The 4000 Islands in Laos

Categories Laos, Southeast Asia2 Comments

The 4000 islands or Si Phan Don in Lao is located in the most southerly part of the country. A small boat ferried us through green waters passing scenes of swimming water buffalo, playing children, and fisherman casting their nets. We could physically feel we were entering a slower way of life.

We spent time on two of the islands – Don Det and Don Khon and had a very relaxing week.

Getting there:

We travelled to the 4000 islands from Paske, it cost 60,000 kip per person for a bus and boat ticket (including hotel pick up) and the bus left at 8am and took around 3 hours.

We were dropped off at the bus terminal at Ban Nakasong, the small town where the ferry to the islands can be taken. There are a few shops here (including a pharmacy and currency exchange) and we also used the ATM (located outside the bus station) to get enough money out to last us for a week on the islands.

We then headed right and followed the main road towards the dock where we handed our ticket over at the office.

ferry office
Ferry Time Table (April 2015)

Our first stop in the 4000 Islands was Don Det and we asked to be dropped at the second dock by saying ‘Taka Pan’ and paying 5,000 kip more per person as this was closer to the side of the island we wanted to stay at and it turned out to be a short walk along the river to our accommodation: ‘Mama Lueah’s .’

Don Det:

Don Det Buffalo
Don Det – Water Buffalo

The main pastimes here are napping, taking in the scenery and eating. However, we also cycled around the whole island (a less impressive feat than it sounds as it only takes about an hour). Although the scenery inland was less impressive in April due to the rice paddies being dry, we did see lots of baby chicks, cows grazing, and came across quirky bars and restaurants including a place with homemade ice-cream which seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere. Tip: Do not expect great brakes, gears, adjustable seats or helmets for the bikes which cost 10,000 kip for the day – just take it slow.

We were able to scope out all of the different accommodation options and we felt that Mama Lueah’s was the best budget option by far (there was ‘The Little Eden Hotel‘ which had a pool but we couldn’t justify the price as backpackers). It was a short bike ride to where the bars and restaurants were which meant it was much more peaceful. The bungalows were basic but had a big bed, mosquito net, a western toilet (eastern flushing), and the views were unbeatable. The best part about the place however was the restaurant where we could relax for a few hours reading and listening to music or using their free Wi-Fi. The food was also incredible and great value compared to the other options around. The owner (a German man called Lutz) was very friendly and offers you his home made Lao Lao at the end of your meal. Rooms were 80,000 kip when we stayed but this fluctuates depending on the time of year.

Practical information:

  • No ATMs on the island – you can withdraw cash before you arrive in the main town from the ATM near the bus station.
  • Money exchange was available at a few shops for a fee
  • Pharmacy is located along a left turn off of the main strip
  • There are small shops selling basic items
  • Limited Tuk Tuks, it is easier to make use of the bicycles
  • Sunrise (west) side is more peaceful than the sunset side
  • You can book transport for onward travel e.g. to Cambodia from most guesthouses. The cheapest we could find the journey to Siam Reap was $26 (this price worked out around the same as doing it independently and reduced the hassle of arranging a bus across the border)
  • You can book kayaking tours at most shops and guest houses
  • You can arrange the ferry back via your accommodation

Don Khon:

don khone
River Sunset

We walked from Don Det to Don Khon which took about 20 minutes. We did not need to cross the bridge as a man offered us a lift in his boat for 10,000 kip pp;  as this saved as another ten minutes lugging out packs we took him up on his offer. If there is not a boat available then the bridge costs 35,000 pp.

All of the guesthouses are set along the river beside the bridge – you can get fan bungalows for 60,000 – 90,000kip, and aircon bungalows for 90,000 – 120,000 kip. As we had saved money on the islands (as there really is nothing to spend it on other than meals and accommodation) we decided to splash out a bit and stay at one of the three available hotels ‘Sala Don Khone‘ and had an amazing house boat on the river where we stayed for four more days.

Most of the restaurants here offered the same food at the same prices (expect to pay between 60,000 – 90,000kip for dinner) and the quality was not very good. However, we found one French restaurant ‘Chez Fred et Lea‘ which was slightly more expensive but served really nice food.

Again, activities here are limited to relaxing and bike riding but there is a bit more to see during this bike ride than on Don Det as it is much bigger:

  • The beach – it does not really live up to it’s name but there were some friendly restaurant owners here.
  • Somphamit Waterfalls (35,000 kip per person or included in the bridge ticket if the same day as crossing). There was supposed to be another set of falls but our group could find them.
  • Dolphin watching – we didn’t do this boat trip as we were told they are endangered and that the boats distress them,  but we cycled to the area where the boats leave and it was a good view and you could see Cambodia. There are a few small places to eat here but the quality was not great so we would recommend a drink only. Tip: On the way back take the main road, do not (we repeat do not) fork off to the right which ‘Maps ME’ promises as quicker. A mountain bike is needed to attempt this and you need to be willing to cross some very questionable bridges or navigate around them. So you can guess what we did without mountain bikes – it took forever! And we (Sasha) were freaking out about snakes, wandering bulls, imaginary drug dens and bridges collapsing as we were off the main road cycling along overgrown dirt tracks. We even had a chainsaw go off which had us picking up speed. However, we made it out alive without any of that happening of course (well the bridges were not imaginary).
  • Locomotive – you can visit an old steam train left on the island.

Tip: Check bikes carefully as many had non-existent breaks and the roads are much bumpier here.

Practical information:

  • No ATMs on the island – you can withdraw cash before you arrive in the main town from the ATM near the bus station.
  • Money exchange was available at  a few shops for a fee
  • Small shops
  • Postcards and stamps are sold at a hotel on the left side of the bridge
  • Limited Tuk Tuks, it is easier to make use of the bicycles ($1 a day)
  • You can book kayaking tours at most shops and guest houses
  • You can arrange the ferry back via your accommodation
  • You can book onward transport e.g. to Cambodia at most restaurants and shops. The cheapest we could find the journey to Siam Reap was $26 (this price worked out around the same as doing it independently and reduced the hassle of arranging a bus across the border)

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