How to get there
Combined Bus + Ferry: 3h 30min, $6 + $2
3h 30min, $15
8h 30min, $25
4h 30min, $103 + $15
Where to stay at 4.000 Islands?
Si Phan Don
The 4.000 islands are located about 118km from Pakse, the nearest city in Laos. You’ll find the islands have a laid-back vibe—the perfect place to relax, read a book and regain some energy after travelling.
Visit the magnificent Li Phi waterfalls, enjoy a bottle of Beerlao at sunset, and watch the rare Irrawaddy dolphins play.
Most travellers visiting the 4.000 Islands end up on Don Det and Don Khon.
Swim in the Mekong River, watch a movie at an open-air cinema or join the crowd at the Reggae Bar or Adam’s bar.
Don Det is now called the “Mecca of Backpackers” for its low-priced bars, restaurants and guesthouses. For only $5/night, you can stay in a straw teepee at The Last Resort. Since it acquired a 24-hour supply of electricity, the island is becoming more popular. It’s small, and you can easily explore it by renting a bike for $1 a day. Walking around it takes about 2 hours.
Don Khon is larger than Don Det. The two islands are connected by an old French railway bridge, but you can also reach the island by kayak or boat from Don Det.
Don Khon is more upmarket than Don Det, and it’s less of a party scene. Mr. Happy’s Bar & Restaurant is the most popular chill-out place for backpackers. Dozens of guesthouses are available on the northern part of Don Khon, but its bars and restaurants are more limited.
There isn’t much to do in Don Khon, but it’s an idyllic place to relax, read a book and experience Laos’ local island life.
What to do at 4.000 Islands?
#1. Khone Phapheng Falls
The Khone Phapheng Falls are the largest (although not the tallest) waterfalls in southeast Asia, and it’s one of the must-sees of the 4.000 Islands.
The sound of water crashing against the rocks, the powerful currents and rainbow spray—they’ll take your breath away. The gush is so strong that people often compare it to Niagara Falls on the U.S./Canada border. There are walkways and viewing platforms, and nearby restaurants feature local dishes.
There isn’t much else in the area, so sit back, sip world-famous Robusta coffee and listen to the roar of the rapids.
Tickets cost $5, and gates are open from 8:00 to 18:00. A visit to Khone Phapheng Falls is often included in the island tours, and a visit will take around 1 hour. If you’re from Pakse, take a bus to Ban Nakasang, then get a ferry to Don Det or Don Khon.
#2. Li Phi Falls
Li Phi Falls is a popular tourist spot for those exploring Don Khon. It’s formed by the river squeezing between the small isles of Don La and Don Siniat. There are several viewing points and walkways, and a café overlooks the waterfall. Li Phi Falls is small, but it’s one of the highlights of the 4.000 Islands.
Tip: Follow the sign for the beach and you’ll find a bar with a restaurant and pool table.
The entrance fee is 35.000 Kip, but it’s often also part of tours that include a visit to the Phapheng Waterfalls. Gates are open from 8:00 to 18:00.
Watch your step because the area can be slippery.
#3. Kayaking Trip with Irrawaddy Dolphins
The Mekong River is one of three rivers where you can still spot the Irrawaddy dolphin. In 2010, there were only about 85 left in the world, but fishnets and boats have killed most of them. You might still spot this beautiful creature on the border of Laos and Cambodia, but sightings have become rarer, as there are now fewer than 10 left in the Mekong River.
The best way to spot the Irrawaddy dolphin is by kayak, as the animals are scared off by motor boats. It can be difficult to spot them because their pinkish complexion is obscured by the muddy water. If you’re lucky, you’ll see their bulging forehead break the surface for a few moments.
You can join a kayak tour for around $8-10/person, or you can book a combined tour which includes a visit to the waterfalls.
#4. Bars at 4.000 islands
On the islands you’ll find several restaurants and bars along the shores of the Mekong River. Relax in a hammock and sip a fruit shake or Beerlao while watching the sunset.
During the day, Don Det’s Reggae Bar is a great place to chill. Some evenings they host a reggae band, and their pizza is delicious. They even have a diving platform from which you can dive straight into Mekong River.
Another good place in Don Det is the 4.000 Island Bar. Sit with a fresh curry and an icy beer, and make sure you say hello to the friendly owner, Sel. The bar gets good reviews on TripAdvisor, and everyone raves about the food.
If you want a more upbeat atmosphere, Adam’s Bar and Restaurant has a pool table and barbecue buffets. You can always treat yourself to a homemade “cookie”, too.
Some nights you can go to the open cinema at The Last Resort or watch the fire shows on the beach.
In Don Khon, life is a little slower when night falls, and you’ll still find the chill vibe there. Stretch out on a cushion at Mr Happy’s Bar & Restaurant, or sit by the river at Sengahloune Restaurant with a good cocktail. Most restaurants in Don Khon provide a more relaxed atmosphere, and their drinks and music don’t promote the party scene.
Whichever island you choose, a cold Beerlao will be waiting for you.
#5. Tubing/Party Cruise
4.000 Islands is not the place to hire a jet ski and fly over the water at 70mph. That wouldn’t fit the laid-back atmosphere of these islands.
Instead, you can sunbathe in an inner tube while floating down the Mekong River.
Be aware that the current can get quite strong, so we recommend going with a boat which will drive along you.
You can get info about these tubing experiences at Adam’s and Reggae Bar. A boat will bring you to a deserted beach where you can play volleyball, have a beach party or just chill. From this beach you can float down the river in your tube while the boat runs alongside. Check out the straw huts along the river, and watch the wonderful Laos sunset.
Depending on the crowd, the tour can turn into a great fun party, with lots of beer and certain “snacks”. If you’re not in the party mood, just tell them you just want to do the tubing and are not there for the party.
It costs $1-$2 to rent a tube for few hours, while a party cruise costs $10-$15 per person.
If you prefer to go tubing on your own, make sure to stop before the old bridge that connects Don Det and Don Khon because at that point the current becomes stronger. You will see concrete stairs leading up to dry land. Ask locals beforehand which parts are safe.
#6. Cycling the Island
You can rent a bike almost anywhere in Don Det and Don Khon for $1-$2 a day. Thanks to the connection bridge, you can explore both islands in one afternoon. Smile and wave at the locals and get a feel for village life while trekking the sandy roads.
In Don Khon, you can bike to the Li Phi waterfalls and cycle through the authentic Lao village of Ban Hang Khon, where you can rent a kayak and paddle out to see the Irrawaddy dolphin.
In Don Det, ride along the riverside, have a fruit shake or Lao coffee at one of the restaurants, or grab a bottle of ginger beer from the One More Bar.
Make sure your bike is in good condition because some tracks are rocky or muddy.
#7. Fishing Trips
Cruise down the lovely Mekong River, cast your fishing line, and a few hours later you’ll be grilling your catch of the day on the beach.
Fishing trips are easy to arrange in Don Det and Don Khon. You can contact boat owners directly or ask your host to do it for you. Fishing tours come with fishing equipment, lifejackets, bottled water and a local guide.
The trip takes 2-3 hours and costs $5-$8 per person. The Mekong River is teeming with fish, which means you’ll definitely be barbequing later. Ask about a spot where you can grill safely, or ask your guesthouse to cook it for you.
Did you travel this route or visit this place? Share your experience in a comment below.