A short guide to Don Det & Don Khon (4000 islands), Laos
You may think it’s strange that the landlocked country of Laos has one island, never mind thousands. Yet if you head to it’s southernmost tip you’ll find the wonderland of the Si Phan Don (meaning 4000 islands) where the Mekong river divides the landscape into a spectacular archipelago of little islands and waterfalls. When visiting the 4000 islands most travellers choose to stay on the island of Don Det or Don Khon. These islands are connected by a stone bridge meaning you can easily stay on one and explore them both. There’s not loads to do on either islands, but that’s why you should go. It’s the perfect place to just chill out in a hammock and let the days melt away. Want to know more? This guide to Don Det & Don Khon should tell you everything you need know.
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Don Det or Don Khon?
Don Det: Don Det is the busier of the two islands. It has the most choice when it comes to bars, restaurants and accommodation. Most of these are concentrated at the northern tip of the island, which is where most backpackers hang out. Although the island isn’t exactly party central, it still has a lively vibe to it and is your best bet if you’re looking to mingle with other travellers. Although a lot of the accommodation is in the lively area at the very top of the island, there’s also plenty of quieter places to stay on both the sunset side and sunrise side towards the Old French Bridge.Don Khon: Don Khon is probably the more authentic of the two islands (though Don Det is still pretty authentic too). It’s got less restaurants, accommodation and bars than Don Det. So if you’re wanting nothing but peace and quiet then Don Khon is the one to go for. Most of the accommodation lies on the bank next to the Old French Bridge so it’s easy to hop across to Don Det if you want.
Top things to do in Don Det & Don Khon
As far as natural attractions go on these islands, you’ll find most of them on Don Khon. However don’t let that discourage you from staying on Don Det, as you can easily get around and hop between both islands by bicycle. So with that in mind, here are the top things do when you’re visiting Don Det & Don Khon.
Go see the Irrawaddy dolphins – Don Khon
Did you know the 4000 islands are home to endangered Irrawaddy dolphins. There’s estimated to be less than 100 of them left in the world, so seeing one is pretty special. And there are lots of ways you can go and do just that with plenty of travel agents on Don Det selling kayaking and boat tours offering you the chance to catch a glimpse of these unusual animals.However I would recommend heading to Khongyai Beach on the south side of Don Khon to see the dolphins. Speak to the lady who runs the cafe there, as her husband does trips out to see the dolphins in his fishing boat. The price is negotiable, so we paid 30,000 kip each in the end. The trip lasts around 40 minutes where you’re taken to a tiny sand dune to spot the dolphins. We ended up seeing three of the dolphins that live in that area!
Khongyai Beach – Don Khon
Set on the south side of Don Khon, this beach is a lovely secluded spot to hang out and go for a swim. Although it’s rather small nothing particularly special compared to most beaches, the wooden boats docked up at the shore and jagged rocks jutting out the water make it rather scenic all the same. As I mentioned above, there’s also a small cafe there where you can buy meals, snacks and cold drinks.
Kayaking & tubing – Don Det
Tubing and kayaking in Laos isn’t just limited to Vang Vieng. On Don Det you’ll find plenty of kayaking tours on offer, that usually tie in a trip to see the dolphins and Khone Phapheng Falls too. But if kayaking isn’t your thing, you can hire a tube for the day from most guesthouses and bars for next to nothing and float around the island.
Mama Tanons – Don Det
This was my favourite place on Don Det by far. We ate here everyday and drank here most nights. The food is really great whether breakfast, lunch or dinner. The terrace at the back that overhangs the river was a particularly good place to hang out, complete with several comfy hammocks and cushions.
Li Phi Falls – Don Khon
This is Don Khon’s most famous waterfall and with good reason. I went in rainy season and the shear amount of water pouring down it was truly impressive. The falls lie within a park which you have to pay 35,000 kip entry for. But for this they’ve built a platform from which you get a really close up good view of the falls, as well as a cafe and restaurant so you can make more of a day of your visit.
Khonepasoi Falls – Don Khon
Found on the other side of the island to the Li Phi Falls, the Khonepasoi Falls are also well worth a visit. To get there you’ll need to follow a map to the new suspension bridge. You’ll then need to cross the suspension bridge and follow the path until you reach a small beach from which you can view the falls. These are even larger than the Li Phi Falls and free to visit, although, as you can’t really get as close to them the view is not as good.
Hire a bike – Don Det
This one goes without saying really, as it’s the best way to get to all the waterfalls and beaches. But exploring the islands by bike is really fun. There’s something really peaceful about cycling through all the rice fields with nothing or no one around but you and nature. You can hire a bicycle from most guest houses for the day for around 10,000 kip. Just make sure to test out the brakes and get the tyres pumped up before you set off!
Chill out at the pool – Don Det
When the heat gets too much, why not swap riverside for poolside. And you’re in luck as The Little Eden Hotel on Don Det has one of the best pools I’ve been to in Asia so far. It’s super clean and is a perfect way to cool off after a morning of exploring. For non residents its 40,000 kip to use which includes a towel.
Watch the sunset – Don Det & Don Khon
Hand down, the sunsets here are incredible. Head to the sunset side of either island, grab a hammock, a Beer Lao and settle in to watch golden hour. Alternatively if you’re into photography this is the time to get some seriously amazing shots!
Visiting the 4000 Islands was the highlight of my time in Laos and and if you haven’t already you should seriously consider adding it to your plans. If you have any other questions or want to know anything else about either Don Det or Don Khon then let me know in the comments! Happy travels!
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