In the Si Pan Do area the dream of the French government, a non-stop infrastructure through South East Asia on the Mekong River, died. They had to face insuperable waterfalls and their try to bypass them with a narrow train turned out to be complex. Still today you can find the old train bridge, an old train and a lifting ramp for boats on the 3 main islands of the 4000 Islands. If you want to read more about the history click here.
In the South of Laos, a few kilometers before the border to Cambodia, the Mekong rises to a width of 14km. There you can find a little place of peace called the 4000 Islands. The name “4000 Islands” describes countless little spots of land in the Mekong River, the lifeline of South East Asia. Depending on the season and the fountain of the river, you can see more or less of these little spots.
Just 3 of these spots are big enough to live on them: Don Khong, Don Det and Don Khon.
On none of the island you can find an ATM or any medical services. So bring all the money you need and if in need buy some medicines before you get here.
How to get there
As you can also ready in my travel diary of my Laos trip (here), we drove from Pakse with a Truck to Ban Nakasang. Pakse is the capital of the southern area in Laos and Ban Nakasang a small fisher village, where you can also get everything you need for the islands. At the small and chaotic harbor of Ban Nakasang, you can buy tickets for small money and a longtail boat will bring you over the river to your desired island.
Nowadays the 4000 islands are getting more popular for backpackers and there are busses from all the neighbor countries to Pakse or directly to Ban Nakasang. If you want to fly you have to fly to Pakse.
Don Khong is the biggest of the 3 islands and 18km long. The people on the island are living in small villages and from agriculture and fishing. The main village is Muang Khan. There you can find some restaurants, bars and cafes, same as some 3 star hotels and guesthouses. This island is not so much for backpackers as the setting is more made for couples and quieter people.
Don Det & Don Khon – Backpackers paradise
The two islands Don Det & Don Khon are a Backpackers paradise and connected via an old bridge. During some days you will have to pay a fee of 4$ for crossing the bridge which includes the fee for the Liphi falls. On the weekends it is mostly for free to cross the bridge but for the falls you have to pay anyway. You can also drive with the boat from one island to the other.
On both islands you can find numerous Guesthouses. You normally live in little bamboo huts which are made directly on or even in the water. Normally they are equipped with a ventilator and simple beds. You should better bring a mosquito net with you, as the provided one are not the best and these beasts are everywhere. Also do not forget a mosquito spray. Don’t expect the running water to be any clean. Some of the huts are provided with running water but that often comes from the river. Ours was slightly brown most of the time.
You don’t need to plan a big budget for the islands. You can get a bed for 4$. We were two travelers and paid 7$ for a double room.
There are a lot of fun bars and restaurants which are also in bamboo huts and are all really chilled places. Food will start from 2$, for like 12$ you can already get a fresh BBQ-grilled fish with sides. Beer and drinks are between 1$ and 5$ as well.
Life on the 4000 islands
The life on the islands is absolutely chilled and slow. You won’t find any cars or much of the modern world here. In some guesthouses and restaurants you can find WiFi. Electricity is existing but you will experience several break downs from time to time. People are meeting in the restaurants or exploring the islands and nature around them.
If you would ask me what I have done with my time on Don Det, I honestly wouldn’t know what to answer. We originally planned on staying 3 days but ended up staying 5 days without even recognizing it. I stopped felling any time here. We got to bed whenever we wanted, we slept as long and as much as we wanted, we ate whenever we felt like it and we took a long time for everything what we do. I never spent so much time in a hammock. In the end, my travel mate just told me, that he is sorry but he has to push my pink bubble as we should travel on 🙁
We just let time be time and didn’t cared about it. That’s simply how life is at these islands.
No hurry, no pressure, no time.
Activities on the 4000 islands
If you really urge to be active on the islands there are also some things to do.
Seeing fresh water dolphines
You can go on boat trips and explore the river live. If you are lucky you will see some of the rare Irrawady dolphins and some water buffalos. These are rare fresh water dolphins and you can charter a boat trip to see them. These trips will be around 7$. I haven’t done such a trip, as we had several thunderstorms in the evenings and the water was really wild, so no boatmen recommended us to go. In general you can see the animals all around the year. From other travelers I heard that you will see the animals from distance and quite short, but I guess that’s normal when you are spotting animals in their natural live.
Exploring with the bike
You can also take a bike and just drive aimless over the islands and discover some waterfalls and the villages. You will see people working on the rice fields, taking care of cows and working in their houses. The nature is awesome in the rainy season.
You can still drive over the old bridge of the French colonialists for 4$ (including the entry for the Liphi waterfalls) and see the old narrow railway. Youcan also still see the old narrow railway with its train.
There are some awesome waterfalls and beaches to discover. Be careful with swimming in the waterfalls, every year some travelers are dying in them. If you travel during the rainy season you shouldn’t swim in the river as well. The current get strong and fast and also some travelers dies because they underrated the power of the water.
These are the most known waterfalls on Don Khon. When you come from Don Det you have to pay to cross the bridge to Don Khon, but this already includes the entry for the Liphi waterfalls. These different falls spilling the water down the steps of the Mekong River very powerful.
Khon Phapheng waterfalls
These falls are on the mainland and up to 21 meters high. These falls are the reason why the French colonialists had to build up the narrow railways on Don Khon / Don Det, as they couldn’t navigate around them.
If you want to see them from Don Det, you can book kayak tours to these falls. If you don’t want to go kayaking you can also go back to the mainland and drive there with a tuktuk. The falls are 12km away from Nakasang.
For me the 4000 islands are paradise. Since I have been there I always use to say “and if everything is falling apart I will just go to Don Det!”
Last but not least: Watching Sunsets
I have seen incredible sunsets on Don Det, but look yourself
For me the 4000 Islands are paradise!
Since I have been there, I always use to say “and if everything is falling apart I will just go to the 4000 Islands..!”
If you have more questions or need details on the give information, just contact me. I am happy to help you travelling the world.
Get lost, but don`t get hurt.