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Travel Guide To 4000 Islands Backpacker Heaven In Laos

Laos has remained as one of the most underrated countries for travellers in Southeast Asia. Sandwiched between popular countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, travellers just don’t pay as much attention to this small landlocked country.
So today, we’re going to shine some spotlight on a backpackers’ paradise in Laos – 4000 Islands, also known as Si Phan Don.

In this article, we’re going to look at how you can get there from different cities to 4000 Islands, what to do in 4000 Islands, where to stay and some tips for getting around the islands.

sunset in paddy fields in don khon 4000 islands buffaloes
sunset in paddy fields in don khon 4000 islands buffaloes

Something About 4000 Islands

4000 Islands is located at Southern Laos in the Champasak Province. Are there really 4000 islands? Well, nope, but 4000 Islands is a cluster of big and small islands in the Mekong River at the province. To get a better picture, it’s located near the border between Laos and Cambodia.

Despite having so many islands, there are mainly two islands that are largely inhabited, which are Don Khon and Don Det. These two islands are connected with a bridge and are explorable on feet.

Frankly, there are not as many things to do in the 4000 Islands as you might expect. The islands aren’t as big, and they’re more of a place for travellers to chill off and relax. It’s also a perfect spot for digital nomads to work too, even though the WiFi isn’t that promising.

Getting to 4000 Islands

Despite 4000 Islands being slightly underrated than other major cities like Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Vang Vieng, you can still see travel agency offices offering bus trips to 4000 Islands.

To get there from Northern Laos (Luang Prabang or Vang Vieng), you will first need to take a bus to Vientiane. Most of the agents will sort these out for you, but just to give you an idea how it’s like.

In Vientiane, you may need to wait for a couple of hours before hopping onto the sleeper bus, which will bring you all the way to Pakse in a 12 hours drive.

The highway between these two cities is quite well-maintained. So, as long as you’re not sleeping at the top deck at the back, you’ll probably not have any trouble sleeping. Be warned about the possibility of bed bugs, which is a total nightmare!

From Pakse, you’ll need to change the bus to travel to Nakasong. It will be a 3-hours drive. And from Nakasong, you’ll have to pay for the speedboat to get you to 4000 Islands; this will take around 10-15 minutes.

buffaloes bathing in the river after sunset in si phan don
buffaloes bathing in the river after sunset in si phan don

The speedboat will drop you at Don Det jetty, so if you’re staying in Don Khon, you’ll have to walk a little. If not, ask for help from the tuk-tuk riders.

Things to do in 4000 Islands

4000 Islands is a place for relaxing, so don’t expect any adrenaline-rushy activities around here. Here are some of the best things to do in Si Phan Don.

Watching the Sunset in Khongyai Beach 

Khongyai Beach is the lesser-known beach in Don Khon which offers one of the best sunset views in 4000 Islands. The slightly higher elevation gives you the view of sunset going down the horizon.

Other than that, at the sunset hours, fishermen return to the port and this gives you a perfect opportunity for a great shot.

The best way to get there is by cycling. It’s extremely easy to rent a bicycle in 4000 Islands. Most of the accommodations offer a bicycle rental service, which runs around 10,000 Kip per day. Per day! That means you can ride for 12 hours and get no extra charge!

sunset in don khon 4000 islands beach
sunset in don khon 4000 islands beach

Now, I know the following picture wasn’t as perfect, but it’ll give you an idea of what I meant.

Cycling Around the Paddy Fields

A large portion of the land in Don Khon and Don Det is covered with paddy fields. With the ease of renting a bicycle, I highly recommend you to spend some hours cycling around these golden fields in the sunset or sunrise hours.

You’ll also enjoy watching the buffaloes working in the fields. At sunset hours, they will retreat to the riverbank without any shepherding. It seems like they are well-aware of their working hours!

Laos Si Phan Don Cycling Paddy Fields Bicycle
Laos Si Phan Don Cycling Paddy Fields Bicycle

I suggested two activities in the sunset hours, but what to do at noon and afternoon? Read on!

