Laos: Islands of the Mekong

Photo by Dave Stamboulis

Who knew the mighty Mekong River could have so many islands

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Mekong islands on the Mekong River? Few visitors to Laos even know that there are islands in the country, as it is a land-locked nation. However, in the far south, the Mekong River is quite wide, and home to some gorgeous islands, even white sand beaches, and the area, known as 4000 islands, or “Si Pan Don” in Lao, is well worth a visit. The name comes from the fact that during the dry season, literally thousands of small isles float above the river surface. While many are too small to count, nor even big enough to land on, others are quite massive, and here we recommend a few of the very best Mekong islands.

Don Det: Budget destination

Don Det is one of the furthest south Mekong islands, almost down at the Cambodian border. Favored by the backpacking and budget travel crowd, it offers inexpensive accommodations in simple bungalows along the Mekong, with hammocks on the porches and plenty of menus featuring banana pancakes. While Don Det started to replace Vang Vieng on the young party crowd circuit, it still is a good place to chill out with a book, swinging in a hammock over the river. For those who want a  bit more activity, several dirt paths run through the island, navigable by rental bicycles or on foot, taking in rice paddies and farms, and another popular option is floating along the Mekong with an inner tube.

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Don Khon: Families and couples

Right next to Don Det is Don Khon, a Mekong island separated only by a old rail bridge, built by the French, and has more of an upscale vibe than its neighbor, catering to families and couples who want to escape the party crowd. Don Khon also has many more sights than Don Det, the most impressive of which is Li Phi Falls, a series of powerful rapids that descend a small canyon into the Mekong, which can be visited on foot or by rental bicycle in about 15 minutes from the bungalow area.

Don Khon also has some nice white sand beaches at its southern end, and fishermen wander out on the rocks near here to cast their nets, making it a photogenic spot for photographers. Also highly worth doing here is a boat trip to see the Irrawaddy dolphins, who inhabit the waters just north of the Cambodian border. Boat trips from the southern side of Don Khon take travellers up close, and it is also possible to go see them on a kayak tour, as well as checking out the dramatic Khone Phapheng waterfall, which seriously is Laos’ claim to Niagara.

Don Kong: Rural life in southern Laos

Don Khong is the largest Mekong island in southern Laos, and sees fewer tourists than Don Khon and Don Det. There isn’t much “to do” here, but as only the east side of the island has any tourist development, it is a great place to check out rural life in southern Laos. The middle of the island has rice farms and fields, and the villages on the west coast see few foreign faces. Bicycle rental again is the way to go here, and it is also possible to do boat tours with small longtail boats that have a dock set up over near all the accommodation on the east side of the island. For a real splurge, head upstream a bit to Don Daeng, where there is the 4000 island’s only five-star resort, La Folie Lodge, which sits by itself on a small isle with a massive white sand beach during the winter season.

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