After our motorcycle loop around Thakeak our next “logical” destination should have been Pakse in order to discover the Bolaven plateau…
But here we are, after 4 days on a scooter we didn’t really want to get back on a motorbike right away. So it was to spare our butts that we decided to go and relax for a few days on the banks of the Mekong River in the 4000 islands area, south of Laos.
The 4000 islands in Laos
Well, already the first big question we were asking ourselves me before we got there is: “are there really 4000 islands?”
So to be completely honest I don’t really feel like I’ve seen 4000, but after that, if every little 30cm piece of land counts as an island, then why not…
But after all, we don’t really care, the name sounds very glamorous and that’s what’s essential. No?
So rest assured, if you plan to go through Si Phan Don (the Lao name for the 4000 islands) you will not be confronted with a difficult choice concerning the island for your accommodation… Yes, because out of these 4000 islands, there are really only 3 on which there are inhabitants and some guesthouses..
Inventory of the situation….
The largest of the islands (nearly 18km long) is also the one closest to Pakse. We decided to skip this island because apparently there is not much to do there except rest, but also because we only had a few days and did not really want to change islands every day…
Probably the best island for backpackers and parties! Don Det is a bit like the meeting point for young people in Laos after drinking the Beerlao in Luang Prabang and the buckets in Vang Vieng. Accommodation is not expensive, and it is almost the only place in the 4000 islands where solo travellers can find dormitory beds.
But for us who travel as a couple, and after having already seen Vang Vieng, we were not really in the mood to get back into the festive atmosphere and so we preferred to head for the small neighbouring island of Don Khone, known to be quieter.
For us the perfect compromise! Don Khone is the southernmost island in the archipelago and is directly connected to Don Det by an old French bridge. The island measures 5km long by 3km wide, which makes it easily accessible and can be visited on foot or by bike, but we will come back to it…
Don Khone is also home to the most beautiful waterfalls, and in the north of the island there are many accommodation options.
For accommodation on Don Khone do not hesitate to take a look around the guesthouses! And especially if you have made it to the 4000 islands, don’t hesitate to spend a little more and take a room with a view of the water!
At first we found a somewhat crappy guesthouse, not at the water’s edge for 50,000 kips. But the next day we found our happiness! A small room, with terrace and hammock overlooking the Mekong River. The price of the latter was also 50’000 kips.
I can’t remember The name of the guesthouse to be honest, but it was the first guesthouse on the left after crossing the bridge coming from Don Det.
Getting to the 4000 islands
To go to the 4000 islands the easiest way is to go from Pakse! Buses and minibuses leave throughout the day. If you book from your guesthouse the price will generally be between 65’000 and 75’000 kip (this price includes tuk-tuk transport to the Pakse bus station located 4km from the centre.
If like us you come from Thakeak you have roughly two options:
- The most comfortable solution: take a VIP nightbus to Pakse, then the next day take another bus to Don Det or Don Khone. Total price: about 150’000 kips per person
- The cheapest solution: Take a local bus directly from Thakeak to Don Khone. It leaves every day around 5.30 pm from Thakeak bus station and costs 85’000 kips per person.
In any case, if you go to Don Det or Don Khone, the bus will drop you off at Nakasong village, where you will have to take a boat to reach the island of your choice.
Count 10’000 kip for the crossing towards Don Det and 15’000 kips for Don Khone. The prices are fixed, so for one faith, no need to negotiate! (Phew!)
Sometimes by paying less, well… it gets complicated
You’re probably wondering why I’m talking about the first bus option that costs almost twice as much? Well, quite simply because we took the second option and frankly it turned out to be messay! It should be noted that the local bus involves buses with only regular seats, and not the comfortable version as in tourist buses!
Add to that, that the buses don’t have air conditioning, so if the temperatures are cool then why not, but during our trip the thermometer was almost 40 degrees celsius, we might as well tell you that we literally liquefied in the bus, impossible to sleep!
The local buses also stop very regularly to pick up and let people out, the bus is full to bursting, and… the buses also drop lots of “things” along the road.
Paint pots, rice bags, scooters (yes, on the roof there were scooters!). In short, there is nothing dramatic about the local bus acting as a postman, you will tell me.
Well, no, except when guys confuse a big backpack with a bag of rice in the middle of the night!
When the backpack goes on the road
That’s how we found ourselves at 6am in Pakse to change buses, but Fabienne’s backpack had vanished!
