4000 Islands, also known as Si Phan Don is becoming one of the best backpackers’ paradises in Laos. Located at Southern Laos facing the border of Laos-Cambodia, Si Phan Don is often used as a transit point for backpackers who’re enjoying their travel slowly. It’s location also makes it the best place to chill and relax in Laos in my opinion. So, if you’re planning a backpacking trip in Laos, read on to see why you shouldn’t miss 4000 Islands!
First of all, a quick introduction to this group of islands. Si Phan Don is a riverine archipelago located in Mekong River in the Champasak Province, Southern Laos. In fact, you can literally see Cambodia from some of these islands, but there are only two main islands in which travelers are visiting and staying in – Don Det and Don Khon.
Before early 2009, there was no electricity inside these two islands. You could probably imagine how life is in the islands, even though it’s not that primitive as you might imagine. But there are plenty of backpacker hostels, bungalows, bars, lots of local restaurants, and of course, plenty of amazing things to do in 4000 Islands!
Now, let’s jump into the main topic and see why you shouldn’t leave Si Phan Don out from your Laos backpacking itinerary!
Primitive Way of Life
Yep, I said their way of life are not as primitive, but if you compare it to other cities in Laos, like Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse, Vang Vieng, and other small towns, 4000 Islands are just some small villages on small islands.
Kids are spending most of their day outdoors, even though most of them are not particularly working on the farm or so. Chasing dogs, riding bicycles, fishing are some of the activities you see Laotian kids in Si Phan Don doing. You really don’t see any kids staring at their cell phones here.
Blending into the communities like these makes you want to get out of the bungalow more and spend your day under the sunlight too. Even having a drink on the hammock hanging outside of your bungalow door is one of the best things to do in 4000 Islands.
You Can Literally Walk Around the Islands On Foot
Si Phan Don is a place where you will want to explore around on a bicycle or on foot, simply because of the amazing sceneries around the islands.
And for the islands, I’m talking about Don Det and Don Khon. Both of the islands are interconnected through a bridge. It was said that they used to collect toll fees for every crossing, but it’s abolished and not enforced anymore. That means you can travel freely between the islands as you like.
The main port is at the northern tip of Don Det, so if you’ve booked a bungalow in Don Khon, which is located at the south of Don Det, you might need to walk 40 minutes south.
I did that and it was pretty fun because the sceneries in these islands were completely different from what I’ve experienced in other parts of Laos.
Walking around the islands also exposes you to the way of lives of the local Laotian people here. Opens your mind in some way.
Staying in Bungalow For A Cheap Price
Let’s admit it, who doesn’t want to stay in a bungalow in an off-coast island at less than $8 a night? In Si Phan Don, it’s actually quite easy to find yourself a great deal on bungalows, because there are plenty of them there.
Use some hostel booking apps like Booking.com and you’ll find yourself a good deal without moving an inch from your seat. Scroll all the way down and you’ll find the Booking widget.
Most of the bungalows will concentrate on a single spot. For example in Don Det, they’re mostly located near the port. But there are also some bungalows scattered around the islands. So, if you’re looking for a more quiet and peaceful accommodation, try not to book online, and book it there instead.
To be honest, the bungalows don’t offer great housekeeping as you might anticipate. Hot showers might not be working (from some reviews I read online), but let’s embrace whatever issues that might arise from the islands!
Check out these amazing things to do in Vang Vieng if you’re backpacking Laos!
You’ll See The Youngest Tuk-tuk Rider Ever
No joke, I once met a young girl in 4000 Islands driving a tuk-tuk motorbike, and she’s probably not even 1.2 meters tall. Looks just like a 10-years-old to me.
The legal issue comes later, but is it even safe for her to drive a tuk-tuk, which is way bigger than her?
Carrying foreigners, does she knows how to speak English? I kept the questions to myself, and simply finds it fascinating and a little… mind-blowing.
Sit Back and Relax
Si Phan Don makes a perfect destination if you’ve been spending weeks traveling around with a backpack. The isolated location surrounded by one of the longest rivers in the world, Mekong River makes it far from all the hustle and bustle in the cities.
Not to mention that the living cost here is on par with the living cost in other Laos cities. Dishes and beers cost the same, making it budget-friendly for all types of travelers.
Waking up to the crowings of the roosters outside your bungalows, there isn’t a more “natural” way of waking up. Some hosts also organize parties and campfires, some bring their guests out for fishing and more. There are a lot of ways to interact with the locals here, as long as you take the first step.
Take everything in slowly and easily, there’s no such thing as ‘rush’ here!
Tourism is Rising
During my trip to Si Phan Don, I thought that these islands have escaped the terror of tourism. Because all foreigners I see here are backpackers, who are not a part of organized tours or anything.
But just before I’m leaving, I stumbled upon a tourist group from Hong Kong dining in a restaurant with unmatched speech volume. They’re probably not an organized tourist group, but instead, led by a “frequent-traveler” friend.
That certainly makes me slightly uncomfortable but I have to admit it, beautiful places attract visitors. So there’s nothing crazy if there will be more organized tours visiting the islands.
So it’s now or never! Don’t leave 4000 Islands out from your Laos bucket list!
There’s Not Really A Complete Map
Google Maps is not complete in Don Det and Don Khon. Even though I used it for most of my navigation there, I noticed some routes and roads are not plotted inside the map.
Also, the map shows that you can reach the southern tip of Don Khon, but in fact, you couldn’t because the bridge connecting the two cliffs are broken last year.
The maps you get from your hostel or restaurants aren’t the best either, because all they show you is the location of attractions in a not-up-to-scale map. For most parts of your trip in 4000 Islands, you’ll need to navigate by yourself and ask the locals for direction.
Like most parts of Laos, people don’t speak much English here. That adds another interesting challenge to your trip!
Riding a bicycle without direction around the islands can also take you to some less popular attractions and otherworldly paddy fields during sunset hours. Who knows what you’ll discover?
Find out what to do in Luang Prabang in this post!
Ready to Visit 4000 Islands in Laos?
What do you think about this article? Has it inspired you to at least consider adding Si Phan Don into your Laos itinerary? Let me know in the comment section below! Hope you have fun traveling in Laos. Til next time.