Si Phan Don, better known in English as “4000 Islands”, Laos is regarded as one of the best locations to visit in the country.
Located far from the capital city of Vientiane, Four Thousand Islands is perfect for visitors who want to relax in a picturesque location unspoiled by tourism.
Where can an archipelago of islands be found in a country without a coast, such as Laos? What is there to do in Si Phan Don? How do you get to 4000 Islands? This guide contains all the answers.
Where Is 4000 Islands, Laos?
Despite being landlocked, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is home to an archipelago of many islands, some of which are fairly large, all located in one of the largest rivers in Asia.
Four Thousand Islands is found in the Champasak Province of southern Laos. The islands are nestled in the Mekong River, which then flows on across the border to Cambodia. As its name suggests, there are many islands and islets making up the region, many of which are not inhabited. About half disappear below the water when the Mekong is in flood.
The four main islands to visit are Don Khong, Don Som, Don Det, and Don Khon.
What to Do in 4000 Islands Laos
Four Thousand Islands has a laid-back atmosphere where visitors can relax and enjoy nature. Surrounded by the Mekong River, waterfalls, and scenic Laos countryside, there are plenty of things to see and do.
The islands are home to a number of pristine beaches, temples, and glimpses into history. Interesting wildlife, cycling trails, and floating restaurants make up an interesting and varied itinerary for visitors.
The World’s Widest Waterfall
All around the 4000 Islands, Laos, there are a series of waterfalls and rapids. Perhaps the most impressive of these is Khone Phapheng Falls, best seen from Don Khong island.
It is the widest waterfall in the world, measuring 35,376 feet (10,783 m) in width, as well as the largest waterfall in South East Asia.
For a longer adventure, the Khon Pa Soi Falls are known as one of the prettiest waterfalls in the area. Visitors must cross the old bridge to Don Po Soi Island and hike to the falls, where they can take a swim in the plunge pool below the cascade.
Ban Khon Steam Locomotive
The Ban Khon Steam Locomotive is a relic from the colonial era. Although the railway has long been out of operation, the old steam engines are still on display, along with information about the history of the Don Det–Don Khon railway.
Built by the French colonial administration of Indochina in the 1890s, it was created to bypass the rapids and waterfalls that blocked the route of ships sailing up the Mekong River. This fascinating slice of Laotian history is well worth a visit.
Discover the Buddhist Temples of Si Phan Don
The Buddhist temple of Wat Khon Tai features classic eastern Asian architecture in its ornate stupas and carvings. Found on the island of Don Khon, the temple was built on top of an older Khmer shrine. Wat Khon Tai is a must-visit location for travelers interested in the history of the region.
The oldest temple in Four Thousand Islands is Wat Jom Thong, found near the town of Muang Khong. Thought to have been built between 1805 and 1828, it features Buddhist and Hindu influences and the ceilings are lined with carvings of mythical animals.
Dolphin-Watching in 4000 Islands, Laos
Si Phan Don is a great place to spot endangered Irrawaddy dolphins, which make their homes in certain rivers and estuaries in South East Asia, such as the Mekong River. Wildlife lovers can take a boat tour or hire a kayak to sail the river in search of these graceful aquatic mammals.
Dolphin-watching boat tours typically stop at some of the islands’ idyllic beaches and may include a Laos-style barbecue meal.
Go Tubing on the Mekong
Whether staying on Don Khong or Don Det, 4000 Islands, Laos is a place to relax and enjoy the warm weather and slow pace of life. One of the most popular ways to do that is to go tubing.
Travelers can rent a rubber tube and drift lazily along the Mekong River. Many guesthouses have tubes for hire, allowing visitors to float in the water nearby. An alternative is to take a boat tour further afield and take a tube into the water from there.
How to Get to 4000 Islands, Laos
A common question about 4000 Islands, Laos is how to get there. There are several possible ways.
Whichever route is taken, travelers must ensure that they have the authorization to enter Laos. In many cases, this will mean obtaining a Laos visa.
Visitors of various nationalities can complete a Laos visa application form online before traveling. This simple questionnaire takes a matter of minutes to complete and avoids having to go to an embassy or consulate.
Consult the Laos visa requirements to find out who needs a visa and what must be done to obtain one.
How Do You Get to Si Phan Don Laos?
Being relatively isolated, the closest airport to 4000 Islands, Laos is in the city of Pakse, which is located around 2 hours’ journey to the north. To reach Pakse from abroad, international travelers would have to make multiple flight changes.
A popular option is to travel by land from the Laotian capital of Vientiane. However, this is a long journey from the north to the south of the country and it is advisable to break up the trip with a stop in a city like Pakse or Savannakhet.
As Four Thousand Islands is located close to the Cambodian border, it can actually be quicker to make the journey from Siem Reap, from which buses run to the town of Nakasong. From here, travelers can cross to Don Det and the other islands.
Tips for Visiting Four Thousand Islands
Four Thousand Islands is an ideal destination for visitors looking to relax. Travelers who are making stops in various countries in South East Asia will find that it is a good place to take a break between Cambodia and Vientiane.
Here are some pieces of advice for travelers to get the most out of their visit:
- The latter part of the dry season (February-April) is a good time to enjoy Si Phan Don, as it is particularly quiet and affordable at this time and the weather is typically good.
- Make sure to get the necessary vaccinations for Laos, since mosquitos are common around the Mekong River.
- Take advantage of the floating restaurants on the 4000 Islands of Laos—these may be a little more expensive than other dining options, but offer a unique experience of eating on the Mekong River.