Laos has no sea but has 4000 islands. In the South, near the border with Cambodia, the Mekong widens and divides in multiple channels and waterways, creating an infinity of small islands (hence the name). Some are inhabited, some are not, and three of them have guesthouses and restaurants to receive tourists: Don Khong, Don Khon and Don Det.
Don Khong is the biggest of the three and slightly further north from the others. Don Det and Don Khon are smaller and joined by a bridge. Don Det is known as being more “party island” and Don Khon as being more authentic. Which island would you chose?
From Nakasan to Don Khon
The bus from Champasak dropped me in Nakasan, on the river side, where I should take a motor boat to one of the islands. Two thirds of the people in my bus went to Don Det, and one third to Don Khon. Good, I had chosen the island with less tourists!
It took 20 minutes by boat to reach Don Khon, and that trip reminded me a lot of the backwaters of Kerala, with so many waterways and small islands. Beautiful and peaceful.
Don Khon is quite small, maybe 4 or 5 km long. All the guesthouses and restaurants are concentrated on the north side, next to the bridge to Don Det. The rest of the island is rural Laos. There are wooden houses, cows, rice fields and even jungle in some parts.
I felt from the beginning that life in Laos goes at a slow pace, people are never in a hurry, and this is even more enhanced in the 4000 islands. All houses have an hammock, and I got used to go to the restaurant with a book, since the food took so long to come.
The islands are an ideal place to take rest. Some guesthouses have hammocks, and the views over the Mekong, specially at sunset, are amazing. I could just have spent days just sitting at the riverside with a book and a fruit shake (which I did), but I also visited the island and took some time to write for the blog (yes, I am too restless!).
The island by bicycle
The best way to move around is by bicycle. With it, I crossed the island and reached the southern point, where there was a small village and the origin of the old railway.
The railway was constructed by the French in order to navigate the Mekong. All around the 4000 islands there are rapids and falls so this part of the river is not navigable. This is why a railway was constructed, from the south point of Don Khon, crossing to Don Det through the bridge, and up to the north of Don Det, where the goods would be transferred again to a boat.
This village is also the departing point of the boat tours to see the irrawaddy dolphins, the only kind of dolphins that live in river water. It is an endangered species and it is estimated that there are around 90 dolphins living in the Mekong, between south Laos and north Cambodia. I did not go to see them because it was expensive, and because they are endangered, so I did not know if it might not be better to leave them alone.
The region is called 4000 islands, but it could be called 4000 waterfalls, since the river is full of rapids and small waterfalls. Some of them can be seen from Don Khon island.
In the east, the Khon Pa Soi waterfalls can be visited for free. These are quite small, but there is a hanging bridge to reach them, and I really enjoy wooden hanging bridges.
In the west, the Li Phi waterfalls are bigger and more impressive, and have an entry fee. It is actually not a big waterfall but rather a lot of small ones. These were quite nice and in the early morning (around 8-9 am) I was alone there.
Bye Bye Laos
4000 islands was my last stop in Laos. I enjoyed the country, the small villages, the rivers, the temples, the islands, but specially, I really liked the slow life and the smiles of Lao people.
Every time I change country, I feel a small bit of sadness to leave a place I learnt to know and appreciate. And the same time, I feel the excitement and anticipation of entering a new country, where I will see new things and live new adventures.
After Laos, my next destination was Cambodia. How would it be?
GOOD TO KNOW
- How to get there: Don Khon and Don Det can only be reached by boat from Nakasan. Nakasan has daily buses to/from Pakse and Vientiane, and to/from Cambodia.
- Motor boat from Nakasan to Don Khon: 20000 kips
- Bicycle rent: 10000 kips (1 euro approx)
- Li Phi waterfalls: 35000 kips
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Fascinating Laia I would have chosen the quieter island too! You can really sense the calm and peacefulness of Don Khon by reading your post and looking at your lovely photos. I always get that feeling too when I’m leaving a country I’ve visited – part of me wants to stay behind but then I’m excited for the new place 🙂 Hope you’re enjoying Cambodia and will look forward to reading your posts about your travels there. Happy travels 🙂
Thanks Rosemary! Cambodia has also been fascinating, in a very different way. I’ll write about it very soon 🙂
Wow! I did not know that it had so many islands….impressive. And pretty!
What a fantastic and very beautiful place to visit. I have been to Vietnam but I need to go to Laos too…
Opposite for me! I’ve visited Laos and Cambodia but I missed Vietnam. Next time 🙂
Kiara Gallop says
Reading all your posts on Laos is really making me miss my time in this beautiful country. I also hired a bicycle to explore Don Det and Don Khon, but I remember the terrain being a bit of a lumpy, rocky nightmare (it being rural Laos and not really designed for bicycles!)
Yes, it was a bit bumpy sometimes, and the bicycle not so good…sometimes I feared it would fall apart but at the end it was fine 🙂
SJ @ Chasing the Donkey says
By gosh, I simply had zero idea that it had 4000 island!!! Seriously that is mind blowing.
I’d never thought of island in a river delta! It does look like a great place to relax for a while. The waterfalls are beautiful!
Actually it is not even a delta, the river widens near the Laos-Cambodia border, and then it becomes a normal river again in Cambodia. Strange, but beautiful, and a good place to relax 🙂
very nice laia wish you a nice experience in Cambodia!
Adelina // PackMeTo says
I think I probably would have picked Don Khon over the party island too. You can party anywhere. Those waterfalls sure look pretty.
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