Visit Khone Phapheng Falls – The World’s Largest Waterfall?

Khone Phapheng Falls is the world’s largest waterfall. But is that true? Well, according to the information board in the visitor centre, the answer is yes.

However, don’t get confused between the largest and the tallest waterfall. What makes Khone Phapheng Falls the largest waterfall in the world is the 9.7 kilometres stretch of the rapids. The tallest fall, surprisingly, is just 21 meters tall.

Now, don’t let that get you down. It’s still a pretty good attraction, just refrain yourself from having a sky-high expectation.

Getting there is a little bit tricky. You can join a tour, or you can do it yourself. To do it yourself, you’ll have to return to the jetty in Don Det, take the speedboat to Nakasong and take the 45-minutes tuk-tuk to the attraction.

Khone Phapheng Falls in Champasak
Khone Phapheng Falls in Champasak

Note: Remember to check the departure schedule for the speedboat in Don Det jetty! They don’t depart every hour or as often as you expect.

A Chance of Irrawaddy Dolphins

Irrawaddy dolphins are one of the rarest dolphin species in the world. To see them, you’ll have to take the tour that brings you to the border between Laos and Cambodia.

The boat will stop in the middle of the Mekong River where the dolphins reside. Just in case you’re against animal tourism, this is not, well, at least for me. They do not feed the dolphins, but instead, they stop the boat and waited for the dolphins to appear.

The dolphins aren’t disturbed in any way, so consider taking the tour and support the local economy! And don’t get too upset if you couldn’t see one, it all comes to luck!

Chill in Wat Khon Tai 

Wat Khon Tai is the only Buddhist temple in 4000 Islands. Located at the northwest of Don Khon near the bridge connecting to Don Det, it’s easily accessible even on foot.

Have you ever visited a Buddhist temple in Laos and have a lot of activities to enjoy in there? Nope? Well, that’s because such a temple does not exist in Laos, at least I had never been to one.

Wat Khon Tai in Don Khon 4000 Islands
Wat Khon Tai in Don Khon 4000 Islands

This temple is more of a place to chill out and relax after exploring the island for hours. Cycle around to see the architecture of the temple, just make sure you don’t talk too loud or have lunch inside.

Where to Stay in 4000 Islands?

Visitors usually stay in either Don Det or Don Khon. But which one is best for you? First of all, there are no dorm rooms as far as I know. Most of the accommodations there are bungalows and private room-based.

Living in one of the private rooms in the bungalows sounds like a luxury option, but it’s not in 4000 Islands. During the offseason, it can get really cheap. However, it’s a little tricky on choosing the bungalows.

Some bungalows are open for parties on weekend nights, which is awesome for some travellers. I find it a nightmare because I prefer to have a peaceful time at a place like this. Loud music and dancing at the outdoor with a beer bottle? No thanks.

So, check before you book. Most of the bungalows located in the “main street” in both Don Khon and Don Det are quieter since it’s slightly more populated.

Most of the “party bungalows” are located farther away from the cluster of residence. Mostly at the riverbanks.

outside of my bungalow in don khon si phan don hammock
outside of my bungalow in don khon si phan don hammock

Wrapping It Up

So now you get a bigger picture of 4000 Islands or Si Phan Don in Laos. I hope that you find this article interesting and somehow intriguing. Hopefully, it inspires you to give 4000 Islands a chance when you travel to Laos in the future.

I’d say it’s a place not to be missed if you spare some extra days. Anyway, travel safe and have fun in Laos!

Author: Yen
Blog – Wanderingjournal
Yen is a Malaysian travel enthusiast who prefers to travel solo or with someone, he’s really close with.
He opts to travel for an extended period in a particular destination to embrace and learn the cultural differences and share them, along with the travel tips and guides in this travel blog, Wandering Journal.

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Travel guide to 4000 Islands Si Phan Don a backpacker heaven in Laos
Travel guide to 4000 Islands Si Phan Don a backpacker heaven in Laos