If you visit Laos and plan to see the south, the 4000 Islands is a location not to be missed. There are several inhabited islands but accommodation on only three of them. Most people who visit this area though are content just touring one or two of the islands and then succumb to the siren of the hammock. Many of the 4000 Islands are uninhabitable as they are only several feet long or they disappear completely during the wet season as the Mekong rises. Some people paddle or motor over from larger islands and use those islands as their “gardens”.
Matt and I chose to hunker down on the island of Don Det. We hired a mini bus from Pakse down to the ferry terminal which took about 2.5 hours. Aim to get a seat right behind the front row if you take a minibus, it has the most leg room.
The ferry ride to Don Det was only about 15 minutes on a narrow long tail boat. They seat about 10-12 people on them and load your luggage into the front so you can grab your bag as you get off the boat. Getting off the boat requires a little finesse as they just beach it so it can be a bit wobbly.
The guesthouse we stayed at was not in the guidebook or on the internet but had one of the best views by far on the west side of the island. I found it on my maps.me app but it didn’t show up on Matt’s. It’s called Mr. Ky Guesthouse. It’s a quiet, sunset side place run by a nice family and the rates are very reasonable. While the beds aren’t the most comfortable, the view and the loungy hammock clad porches overlooking the Mekong River make for a nice place to slow down and take a break. Especially if you’ve been touring as hard as we have. There’s also plenty of happy shakes, happy pancakes, and happy pizza around town to help you forget the uncomfortable bed and still get a very restful night’s sleep.
Hanging out in the hammocks to watch sunset was lovely as well. We had been on motorbikes for so long listening to the honking of horns we forgot how quiet life in these parts can be. The song of the bugs and crickets in the evening will lull you right into a relaxing meditative state without any effort whatsoever….just like it should be. The hammocks were also good for morning dwelling to read a book or just waking up slowly.
All day kayak tours are available on Don Det starting at 8:30am and last until 5pm. They provide breakfast, lunch, and drinking water for the day at 170,000 KIP per person. The more people that sign up for the tour, the cheaper it gets from what we were told. We wanted to rent a kayak and tour on our own but it didn’t really seem like that was something they offer on this island. There are waterfalls and a current to contend with toward the south end of the island, so that may have been why.
There are many places to rent bicycles on Don Det. If you’re guesthouse doesn’t have them, chances are someone nearby does. The going rate is 10,000 KIP per day and they are your basic one speed road bikes, no frills and practically no brakes. Well, you might get a bell or basket if you consider that a frill.
We biked to the island south of Don Det, called Ban Khon Nua. There is a bridge connecting the islands and if you wish to visit that island they charge you 35,000 KIP. That ticket price includes admission for two different waterfalls that are on the island. There are a bunch of nice restaurants along the riverside right as you get across the bridge to stop and have a fruit shake, cold drink, or lunch and enjoy the lovely view. You can also return to the island with the same ticket another day but the ticket admission for the waterfalls is only good for the day you purchase it.
We spent the better part of a day riding bikes around the two islands and probably could’ve rented bikes for a second day to see the things we missed on the first ride. I think we covered about 11-12 miles before our butts started to get sore. Some of the roads on the islands are rockier than others so it feels more like mountain biking at times. The terrain in generally flat though so it’s not too strenuous.
The best food we found here is the chicken noodle soup for breakfast at either of the cafe’s by the boat launch where you arrive to the island. The Indian Restaurant that has the Halal food banners, Faija, not Jasmin, has the better Indian food of the two places. Despite seeing more people at Jasmin, it’s only because they’re in guidebooks. Go to the other place or try both and compare for yourself. I’d recommend the Dhal Fry, Dhal Makani, or Paneer Butter Masala with Naan. The paneer is actually tofu but it’s still a tasty representation nonetheless. They make a good sweet lassi there as well. The best Lao food place we found is The Paradise Restaurant and Cafe, though it can sometimes get buggy at night at the tables closest to the water.
We walked the island two days in a row just to have some activity in our day before the sun got too high and too hot. We had an overcast day for our bike ride day which was lucky. We even got a little rain that day and a heavy rain the following evening. It was nice to have rain after not having it for a very long time. It is dry season now, after all.
You can rent tubes and float on the Mekong too if you want to cool off. I believe it’s 10,000 KIP to rent a tube. There is also two resorts on this island with pools but you have to pay 35,000 KIP if you’re not staying at the resort. The Mekong River doesn’t look the clearest but there were a good number of people we saw tubing as well as local and foreign people swimming by our guesthouse.
Don Det was a nice break for us after covering the north of Thailand and the whole of Laos in just under two months. If you need to chill out and just relax for a few days, Don Det is very accessible and quiet. A perfect spot to soak up some downtime. Four motorbike loops and many long bus rides later we’ve found ourselves unwilling to trade our comfortable hammocks on Don Det Island for the road but alas our visas are about to expire.