River Life at Laos’ Blissful 4,000 Islands

I don’t even know how I can begin to sum up just how wonderful the past few days have felt, as I got some well needed rest & relaxation. In Lonely Planet’s description of Si Phan Don (literally, 4,000 islands), they say that there must be some rule that the further south in Laos you go, the more laid back it gets! Well it doesn’t get a whole lot further south than this, as I sit here on beautiful Don Khone Island, just a stone’s throw away from Cambodia.

Staring at Cambodia
That’s Cambodia across the river!

This is a land so isolated that the only way to the island is by a 35 minute boat ride (that dropped off us in the middle of nowhere having to wade through water to get to shore…see the photo below)! There are no paved roads here and barely a vehicle to be spotted say for the rather rare (and ubiquitous for Southeast Asia) motorbike. Villages here are nearly totally self-sufficient and up until a few years ago didn’t even have electricity! To this day there are no streetlights, so if you want to take a walk in the evening under the brilliant night sky, either take a flashlight or let the moonlight guide you.

Don Khone Boat Landing
The Boat Landing

There are hardly any brick and mortar buildings here. Nearly everything, including my lodging which I shared with the same fellow from Seattle that I met in Champasak, is a rather traditional wooden bungalow designed with walls that are breathable in this hot, hot, place.

Don Khone Guest House
My lodging, right on the Mekong River

Road on Don Khone
Road to Temple

But perhaps I should back up a bit and explain just what 4,000 Islands are. Right on the Lao-Cambodian border, the Mekong River becomes incredibly wide. During the dry season, the river recedes, leaving behind thousands of little sand bars. Most of the islands are quite small and only a few, Don Khone included, are inhabitable year round. It’s quite interesting to see satellite imagery of this place, and if you are reading this on my website directly, you’ll see that I’ve enabled a map on this post with the satellite view so you can get an idea what this place is like.

There isn’t an enormous amount to do here other than kick back and relax (I spent almost the entire first day lounging in a hammock and getting some sun), but it is incredibly beautiful. When it isn’t quite so arid, this place would be quite the tropical paradise, with its lush vegetation and vibrant population of wild birds, who fill the air with their songs in stark competition with the plethora of chickens roaming the island (which are kind enough to wake you up at the crack of dawn!).

Chickens Wander the Road on Don Khone
Chickens wandering the street

French Railroad Bridge
Railroad bridge built by the French

The French left behind a decaying old railroad that connects this island with neighboring Don Det (whose northern side is quite the happening place). It was used to transport goods north from Cambodia to be shipped up river. All that’s left of their presence (with the exception of the bridge) is a rusting locomotive, decaying building and a concrete wall on the east side of the island, which my friend and I spotted as we rented bikes to explore yesterday.

Don Khone Stream
A stream on Don Khone

Given this place’s isolation and amazingly laid back atmosphere, it would be so easy to spend days here just relaxing. Alas, two was plenty for me, as today I head back to Pakse to investigate any trekking opportunities that may exist in the nearby Bolaven Plateau, Laos’ premiere coffee-growing location. If not, then it’s a short hop to Thailand, where I will be in a few short days!

Sunset on Don Det

Sunset on Don Det
Sunset from Don Det

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