4000 Islands on the Mekong River in Laos

We had enjoyed our few days in Vientiane but needed to move on. It would be crazy to be this close to Angkor Wat, one of the true wonders of the world, and not pay it a visit. So we set off on the first leg of that Cambodian adventure and took the overnight VIP bus to the mid-sized Laos city of Pakse where we connected on a short bus ride to our first stop, the small village of Don Det, located in theMekong River area known as 4000 Islands.

Don Det is unlike any other place in Southeast Asia. This is the most popular island for tourists in the Mekong River area known as 4000 Islands. A place where time stands still or at least it seems that way. Don Det enjoys a well earned reputation among backpackers and other budget tourists as a great spot to kick-back and just relax. It’s famous for two main reasons: chilling-out and amazing scenery.

Don Det itself is a mix of riverside bungalows, quaint rural homes, bars and restaurants with spectacular riverside views overlooking the Mekong River. The island’s west side claims the best sunsets to be found anywhere in Southeast Asia.

In addition to relaxing the best things to do in Don Det are: kayaking, tubing, cycling, and walking.

Kayaking the Mekong River

We spent one full day paddling around the many islands in a two person kayak. We started our tour soon after breakfast. We had joined the group so that we could explore these island waterways without getting lost and would be sure to return safely home. In addition, our local guide knew the best islands to visit as we headed south towards the Cambodian border. After a few hours of paddling through some amazing islands and countryside we stopped at a beach to rest and eat a lunch of fried rice, fish and assorted fruit provided by our guide. This gave my wife and I an opportunity to talk with the other members of our group of twelve.

After lunch we paddled to the island where we could visit the spectacular Khone Pha Pheng waterfalls. These are the largest waterfalls as measured by the volume of water passing in all of Southeast Asia. We beached the kayaks and hiked a short distance to theses very impressive falls. The rolling mountains of water are hypnotizing to watch and a great place for pictures.

We continued our paddle until around mid afternoon when we made our way to the long tail boat dock where we would start our search for the famous and elusive Irrawaddy Dolphins.

The Irrawaddy Dolphins are a rare fresh water specimen of Dolphins found in various large rivers around the world. There are only an estimated 90 dolphins found here in the 4000 Islands section of the Mekong River. They are similar in appearance to their saltwater cousins but grey in color and a little smaller in size.

We got lucky and encountered two separate pods of about six or seven dolphins each. Seeing them was fascinating and a real special experience when they are encountered on the Mekong River.

Bicycling around Don Det and Don Kohon Islands

The next day we got up early to explore the islands of Don Det and Don Kohon on bicycles. Riding the rickety old bikes is a perfect way to explore these two islands as both islands are encircled by quaint bumpy dirt paths lined with palm trees swaying in the breeze. The paths take you through the scenic countryside of photogenic rice fields and the local farmland. Mid-way around Don Det an old French bridge constructed about one hundred years ago connects Don Let to the neighboring island of Don Kohon. We pedaled across the bridge and began exploring the second smaller picturesque island including the village of Don Kong and the Li Phi waterfalls and their beaches. Our adventure included following various random paths as well as viewing the Don Let bungalows facing us from across the water.

The islands each have a sunset side and a sunrise side. Don Let’s bungalows and hostels are divided accordingly. We stayed on the sunset side.

Since the riverside beauty is so spectacular we decided to splurge and treat ourselves to the best hotel in Don Let. It was great little place appropriately called “The Little Eden Hotel”. It was centrally located on the river near the town and ferry. The hotel was beautiful, featuring large rooms, comfortable beds and a riverside veranda which we throughly enjoyed. The air conditioned room with the spectacular river view added up to a perfect place to call home while visiting Don Det. The large swimming pool and the restaurant with tables on the veranda overlooking the Mekong only added to the wonderful ambiance.

Tubing down the Mekong

Compared to the crazy hedonistic days of the 2000s when tubing in Vang Vien the tubing at Don Det is a much calmer and more relaxed experience. On our last day we peacefully wiled away a few hours and slowly drifted down the cooling Mekong River past our hotel and the French Bridge connecting the two islands, then continuing on for about 3kms beyond.

After renting our tubes in Don Det for only 10,000 kip we launched at the main beach and took off on our picturesque Mekong River float. We conveniently arranged to be picked up and returned by a local fishermen a couple of hours later.

What a great way to spend our last day in Don Det.

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