9 Epic Things to do in 4000 Islands or Si Phan Don in Laos

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4000 Islands, also known as Si Phan Don in the local language is one of the most untouched destinations in Laos. In fact, the people there had access to electricity less than a decade ago. If you’re looking for an authentic Laotian experience, then 4000 Islands is not a place you should miss. In this article, we’ll take a look at what makes this destination so special and what are the things to do in 4000 Islands.

Despite the name, 4000 Islands is known for only two main islands – Don Det and Don Khon. These two islands are more populated compared to other smaller islands, and there are restaurants, accommodations, and schools in these islands. However, most of the facilities you see there are very rustic and old.

Don Det is often referred to as the haven for youngsters because there are more bars there. Don Khon, however, is said to be more suitable for slow-paced travelers. During my backpacking trip in Laos, I didn’t find a huge difference between these two islands, to be honest. And they’re so close to each other, separated with a bridge of less than 100 meters.

To get from Vientiane to 4000 Islands, I recommend taking the overnight sleeper bus to Pakse, then take the 3-hour bus to Don Det. The bus fare usually does not include the boat fare.

Enough talking, now, let’s dive in and see what are the things to do in 4000 Islands!

The Main Street in Don Khon
The Main Street in Don Khon

Cycle Across the Paddy Fields in 4000 Islands

Cycling is the main way to get around 4000 Islands, and you can easily find bicycle rentals throughout the main streets. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in 4000 Islands.

In fact, 4000 Islands is a very self-sustainable destination. Most of the locals here plant their own paddy, raise their own poultry and make their own furniture. That’s why paddy fields own a big part of the land here.

Since the whole destination is like a retreat itself, there’s no better way to spend your day cycling around and explore the uncharted map. Yep, if you look closely at Google Maps, you’ll realize that most of the roads are not charted. That’s where the fun parts begin.

Rent a bicycle and explore Don Det and Don Khon by yourself! Since Don Det is slightly more populated, there are more adventures waiting for you in the central and southern part of Don Khon. The main street of Don Khon is located in the northern part.

Best Things to do in 4000 Islands - Cycling in Paddy Field

Watch Sunset in Khongyai Beach

Khongyai Beach is definitely one of the most underrated beaches in Laos. I’m not sure whether it’s technically a beach, because the whole island is sandwiched between two streams of the Mekong River.

But Khongyai Beach offers one of the best sunset views you can ask for in Laos. At the sunset hours, fishermen return to the small dock by the beach, and you can climb up the rock to photograph the sunset alongside the boats.

Since it’s so underrated, you can easily have the whole beach to yourself, or maybe a few travelers. There is also a small stall at the entrance where they sell fresh coconut. Enjoying the coconut while watching the sunset is the recipe for a perfect evening in 4000 Islands.

The entrance to the beach itself is free, but don’t stay there for too long because you still gotta ride your bicycle back to the main street. That’ll take around 10 minutes, or perhaps more if you ride slowly while enjoying the sunset at the paddy fields.

sunset in don khon 4000 islands beach

Spend a Few Nights in the Bungalows

As a travel blogger myself, I find 4000 Islands very suitable for digital nomads and backpackers who’re looking for a place to slow down and refresh.

There are a handful of bungalows throughout those two islands, all of them managed by the locals. Most of the time, you’ll also see chickens, buffaloes, even pigs in the compound. Ahh, and dogs, of course.

However, be careful when making your choice because some bungalows throw parties on the weekend, which is not my thing at all. Loud music, alcohols, partying, they’re adapting quickly, huh?

outside of my bungalow in don khon si phan don hammock

Watch The Sunrise in Paddy Fields

Most hostels and bungalows have their own bicycles for the guests, either complementary or you have to rent it. Check the sunrise time on the internet, and get up 15 minutes earlier to catch the sunrise. Paddy fields often have the best views because there are no obstacles to block your view.

One thing you should note is that the dogs become incredibly aggressive when the sun sets, especially when you cross the boundary and step into their “domain”. Practice extra caution when riding your bicycle before the sunrise!

