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The 4000 Islands

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Sunset or Sunrise? This was the “unfortunate” fork-in-road situation we’d have to choose from when we got to Don Det island. We’d just arrived after the 20 minute long tail boat ride from the docks of Ban Nagasan (and by docks I mean lines of long tail boats pegged into the pebbled river bed). Once you choose which root to take, the second choice is now where to stay? Guesthouses galore is what you’re abound with. Prices ranging from 40,000 kip a night to upwards of 80,000 your options are endless. Shared toilets, functioning hammocks, mosquito nets and fans are all things to consider.

The 4000 Islands, or Si Phan Don, are a collection of islands in the Mekong River, in the far south of Laos. A chill place that is arguably one of the most interesting places to relax. Located right on the Cambodian border the Si Phan Don which were until recently Laotian backwaters – many submerged in the rainy season the permanently occupied islands were and still are dedicated to coconuts, kapok, sugar cane and fishing. Today they offer the traveller a real look at village life.
It had been suggested to us from a Shanghainese cafe owner in Pakse to ask our guesthouse family if we could join them on their morning visit to the local wet market.We’d wake up early and take a long tail boat in with the mother and two of their four children. Back to the port of Ban Nagasan from whence we came, we’d explore the fresh vegetable stands, meat chopping tables and little clothing and accessory shops. Looking down one alley way we’d spot a man with a chicken in one hand and a machete in the other. This was as fresh as fresh could get. The mother picked up a toy car for the little boy along with some fresh herbs, melons and some sweet purple sticky rice. Hopping back in our boat, we’d see merchants out on the pebbled banks with several live chickens being flipped through by ladies like they were scoping out the women’s shirt selection at Winners. 

The best way to explore the islands of Don Det and Don Khong is by bike. Walking over from Don Det to Don Khong you can follow the dirt path that leads you to the connecting bridge. You have to pay a toll to cross, but it’s a must even on a short visit. Renting bikes on the other side, we’d wheel around and check out a wat or two, the Kohn Phaeng Falls and the famous Tat Somphamit falls said to be South East Asia’s largest falls. 

Walking the island of Don Det is full of surprises and interesting encounters. Not only did we stumble upon a plethora of random livestock in ditches and in pathways, we’d also come across an old, dark coloured man who’s sun worn skin made him look more like a California Raisin; the Lao edition. I don’t know how we ended up getting sucked into it, but he ended up mapping out our fortune’s right there on the dirt path with a piece of coal. He’d mutter, sketch, point at his work, then at who it referred to and smile, a decaying and toothless smile. Sizing up my second toe he’d say boy and pantomime a pregnant belly and then writing down a date that left us both cringing at the thought (2012). Numbers, circles, lines and arrows later, we’d establish that we’d both live into our 90’s and that we’d have a couple of kids. Oh, and Mr. had to watch out for his stomach. My first time having my fortune told and by far the coolest, 20,000 kip ($2.50).

Trying to spot the Irrawaddy dolphins that live in ever-decreasing numbers in the Mekong is a highlight for many 4000 island visitors. Downstream of Don Khon, at the border between Laos and Cambodia, freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins frolic in a protected area of the Mekong. Although the Lao insist that anytime is a good time to spot the dolphins, the best times are in the early morning or in the evening when they feed. We’d hop in a long tail boat out with an expert boats man who wound us through the whirling river rapids and brought us to giant jutting boulders in the middle of the middle where we could perch and wait. While waddy watching, letting your feet soak in the river water can be a major distraction as feet-nibbling fish will be updating your pedi. For some of those who would be too busy giggling and watching the mini fish at work, they’d miss a few Irrawaddy sightings. Paying 70,000 kip for the boat trip into
the murky Mekong waters to catch a glimpse of the rare dolphins that are
a close relative of the Orca (killer whale) doesn’t guarantee you a
sighting, but you’ll most likely catch an awesome sunset.  And yes, we were lucky enough to spot some. More on the Irrawaddy and efforts being made to help save the endangered species at

Mrs. Excellent Adventure

2 comments on “The 4000 Islands

    August 27, 2011

    A boy in 2012? Perfect! I like this fortune teller fellow

  2. Mamah
    January 29, 2013

    You’re talkin’ Henry Shires, right Darren? I used one of his Tarptents on this year’s TGOC and other than the fact that it was a tad drutahgy (and therefore cold) at times didn’t have a problem; I’ve used it several times before in Scotland quite happily.The shelter didn’t really need any tweaks, just my sleeping bag needed a windproof barrier (to stop the wind from the outside getting in, not vice-versa!).Best shelter designer out there in my opinion.I’m sorry I won’t be on the TGOC in 2010 as I’d love to meet Henry again maybe we’ll sneak up to Braemar with the van!

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