In these cases, there is no need to get angry, you breathe deeply and you count on your lucky star and the kindness of the Laotians!
It didn’t miss, the driver agreed to turn back, stopping at all the stops he had made! Luckily after about 30 minutes of driving it was the miracle !
Placed by the side of the road, like an old forgotten bag of potatoes, my faithful companion waited for us!
In short, 30 minutes in the other direction to return to Pakse, but this time with the bag, but of course the bus for the 4000 islands was already far away…
So it was in a collective tuk-tuk paid by our bus driver that we made the last part of the trip! In short, by noon we had arrived in Don Khone, completely exhausted, sweaty, but happy to have our bagback!
Update: At the time of writing this article, my backpack has decided not to take the same flight as us… We are in Indonesia, and my bag probably in an airport between Bangkok and Singapore… In short, the rascal seems to want to run away from me…. This will be the opportunity to test the reactivity of our travel insurance… 😉
Things to do on the 4000 islands
This is probably the main activity of a successful stay in 4000 islands in southern Laos! We enjoy the sunny weather, the terraces, the guesthouses nestled at the water’s edge but above all the hammocks!
From time to time we put a little suspense in his day and we go get a little shake fruit or an iced coffee, then we get back in position in the hammock!
Around 5pm it is customary to exchange your fruit juice for a nice, fresh BeerLao and enjoy the sunset with other travellers….
As you can see, our lives have been very difficult on Don Khone.
Waterfalls on Don Khone
As we told you above, Don Khone is not very big! So it was on foot that we set out around the island to admire the magnificent waterfalls of li Phi and Khone Phapeng.
Looking back, I’m not sure that walking there was really our best idea of the year. In March it is almost 40 degrees celsius south of Laos, thus, 4-5 hours of walking can quickly turn into quite a challenge! But it’s so beautiful!!!!!
To the west of Don Khone is the largest of the waterfalls: Li Phi
Li Phi Falls are in fact the largest waterfalls in Southeast Asia (yap!). The falls are not very high (21 meters), but they are very wide! But what makes Li Phi the largest waterfall in Southeast Asia is mainly its water flow: 11,000m3 per second in the dry season (when we were there) and up to 49,000m3 per second in the rainy season!
From the guesthouses area it takes about 35 minutes to walk there, and on the way you will pass by a very pretty little temple!
Very motivated, we went down to the tip of the island along the west coast, then up along the east coast, to finish the day at Khone Phapeng Falls.
If you go there, don’t hesitate to cross the small suspension bridge, the most beautiful waterfalls will be waiting for you about a hundred meters after the bridge!
Go see the freshwater dolphins
Very south of Don Khone we took the opportunity to get a closer look of the few Irrawaddi dolphins that still remain in the area!
We apologize in advance, but we have no pictures to show from this trip!
We certainly saw dolphins and it was very nice, but on the other hand far too furtively to be able to get the camera out and immortalize the moment! But the trip is clearly worth it!
The tour lasts about an hour and takes you towards the Cambodian coasts. The engine is cut off and the boat drifts in the middle of the dolphins that are playing…
Other things to do in Don Khone
For the hyperactive or if you plan to stay longer, there are some possibilities of activities such as tubing or kayaking. So even if the tubing reminded me a little too much of Vang Vieng and its rather gloomy atmosphere, I must admit that the kayaking excursion seemed nice.
Afterwards I don’t hide from you that after our 3 intensive days of kayaking to reach Luang Prabang, we were officially done with kayaking and thus skipped this famous excursion. But it’s probably the best way to get a closer look at dolphins….
Admission fee for Li Phi waterfalls: 25’000 kip per person
Phapeng Waterfalls: Free! (rare enough to be noted…)
Boat tour to see freshwater dolphins: 60’000 kip per boat to see only dolphins.
Count between 100’000 and 250’000 kips if you also want to see waterfalls (price depends on the distance and number of waterfalls)
For the information: we did the 100’000 kips tour and it lasted about 1 hour.
We really took advantage of the 4000 islands to rest a little and enjoy the magnificent landscapes… But here we are, if you know us a little bit you will have noticed that we like to move. Thus, spending 3 days there was perfect for us! We had time to relax but did not get bored… It’s thus full of energy that we sent off in direction of Pakse for another incredible motorbike loop!
But we’ll talk to you about that very soon!