This is Part 1 of the 4000 Islands (Si Phan Don) of Southern Laos covering How to Get to the 4000 Islands and the Island of Don Khong. Check out Part 2 for information on the popular Don Det and Don Khon islands.
There seems to be some confusion about traveling to the Southern portion of the country of Laos, an area known as the 4000 Islands (Si Phan Don) in the Champasak Region of the country. The name is derived from the mega Mekong River that spreads itself out, choosing hundreds of routes and forming a vast area of river islands, possibly 4000 of them (Si Phan Don means 4000 Islands in Laos)!
From the assortment of information scattered on the web, I was slightly confused myself, so I decided to check things out and relay on the information as clear as possible.
There are 3 main tourist islands to visit within the 4000 islands: Don Khong, Don Det, and Don Khon (I know it’s a bit confusing).
- Money: There are NO ATM’s on the islands, guest houses do offer money exchange but at horrible rates. To avoid unnessecary expenses carry enough Laos Kip with you to last for your entire stay on the 4000 Islands (Si Phan Don). 1 USD is about 8010 LAK (Kip)
- Internet: There is internet available at the absurd cost of 400 Kip ($0.05) per minute!
How to get to the 4000 Islands (Si Phan Don)
It depends on what island your destination is, but it’s often most practical to start from Pakse, the largest Southernmost town of Laos. Pakse is easily accessible by bus from other parts of the country as well as from Thailand.
I personally took a bus from Savannakhet, Laos (after getting a Thai visa in Savannakhet) all the way to Muong Khong Town (on the island of Don Khong).
Once you are in Pakse, there are options to take transportation to the small town of Muong Khong Town (island of Don Khong) or to Ban Nakasong Town (entrance town to Don Det and Don Khon islands).
There are 2 Ways to Get from Pakse to the 4000 Islands
- Tourist Bus: The tourist bus leaves Pakse in the morning hours (8 am, 9am,) and heads down to Don Khong and Don Det, the price is around 60,000 Kip ($7.49) from most tour agencies. It includes a bus and boat combination in the same ticket, and there shouldn’t be any complications.
- Local Transportation: If you want to take the more local adventurous route, or if you need to depart in the afternoon (tourist buses only leave in the morning), the option is to take the local songthaew (pickup truck) to either Muong Khong Town or Ban Nakasong Town. The trip takes about 3 hours and costs 35,000 Kip ($4.37). After arriving in Ban Nakasong one must hire a boat for 15,000 Kip ($1.87) to get to Don Det island (the truck will cross the ferry to go to Don Khong – Muong Khong).
About Don Khong Island
The island usually attracts an older, less party happy crowd of tourists. Despite the 10 or so guest houses on the island, there were only a handful of others when I visited (very nice!). Don Khong island is the biggest of the 4000 islands yet still remains sleepy, laid back, and extremely friendly.
The size of the island makes it easier to get off the normal route of all travelers, cruise around on a rented motorbike and discover hidden coves or ancient rice farms. The main strip of guest houses is pleasant, extremely quiet, and also offers scenic restaurants overlooking the Mekong River.
Places to Stay on Don Khong Island
1. Souk Sabay Guest House
I stayed at Souk Sabay Guest House, a decent clean place to stay with a river view dining area.
- Double room with air-con: 50,000 Kip ($6.24)
- Double room with fan: 30,000 Kip ($3.75)
The guest house also offers a small store, a restaurant, and a motorcycle rental. They can easily help you arrange transportation for your next destination.
2. Pon’s River Guest House
Located right next to the Souk Sabay Guest House, it offers nearly the same accommodation options and prices but offers more help in the tour planning area. You can check out there website.
3. Don Khong Guest House
Has some of the most complete information on traveling around the 4000 islands and is also the jump off for taking a boat to Don Det.
Things to do around Don Khong Island
- Rent a Motorcycle and Cruise Around the Island (about a 45 km drive): 50,000 – 60,000 Kip ($6.24 – $7.49) per day for a motorcycle + 20,000 Kip ($2.50) of petrol
- Rent a Bicycle: 10,000 Kip ($1.25) for the day (it can get quite hot during the day, so it’s best to just bike near and around the town)
- Morning Market: The 6 am morning fresh market of Don Khong brings the island together with a small scale bustle of food necessities. There are a number of stands that sell fantastic street style meals, including a lady that sells magnificent fresh Laotian spring rolls.
- RELAX: By far the most widely accepted thing to do on the 4000 islands!
How to Get from Don Khong to Don Det and Don Khone
If you want to visit Don Khong Island first on your 4000 Islands itinerary, and then see the other 2 islands, there are 2 main ways to get from Muong Khong (Don Khong island) to Don Det and Don Khon:
1. Direct Boat: the boat takes about 1.5 hours and the cost is 40,000 Kip ($5.00), usually leaves at around 8 – 9 am (depending on amount of people) from the front of Don Khong Guest House. All the tour groups sort of just pool together wherever you purchase your ticket.
2. Take a small boat across the river to mainland (15,000 Kip ($1.87)), take a songthaew (pickup truck) down stream to Ban Nakasong Town (see map). Once in Ban Nakasong, take a small boat on the river to the island drop off point of Don Det (15,000 Kip ($1.87)). If you want to avoid hassle, just take the 40,000 Kip ($5) boat ride down stream.