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The Four Thousand Island Escape

Four Thousand Islands

 

The boat rocks from my weight as I enter its cavern.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

I perch on a wooden slat and rest my feet in a pool of cool stagnant water.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

We drift from the shore; the engine rattling with the repetition of a trance beat.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

The river invites us, calm and still and welcoming.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

One by one four thousand mangrove islands emerge on the Mekong.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

Fishermen in conical hats float and cast their reels.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

Wooden huts perch on stilts and jump from the jungle in pink, in rust, in blue.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

We drift to the shore; I slowly wobble onto the muddy bank.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

I fall into the rhythm of this sleepy island escape.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

Smiling children play in the schoolyard and wave.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

Cycles and motos dodge potholes and pigs as they pass.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

The narrow dirt road splits and weaves across the small island into a maze.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

I ride a rickety bicycle beyond the tiny town.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

Guesthouses thin; water buffalo take their place.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

I follow the signs to the mythical waterfall.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

On this tiny island its majesty takes me by surprise.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

Reggae wafts from straw huts sheltering hammocks

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

above a river that rushes from the falls.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

I submerge into the warm green mineral water that tugs me to join its journey.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

Back on the road I cycle under the merciful canopy of the forest.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

Water buffalo observe me from their swamp bath.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

I reach the river and hire a boat to see the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

Instead I spot the humps of thousands of mangrove islands.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

Light turns the forest gold and I chase the sun before it sets.

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

Passing the rice fields and towering palms

 

Four Thousand Islands

 

I bid farewell to my doe-eyed friends.

 

Four Thousand islands

 

As I listen to the frogs chirp in the fields

 

Four Thousand islands

 

as I watch the clouds turn dark then light with each bolt

 

Four Thousand islands

 

and as see the sun set on the river

 

Four Thousand islands

 

I become silent with gratitude

 

Four Thousand islands

 

because I found my pura vida after all.

 

 

 

How to Get to Si Phan Don

 

The Four Thousand Islands in Southern Laos have become a popular stop on the backpacker trail, typically on the way to or from Cambodia. Most tour desks, hostels, and hotels can arrange tickets from Vientiane, Vang Vieng, or Pakse in Laos or from Cambodia. Boats depart from the mainland to either Don Det or Don Khone and take about 20 minutes.

 

 

Where to Sleep in Si Phan Don

 

Don Det is certainly the more popular island to sleep on, but I far preferred Don Khone. During the low season both islands felt quiet and uncrowded, but Don Det is known to become backpacking party central during the high season. Don Khone remains quieter, more local, and in my opinion more beautiful and much cleaner. On Don Det it’s possible to find bungalows for under $3 whereas accommodation on Don Khone is slightly more upmarket at around $7 for a bungalow or a room, still highly affordable. My best recommendation on where to stay is to simply walk around the town and find the place that suits you best. The area with guesthouses is small and easy to navigate on both islands and places are being built or renovated constantly.

 

 

Where to Eat in Si Phan Don

 

Don Det certainly has more options for dining and even has small grocery stores. Most restaurants serve similar menus with a selection of Thai, Lao, and Western cuisine. The restaurant Loy Loung right across from where the boats come in on Don Khone has some of the best food I’ve eaten in Laos, the sweetest staff, and a cozy atmosphere. I can particularly recommend the fresh spring rolls and the Massaman curry which is possibly the best Massaman curry I’ve had anywhere. Come early because the place fills up fast and during the high season there’s often a wait.

 

 

What to Do in Si Phan Don

 

The Four Thousand Islands are best known as the hammock capitol of Laos. Where stoners come to wax poetic with other travelers inside of wooden bars on the river. However I found it to be a stunning place for natural exploration.

 

Cycle the Islands

Rent a bicycle and you will be amazed at how easy it is to become immersed in gorgeous terrain and traditional Lao life. Both Don Det and Don Khone mostly consist of vast rice fields with small trails to ride on. Don Khone has rapids, waterfalls, suspension bridges, and even old ruins you can discover. Find a sense of adventure, wear sunscreen, pack lots of water, be prepared to get lost and discover a magical world in the process.

 

Dolphin Watching

Boats on the South end of Don Khone offer rides out to spot the rare Irrawaddy dolphins… but I can’t really recommend them. It’s inexpensive, less than $10 for the entire boat for an hour, but they don’t get close to the dolphins so you can’t see much. Kayaking tours get much better views and are offered from tour companies on both islands.

 

Swim at the Liphi Falls

The rushing waterfall on Don Khone is huge and reminiscent of Niagra Falls. It’s impressive to walk the stretch across from it, taking in the view, but the real joy is swimming in the river below. The onsite bar and restaurant has inviting huts with hammocks and floor cushions, a solid menu of Thai and Lao food (order the fresh spring rolls), and great reggae music. Be careful swimming as sometimes the current is strong, but the water feels incredible on tired traveling muscles.

 

 

 


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Comments

  1. I’ve always wanted to go there. That pink sunset is amazing- I love the cotton candy ones.

  2. Awesome post about a beautiful place..If you visit India, go to Kerala and you will see similar places..Peaceful, calm, non-polluted and beautiful..

  3. Thank you for this blog,
    Every time you share beautiful picture…
    But why are they always blured?

  4. Those pictures remind me of the some of the boat rides I’ve taken in Southeast Asia. I had totally forgotten about the houses perched on stilts but they seem very typical of the region. The image of the sunset is lovely.

  5. Hey Camille, Im not even sure where this is on the map. But how hard would it be to bring your own bicycle on trips here?

    • Camille Willemain Says: May 24, 2014 at 8:14 pm

      Hm not sure because the boat that I took was quite small so you’d have to arrange with one of the cargo boats. However it’s quite close to the mainland in Southern Laos. That said, it’s really cheap and easy to rent a bicycle here, less than $2 for 24 hours, so I’d recommend just doing that unless you’re doing an entire bicycle journey through Laos and Cambodia, which I’m sure would be amazing!

  6. What beautiful serene surroundings!

  7. This is one of the first places I ever visited in SE Asia. I have such fond innocent memories looking back in hindsight. I love how you captured the islands with your tilt shift photography :)

    • Camille Willemain Says: June 1, 2014 at 8:27 am

      Thank you so much :) I wonder how it’s changed since you were there last. I hear Don Det has basically become the next Vang Vieng. Fortunately it was low season and I stayed on Don Khone so I didn’t see much of that.

  8. Great article, and amazing pictures! I am a travel enthusiast and author whose first book #fiveweeksintheamazon just came out. I am going to don det tomorrow! Thanks for sharing such great advice!
    Sean