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Don Khon Island, Laos – The 4000 Islands

Don Khon, Laos

April 4, 2015 – April 9, 2015

Full Don Khon Photo Gallery.

For our final destination in Laos we headed south to the large Mekong river delta along the Cambodian border.  Called the 4000 Islands region, the Mekong river widens and forms thousands of small islands.   Some of them are large enough to have entire villages on them along with guest houses, great food and a relaxing slow paced life along the river.

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After our trek through the forest outside of Tha Khek, we took a bus south to Pakse, Laos and stayed overnight before continuing on to the islands.  From Pakse, we headed south for an hour to meet up with a boat to take us to the 4000 Islands.  As the name would imply, there are a lot of islands.  Though the vast majority of them are tiny and unpopulated, there are a few large enough to hold homes, farms and guesthouses.   Three in particular are popular with tourists, Don Khong, Don Khon and Don Det.   Of the three Don Khon has the reputation of being quieter and more relaxing yet still close to activities, while Don Det is popular with younger visitors who like to party and Don Khong is out of way with not as much to see or do.  Wanting a relaxing week in the islands we chose to stay on Don Khon.

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The small crowded boat drops tourists  off everyday in the middle of the small island’s town, which is just a single street lined with restaurants, shops and guesthouses.  There were dozens of options on guest houses and we took our time looking around, there is no need to get reservations, just show up, compare, and bargain.   The options are plentiful and some are even quite modern and comfortable, with good air conditioning and even some wifi.

These long thin river boats ferry  passengers and goods throughout the islands.
These long thin river boats ferry passengers and goods throughout the islands.

Most of the guesthouses are built along the river, and most try to offer at least some kind of view.  Expect the best views to cost a bit more.  Island living here is very budget friendly, we stayed at the Somphamit Guesthouse for around $80,000kip (about US$10.00) per night with air conditioning.

There are lots of great restaurants along the river serving excellent Lao food.  We found the quality of food throughout Laos to be quite high.
There are lots of great restaurants along the river serving excellent Lao food. We found the quality of food throughout Laos to be quite high.
Relaxing with a view.
Relaxing with a view.

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Sunset along the river

Sunsets on Don Khon are gorgeous, which is another good reason to choose Don Khon.  On Don Det, many accommodations face the sunrise rather than the sunset.

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Biking the islands

Like many small towns in Laos, which are popular with foreigners, there are almost always bicycles to rent, and plenty of roads and trails to explore.  We rented bikes twice to explore the island of Don Khon, and the neighboring Don Det, which is connected by a bridge.  Around the island there are plenty of river views, and jungle forests.  There are even some sandy beaches and a lot of waterfalls.

There are plenty of roads and trails to explore all across the islands.
There are plenty of roads and trails to explore all across the islands.

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A bike rental costs just a little over a dollar for a full day.
A bike rental costs just a little over a dollar for a full day.
Biking around the island is a great way to see village life.
Biking around the island is a great way to see village life.
A pig sty formed by naturally and thickly growing bamboo.
A pig sty formed by naturally and thickly growing bamboo.

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Water buffaloes grazing in the river were a common site, and birds sometimes used them as a perch.
Water buffaloes grazing in the river were a common sight, and birds sometimes used them as a perch.
A sign post on the island Don Det.
A sign post on the island Don Det.  We are far from our first destination on this trip, NYC.

Waterfalls

Surprisingly for a wide slow moving river, the Mekong here has an abundance of waterfalls.  This is because the flat landscape drops down rather dramatically along the Cambodian border creating a wide series of cascades along the width of the Mekong.  Of the various waterfalls around the island the Li Phi Falls is the biggest and most visited.  It sits along the southern part of Don Khon island.  A visitors park has been built around it, and there is a small fee to go inside.  It is worth the fee and definitely worth visiting if you are in the area.  The falls on the other side of the island are less impressive, but worth visiting if you have time.

The falls on the far side of the island.
The falls on the far side of the island.

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The Li Phi waterfalls south of the bridge.
The Li Phi waterfalls south of the bridge.

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It is actually due to these waterfalls that the area has been so built up.  European colonists found the waterfalls here to be the first interruption of the Mekong river for boats heading upriver from the ocean, and presented a major block to river trade.  The French came up with an idea however and had a port built beneath the falls and train tracks built along the islands and a second port built above the falls.   Boats could take cargo to one side of the waterfall and then transfer the load to the train to take it across the waterfall to the port on the other side.   The endeavor ultimately was not very profitable and failed, but the remains of the 100 year old ports, train tracks and stone bridge remain.

One of the only bridges around, this one was built over a 100 years ago by the French for trains, connecting Don Khone and Don Det.
One of the only bridges around, this one was built over a 100 years ago by the French for trains, connecting Don Khon and Don Det.
A view from the bridge.
A view from the bridge, the hills in the distance are Cambodia.

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The ruins of a colonial home built on the island near the bridge.
The local school on Don Khon, near the bridge.

For our last stop in Laos the 4000 islands was very relaxing.  Though if you are looking for a bit more excitement the Don Det island looked to cater to a younger crowd.  As much as we liked relaxing on the island we were excited when it came time to leave because that meant heading to our next country, Cambodia, and meeting up with a friend who was coming to visit us from back home in Seattle.

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