Vietnam.
Liz Westwood from UK on April 23, 2019:
Your article showcases the area very well. It looks like a great part of the world to visit.
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 23, 2019:
Fantastic piece though I am partial. My Honeymoon was Phou Quoc Island Just off the coast of where you speak. It actually does not seem to be Vietnamese. It is where the famous "fish sauces" are from.
What is not to like about the Mekong? Many days cruising it with that brew you spoke of. I always hired a boat. And boy did I get soaked a bunch.
Thanks for bringing back so many memories.