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Guide to the 4000 Islands of Laos

by James Wilmshurst
Views of the Mekong River amongst the palm trees in Laos
Views of the Mekong River amongst the palm trees in Laos

The Southeast Asian country of Laos is home to the serene 4000 islands, locally known as ‘Si Phan Don’. This dreamy destination is complete with spectacular waterfalls, rare wildlife, rich history and an abundance of palm trees. Here’s everything you need to know about the 4000 islands of Laos.

The 4000 islands, Laos

The 4000 islands, Laos, is a fascinating riverine archipelago – a collection of islands – situated near the Cambodian border in the Mekong river. Many of the islands are small enough to navigate on foot, although you may prefer to rent a bicycle to get around. 

Look closely at a map of the 4000 islands in Southern Laos and you’ll see that only some of the islands have names. During the monsoon season, which is typically from May to October, some of the smaller islands are submerged. The largest islands include Don Khong, Don Som, Don Khone and Don Det.

Boats on the Mekong river, Laos
Boats on the Mekong river, Laos

Don Det and the 4000 Islands

Don Det is the island most preferred by young people and backpackers. Although ‘party island’ might be a little over descriptive, the beach bonfires, music and beer under a bright moonlit sky is certainly an atmosphere to experience. 

Don Det is also one of the only islands, aside from Don Khone and Don Khon, with available accommodation. Accommodation on the 4000 islands includes quiet guesthouses, quaint beach bungalows and boutique hotels.

Things to do in the 4000 Islands

– Watch the Sunset

Visitors to Si Phan Don tend to join together, with a cold beer or iced coffee and enjoy the sunset upon the vast river. The tranquil evening views on the islands are the most satisfying end to a relaxing day of soaking up the sun in a nearby hammock.

– Spot the Endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins

The freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins that inhabit the Mekong river are an endearing, unusual-looking species with a rounded forehead. It is estimated that there are only 89 Irrawaddy dolphins left in the river, taking a boat tour with an experienced local or heading out on a kayak will give you the best opportunity to see them.

– Visit the Khone Phapheng Falls

The impressive, cascading Khone Phapheng waterfalls are the biggest of their kind in Southeast Asia. This series of beautiful waterfalls are best seen during the dry season, as the raised water level in the rainy season means that some of the falls are submerged. The jagged Khone Phapheng waterfalls are one of the key reasons that the Mekong river is impassable by ship.

– Take a Fishing Trip on the Mekong River

Keen anglers will be excited to know that the Mekong river has around 1,148 species of fish, making it the third most diverse fish population in the world. Fishing trips offer the chance to catch Giant Mekong catfish, amongst other curious species. Relax on deck and enjoy a tasty ‘catch of the day’ barbecue before the trip winds to an end.

– Experience delicious Laotian Cuisine

The traditional food in Laos includes softly steamed fresh fish, sticky rice, zesty spiced soups and marinated, grilled meats. Eating in Laos is a friendly, communal affair, which allows friends and family to enjoy the food and each other’s company. 

Sunrise on the River Mekong, Laos
Sunrise on the River Mekong, Laos

How to get to the 4000 Islands

Si Phan Don is located in the Champasak Province in southern Laos. Getting to the islands is relatively simple from the capital, Vientiane, with a flight to Pakse. From Pakse, the drive to Nakasong village is fairly short and then it’s a smooth sail to Don Ket or Don Khone. 

 The slow, calm pace of Laos time means that there really is no rush, and public transport around the country can be reflective of this.

If you’re daydreaming about island life, get in touch with the team at Experience Travel Group. Our team of travel specialists will build your dream holiday to Laos and the 4000 islands today.

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