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Four Thousand Islands, Laos: An Unspoiled Paradise

Across The Lens
Four Thousand Islands, Laos: An Unspoiled Paradise

Amasia | June 26, 2020

Four Thousand Islands, Laos: An Unspoiled Paradise

Si Phan Don, which translates to “Four thousand islands”, is a group of islands in the Mekong river in the South of Laos. The area’s main attractions are its rural character, the tranquility, the opportunity to watch the rare Irrawaddy dolphin and the Khone Phapheng falls.

The pace of life is slow in the rural area where local people live in small wooden houses on stilts and where cows, goats, pigs and other animals roam around free. The relaxed and natural setting have made the islands near the Cambodian border a must-go destination.


Four Thousand Islands is found in the Champasak Province of Southern Laos. The islands are nestled in the Mekong River, which then flows on across the border to Cambodia. As its name suggests, there are many islands and islets making up the region, many of which are not inhabited. About half disappear below the water when the Mekong is in flood.

The most visited islands are Don Khon, Don Det and Don Khong. Don Khong  is the largest island. Don Det is a small island that offers the most choice of accommodation. The island attracts a large number of backpackers.

The larger Don Khon island, which is just one kilometer from the Cambodian border is less developed than Don Det. The Irrawaddy dolphin lives in the waters South of this island. The island is connected with Don Det with a bridge built by the French during the colonial era.


Four Thousand Islands has a laid-back atmosphere where visitors can relax and enjoy nature. Surrounded by the Mekong River, waterfalls, and scenic Laos countryside, there are plenty of things to see and do.

The islands are home to a number of pristine beaches, temples, and glimpses into history. Interesting wildlife, cycling trails, and floating restaurants make up an interesting and varied itinerary for visitors.

Visit the Largest Waterfall in Southeast Asia

All around the 4000 Islands, Laos, there are a series of waterfalls and rapids. Perhaps the most impressive of these is Khone Phapheng Falls, best seen from Don Khong island. It is the widest waterfall in the world, measuring 35,376 feet (10,783 m) in width, as well as the largest waterfall in South East Asia.

Cycle around the islands

Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands) is such a picturesque and peaceful part of Laos, and cycling along the dirt roads of the island of Don Khone was very relaxing, and a great time to just be in silence and take in everything around you.

The journey around Don Khone will make you have a look further into the lush green countryside where trees and farmland were much more common than houses or people. Cycle along narrow dirt paths to little Mekong River beaches where you could admire unattended wooden boats sat pulled up on the sand, while chickens scratched around the crude bamboo huts where local farmers and fishermen live.

Discover the Buddhist Temples of Si Phan Don

The Buddhist temple of Wat Khon Tai features classic eastern Asian architecture in its ornate stupas and carvings. Found on the island of Don Khon, the temple was built on top of an older Khmer shrine. Wat Khon Tai is a must-visit location for travelers interested in the history of the region.

Take a boat ride or kayak to try and spot elusive Irrawaddy dolphins.

Si Phan Don is a great place to spot endangered Irrawaddy dolphins, which make their homes in certain rivers and estuaries in South East Asia, such as the Mekong River. Wildlife lovers can take a boat tour or hire a kayak to sail the river in search of these graceful aquatic mammals. Dolphin-watching boat tours typically stop at some of the islands’ idyllic beaches and may include a Laos-style barbecue meal.

Go Tubing on the Mekong

Whether staying on Don Khong or Don Det, 4000 Islands, Laos is a place to relax and enjoy the warm weather and slow pace of life. One of the most popular ways to do that is to go tubing.

Travelers can rent a rubber tube and drift lazily along the Mekong River. Many guesthouses have tubes for hire, allowing visitors to float in the water nearby. An alternative is to take a boat tour further afield and take a tube into the water from there.

Just relax and watch the sunset

Four Thousand Islands is a great place to relax. Lie in a hammock and read a book. Take a walk. Have a snooze by the river.

The 4000 islands are a brilliant place to watch the sunset. Don’t miss the sunset to take beautiful photos on Mekong River!


Being relatively isolated, the closest airport to 4000 Islands, Laos is in the city of Pakse, which is located around 2 hours’ flight journey to the north. To reach Pakse from abroad, international travelers would have to make multiple flight changes.

A popular option is to travel by land from the Laotian capital of Vientiane. However, this is a long journey from the north to the south of the country and it is advisable to break up the trip with a stop in a city like Pakse or Savannakhet.

As Four Thousand Islands is located close to the Cambodian border, it can actually be quicker to make the journey from Siem Reap, from which buses run to the town of Nakasong. From here, travelers can cross to Don Det and the other islands.


Four Thousand Islands is an ideal destination for visitors looking to relax. Travelers who are making stops in various countries in South East Asia will find that it is a good place to take a break between Cambodia and Vientiane.

Here are some pieces of advice for travelers to get the most out of their visit:

  • The latter part of the dry season (February-April) is a good time to enjoy Si Phan Don, as it is particularly quiet and affordable at this time and the weather is typically good.
  • Make sure to get the necessary vaccinations for Laos, since mosquitos are common around the Mekong River.
  • Take advantage of the floating restaurants on the 4000 Islands of Laos—these may be a little more expensive than other dining options, but offer a unique experience of eating on the Mekong River.

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