Si Phan Don (Lao for “Four Thousand Islands”) is a group of islands in the Mekong River in Southern Laos. The Four Thousand Islands have two main destinations for travellers:Don(Island) Khong is the biggest, but apart from the usual chill&look there’s nothing great to do there. Most people head to Don Det, where accommodation is cheaper, you can walk to one of the big Mekong-Falls by yourself, and biking and walking and swimming in the river is just the same as in Don Khong.
Getting There and Away
Take a bus going down Route 13 towards the Cambodian Border, for example from Pakse to Ban Nakasang, and take river ferry at Ban Nakasang that cross over to Don Khong and Don Det. As of October 2007 a “Jumbo” from Pakse to Ban Nakasang cost 50000 kips and a ferry from Ban Nakasang to Don Det 15000 kips if there were more than 2 people going or 30000 kips for just a single ticket. In comparison joint tickets including a minibus ride from Pakse to Ban Nakasang and a ferry ticket to Don Det cost 65000 kips.
Coming from Cambodia you can take a van from Kratie ($15) or Stung Treng ($12) which includes the boat trip to Don Det or Don Khong. Some guest houses in Kratie may try to sell you the ticket for $50. The border crossing is in the middle of forest and there is pretty much nothing else there than a few customs officials and a bad road in Laos side. So you definitely want to get a ride all the way to Four Thousand Islands. You may not find any transportation at the border and if you do it’s probably a rip-off.
You can arrive also by boat from Stung Treng. The boats leave in the morning. Many tourists have been made to pay around $50 after the border for transportation to Four Thousand Islands. So again it’s best to book the trip all the way to your destination if possible.
Be Careful: Travel agents will give you cash to pay for the boat ride from Ban Nakasang to Don Det. They might only give you as little as 5,000 Kip. The fare is at least 15,000 (depending on the number on people going)
Those of you going to Cambodia can buy bus tickets on all of the islands.
The prices might seem a bit expensive, but this is due to the fact that travelling in Cambodia is more expensive than in Laos.
Ticket price should include the fare of the boat as well. Don’t be tempted to buy a ticket going only to the border since it is very hard to get a ride from there.
At the border you will be asked to pay between 1-2$ for “corruption” (once on the Lao side and then again in the Cambodian side it can go for up to 4$ in total) this seems useless to argue over since you don’t really have a choice. You can get a Cambodian visa at the border. This sometimes costs 25 – 30$ (if you want it now and not in 5 hours).
The cheapest and best way of course is to get a visa in advance in Vientiane for 20$ but if you don’t have a choice, the border is still cheaper then paying some company to get you a visa in advance.
A local bus from Ban Nakasang to Pakse or Champansak will cost 30,000 kip. The boat ride costs 15,000 Kip. Tickets sold on the island are 45,000 kip for bus and boat.
It’s mostly people power. The islands are small enough that you can walk, although to get to some of the more far-flung destinations a bike will be nice. They can be rented everywhere. If you’re feeling super-lazy, you might convince a local to take you on the back of their bike for a small fee. But seriously: you’re on vacation, get a little exercise.
Activities and Things to Do
There isn’t much to do in Si Phan Don, but that’s the point. The islands are laid back, with small huts mixing in with guest houses along the banks of the Mekong. But, if you get a bit restless, try these:
- Rent a bike for about $1.50 and pedal around the two main islands, which are connected by a bridge.
- See the largest waterfall in Southeast Asia, about a 45 minute bike ride from most guesthouses.
- Take a boat tour around the area. These start at around $5, or just ask a local boatmen if you want to go some place specific.
- Gather a bunch of people, candles, guitars (there’s always someone), perhaps a drum, and head for the north beach (boat landing) on Don Det, for a seriously ultra-cosy beach night.
- Pink Dolphin Tours are very popular day trips on the island. For around $10, you get taken by bus and boat to a small patch of sand, which is techinically in Cambodia. There you drink beer — Angkor, not Beer Lao — and watch small pink spots bop in the distance. It’s not bad, and usually includes a stop at a nearby waterfall to round off the afternoon.
Resaurants, Bars and Nightlife
A standard menu of Laotian food and backpacker favorites (banana panackes, garlic bread, pad thai) are on top at most places. Some try to get fancy with special pizzas and exotic smoothies. It’s very hit and miss, but never terrible and the service is friendly. You’d be hard pressed to spend more than $3 on a meal here.
Beer Lao on the Mekong. Available about every 200 feet on the island, and big bottles for under a dollar. Head toward the west part of the island (where there are only a few guesthouses) for a great view of the sunset.
Fruit Shakes on every menu. About 5000 kip. In most places they switch on the generators for preperation fans and music will work for some minutes.