From Pakse we headed south to the up-and-coming travellers mecca of the 4,000 Islands, situated in the Mekhong River at least 500km from the sea, within the heart of Indochina. The name helps to illustrate the size and magnificence of the Mekhong River that holds this huge collection of tiny, lush green islets.
We chose to stay on the island of Don Det where the majority of backpacker accommodation is; it was Carly’s turn to trek around the various guest houses to find a good ‘un with Ben nursing his broken toe and ‘resting’ in a bar. Most of the riverfront bungalows are basic with outside communal toilets – not good! – eventually we found a modern guest house down the main street (well, more of a muddy path–no cars here!).
Things to do
The pace of life is chilled on the islands and we found ourselves slouching into the laid-back lifestyle – lots of hammocks and axe cushions, reading, watching a few fishing boats chug along the river.
We discovered there was also tubing here, but without the bars and swings (surely one of the main attractions?!) we gave it a miss, although we could see the appeal of just floating down the serene waterways amongst the abundant wildlife.
Some light exercise
Ben felt his toe could stand up to some light exercise so we hired a couple of bikes and cycled to the neighbouring island of Don Khong, along dirt tracks surrounded by beautiful rice paddies and a few water buffalo. Really worth the effort!
We visited the Khone Phapheng Falls, which are the largest waterfalls in Asia by volume, not height. They are a magnificent site, with tons of water relentlessly crashing over rock until it finally subsides enough downstream for people to kayak. The record rate of water flow recorded was nearly 50,000 cubic metres per minute (compared with 170,000 cubic metres per minute at Niagra Falls)…according to Wikipedia!
Rare Irrawaddy dolphins
While on Don Khong we also decided on a boat trip to attempt to see some Irrawaddy dolphins. In the Mekhong these dolphins can be found in a few spots along a 200km stretch – although there are only a few dozen in total and they are considered endangered.
We picked up our own longtail boat from a remote beach and sped down the Mekhong past endless green trees, protruding rocks, the odd small beach with water buffalo milling about. Stunning scenery. On the right side was our first glimpse of Cambodia that the Mekhong separates from Laos – Laos to our left and Cambodia to our right as we headed south. Strange trees grow out of the water at ridiculous angles, their branches contorted.
We stopped at the watching site (where the river widens somewhat) with several other boats, engine off, and waited in the blistering heat for a glimpse of the dolphins. In the distance we could make out sunlight catching on a fin every so often, the occasional crescent arching above the waves and the odd air-hole blow-out but we were too far away to see much. So in terms of dolphin watching it wasn’t the best trip, but we loved floating through the serene and peaceful countryside nonetheless.
This was our last stop in Laos – we’d traversed the country from North to South – and it was definitely worth the effort. 4,000 Islands is a wonderful place to relax, soak up the natural beauty around you and see the local people going about their business…before the tourist trade fully displaces their traditional trade.
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