After two night buses and what the locals tried to convince us was a boat we finally arrived at Si Phan Don or what us Falang call ‘The 4000 Island’s’.
Question: Are there actually 4000 Islands?
Answer: No… well yes if you count the odd tuft’s of grass that stick out of the lake and casually believe that the back of a floating Water Buffalo constitutes an Island then yes, yes there are 4000 Islands.
Leaving research and planning surprisingly to the last-minute, we had a casual look through the good book (Lonely Planet) in transit to work out which of the “4000” Island’s we should head to. Lonely Planet mentioned three, Don Khong, which was described as the city, where the local’s live, it was much bigger than the other two Islands and it didn’t seem like something we were after.
The second Island is called Don Det, this was where the party is and where the backpacker’s go. We also got high recommendations from two very loud English people, I say loud as they bequeathed their experience with us in loud tones at around 4am in the morning.
The third island was described as the quieter more serene Island where the waterfalls and “points of interest” were… the loud English pair at 4am were more than enough to scare us off Don Det and so we decided to head for the third and most southern Island Don Khon.
We must have made a loud declaration with our decision and disturbed the couple beside us who in turn actually started to ask us where we were heading and why, we passed the good book over and explained the “what’s and why’s”. After a few minutes of deliberation they seemed to agree with us and after a good talk about Bill Bryson we instantly became friends and the couple we disturbed came to be known to us as Kire and Caroline from Denmark.
We stayed at Pakha (Dolphin) Guesthouse, which was down the road on the left if you crossed the bridge from Don Det, we didn’t take any pictures so we won’t be able to post in-depth but we paid 60,000 Kip (five pound) for an en suite room on the river, it wasn’t as glamorous as it sounds but was pleasant all the same.
We spent three days in Don Khon, there isn’t a lot to do but we along with our Danish friends cycled around the Island, we saw the incredible Waterfall (best we’ve seen thus far) and found a great little beach with a strong current. We visited the Irrawaddy Dolphins, met some ‘friendly’ knife wielding children, we spent time reading in our guesthouse hammocks along the river and drank and ate a lot.
After relaxing on Don Khon we headed to Don Det, which was a “short” walk (13 Kilometers) away, in the middle of the day with our heavy backpacks… The Danes had packed light for their seven week trip (God bless them) and luckily helped us move to the next Island. If they were not there we would have died of exhaustion… or killed each other. It was a tough walk.
Don Det was busy and we ended up spending way more on accommodation then we wanted to but having A/C and a hot shower was worth the dent in our wallet. The Island was busy, no bungalows were available and we were fresh from the walk of doom… it could be possible that after our long walk around Don Det and constantly being told their were no rooms available that our perceptions of the Island were a little tainted… We stayed one night.
Don Det, “where the party is”, was lined with bars that sold “Happy” foods and drinks and gave the opportunity to go Kayaking or Tubing around the Island… and that is about it (which is great if that’s what you are looking for). We did venture to an Australian BBQ called Sunset View Cafe, the food was great… apart from Kire’s Beef steak… learn from us and don’t let the owner know that you’re not happy with the tough steak, just get the pork instead because along with the salad and fries that’s on offer with the beef steak, if you dare to critique the Australian’s BBQ he offers to throw in a little violence and the opportunity to fly, head first, through his wall. Drama aside Kire didn’t need to pay for the food he couldn’t eat and the rest of us had a great meal.
Looking back I think we should have stayed on Don Det another day at least, we met others on the bus journey away who had stayed in Don Det for ten days and had the best time ever. There was a small beach there which was inviting enough for a few days break but we were ready to leave Laos and explore one of the many Thai Islands instead!
Question: Would we recommend the long journey down to the Islands or do the same route to the south again?
Answer: In our opinion the Islands weren’t great so…..No. We would have headed north, from everyone we met who had done the north of Laos like the Phongsali Province or even the middle like Tha Khaek or Phonsavan had nothing but positives to say. The Islands were great for being themselves and we might go back for a quiet break but will definitely be heading north if we ever have the opportunity to visit Laos again.