Writing this blog post about the 4000 islands, I’m sat in one of those Vang Vieng restaurants on the riverside that play episodes of Friends on an endless loop, and bemoaning the fact that I am no longer on Don Dhet, the most popular island, and one of 4000, that sits within the Mekong river in the south of Laos. In fact, I’m a little worried that this feeling might never leave me. Spending six nights on Don Dhet was such a highlight of my trip that I have genuine fear that for the remainder of my travels I’ll be searching for somewhere just as amazing and then slumping into watching repeated episodes of Friends when the place I’m in doesn’t match up. But what makes Don Dhet and the 4000 islands just so bloody amazing? Here are ten reasons why you should pack a bag and make your way to southern Laos right away.
1.Swimming in the Mekong river
Considering that I am not the biggest fan of visiting the beach, I found life in the middle of an island in the Mekong river to be surprisingly agreeable. I visited Don Dhet at the end of February/beginning of March and to say the weather was hot would be something of an understatement. The average temperature in the day was around 37 degrees and one day it even reached 40. The best way to cool down is to jump in the river that is all around you. Just beware of that current. I’m a weak swimmer and I had to fight my way back to the riverbank on a couple of occasions.
This kid has the right idea.
2. Take a kayaking trip
If you want to enjoy the Mekong river without actually getting wet, then exploring the river by kayak is a good option. Just get started in the morning when the sun is less intense and remember to wear lots of sun lotion and all that.
3. Get on your bike
When you arrive on Don Dhet, you can’t fail to notice that everyone and his brother wants to rent you a bicycle. Don Khon is an island attached to Don Dhet by a bridge, and if you want to explore this particular island then hiring a bicycle is by far the best option. The island is huge, and traversing it by foot just isn’t an option, so slap on your sun lotion and get pedalling.
The first thing that I did when I got on a bicycle was pedal to a waterfall on Don Khon. There are two waterfalls on Don Khon and the most accessible is a smaller one on the east side of the island. As this waterfall was labelled ‘the small one’, I didn’t have any grand expectations, but this was actually the biggest waterfall I’d ever seen. And it even has a beach area where you can lounge in the warm water that the waterfall creates.
The Don Khon waterfall beach where I wallowed in the water for hours.
5. Remote, but well connected
When you spend time on the 4000 islands it can be easy to forget that the rest of the world exists. I love that feeling of being completely disconnected from the rest of the world, and yet because I work while I travel, I need to stay in places that have a decent wifi connection. Most of the articles I found about the 4000 islands are a few years old and suggested that finding wifi on Don Dhet would be near on impossible. Not the case. If you also require a wifi connection, you’ll be able to choose from a huge range of guesthouses that advertise their free wifi outside.
6. Riverside dining
Don Dhet is basically a tourist island, but that doesn’t mean that all of the restaurants and guesthouses are heaving with people. Actually, there are so many eating options, that as you take an evening walk around the island you will find that there are usually just a couple of people eating in each restaurant. The grub doesn’t change dramatically from one place to the next, so choose a place with a great riverside view and take your time over your meal.
7. The cutest kids, ever.
The island of Don Dhet seems to have a disproportionately large number of small kids, and I have never in my life seen such happy and content children. They spend their days cycling around, playing with each other, splashing about in the river – and their laughter can be heard right around the island. So cute.
8. Spot a river dolphin
One of the most spectacular things that you can do while staying on the 4000 islands is spotting the river dolphins of the Mekong in their natural habitat. Your best bet is to head to the south of Dhon Khon island, where you can get on a boat that takes you right into the middle of the river. The boat trip only costs 60,000 kip, and that cost can be split between a few people. The dolphins weren’t exactly close, but I spotted them nevertheless, and it was cool to spend an hour on the water.
9. Party (until 11pm)
Before heading to the 4000 islands, I read that this was the latest party place in Laos since all the riverside bars in Vang Vieng had closed down, that you should avoid it at all costs if you want to enjoy the beautiful, natural island that it once was. Total bullshit. The place is so relaxed and subdued that most people are asleep by 10pm and the very latest that I stayed up was midnight. Anybody who takes offence at the very small party scene here should think about taking the stick out of their arse.
10. Water buffalos everywhere
As I travel, I have a recurring issue of wild animals wanting to chase me. Far from ideal. When I realised that Don Dhet was teeming with water buffalos, I had visions of myself being chased by a herd of the blighters, right into the Mekong river. But actually the water buffalos are so placid that I needn’t have worried about being stampeded. There is something so appealing about seeing such strong animals act in a way that is calm and gentle. And in fact, all of the animals on the island (you’ll see chickens, cats, dogs, and pigs everywhere) seem to have been influenced by the relaxed atmosphere of the island and are lovely to be around.
So, there you have it – ten reasons why you should get to the 4000 islands right away. But my little list doesn’t even do it justice as this part of Laos is more than just the sum of its parts. The place has a very special feeling about it, and though six days of relaxing in the Laos sun by the Mekong was wonderful, I could have stuck around for months.