Take a Trip to Khone Phapheng Falls (The Largest Waterfall)

Khone Phapheng Falls is labeled as the largest waterfall in the world. Yes, you read that right, the largest. I was doubtful at first, but I went anyway, but here’s what I found.

The largest waterfall doesn’t necessarily mean the tallest waterfall. Khone Phapheng Falls is indeed large, but it’s not as impressive as I previously imagined. But it’s still worth checking out because the whole visitor center was very well-maintained. You can easily spend hours there.

As for the term “largest” waterfall, it means that the waterfall spans a huge distance. In this case, the succession of the rapids stretches 9.7 kilometers. The tallest fall in Khone Phapheng Falls is just 21 meters.

There is a Manikhoth Temple in the visitor center compound as well, which I highly recommend checking out.

Want to know more about those? I have an article dedicated solely to Khone Phapheng Falls, which I’m sure will help plan your visit. It also includes all you need to visit Manikhoth Temple.

Khone Phapheng Falls

Visit Li Phi Falls in Don Khon

Li Phi Falls is one of the more popular things to do in 4000 Islands. It’s located at the western shore of Don Khon island. What’s special about Li Phi Falls is that you don’t have to take the boat to somewhere far to enjoy this view.

The viewpoint is easily accessible with a bicycle, which you can rent from literally anywhere in the islands. The viewpoint, however, is not very well-maintained.

The waterfall compound is large enough so you could find yourself a quiet spot, bring your lunch for a picnic or a book to read. Since you’re probably here to relax, you might as well spend your morning here reading your favorite book while enjoying a cold drink.

I still think the most beautiful waterfall in Laos is Kuang Si Falls in Vang Vieng. Check out these 17 things to do in Vang Vieng if you’re going there too!

See the Irrawaddy Dolphins

Now I know animal tourism is not supported by most travelers. Seeing the Irrawaddy dolphins is different.

To see one of the rarest dolphin species in the world, the Irrawaddy dolphins, you have to take a boat with the locals, to the border of Laos and Cambodia in the Mekong River.

There is no feeding and baiting involved, just resting the boat in the middle of the river, and waiting for them to surface in distance. You could hear the breathing sound of the dolphins due to the quietness, they’re quite similar to the whales.

Don’t get too disappointed if you went and couldn’t see one! It all comes to luck.

Watch The Buffaloes Retreating to Riverbank at Sunset

One of the coolest sights during the sunset hours in 4000 Islands is that the buffaloes in the paddy fields retreating to the riverbank to have their evening bath.

On their way there, they literally don’t give a s**t about anyone who’s in the way. So you better be wise and let them through.

At the riverbank, you can take your time to enjoy your evening with the buffaloes. To be frank, sunset hours are the best in 4000 Islands.

buffaloes bathing in the river after sunset in si phan don

Pay a Visit to Wat Khon Tai

Unlike Luang Prabang, where there are abundant of temples, Wat Khon Tai is the only Buddhist temple in Don Det and Don Khon. The best way to get there would be on a bicycle, which is just 5 minutes ride from the main street in Don Khon.

There are not a lot of things to do here in Wat Khon Tai other than chilling and riding around on your bicycle. There are some benches for visitors to rest on, and the entrance is free of charge. Personally, I like the temple because I feel peaceful there in the large compound, away from the main street and any kind of noises.

Wat Khon Tai in Don Khon 4000 Islands

Excited for these things to do in 4000 Islands?

Are you ready for your trip to 4000 Islands? If you’re planning a trip to Laos and have a few days to spare, definitely consider paying 4000 Islands a visit. If you booked a one-way ticket, then I’m pretty sure you’ll have no problem spending a week in Si Phan Don just reading books and chill. Check out these 7 reasons to visit 4000 Islands, and also this Vang Vieng itinerary. Anyway, thanks for finishing the article, hope you’ll enjoy your Laos travel!

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Written by

Yen is a university student from Malaysia and a huge fan of Blues music and photography. His passion for travel can be traced back to 2016 when he spent 6 months traveling New Zealand. By blending into the locals and traveling long-term, he shares all the comprehensive and detailed travel ideas and guides for the countries with his footprints.

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