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16 Mar


4,000 Islands… Not a bad place to do our taxes!

March 16, 2014 | By |

At some point in 12 months of travel, you realize you need to do your taxes and be mature adults, so you look for a really pretty, chill place with decent wifi, gorgeous views that don’t require moving to see them, and a large supply of fruit smoothies. Si Phan Don, or 4,000 Islands, is a collection of islands in the Mekong River just north of the Laos-Cambodia border (in Laos). The islands that we heard about the most as options to visit are Don Khong, which apparently has real “towns,” temples, and development, Don Det, where all the backpackers flock, and Don Khon (or Don Khone), which is connected by bridge to Don Det and super chill. We had a very limited experience and spent our time entirely on Don Khon.

Thakhek to 4,000 Islands

The local bus from Vientiane to 4,000 Islands passes through Thakhek each day around 5:30 or 6pm, and we preferred to take a single night bus than do it in sections. We heard it would take 15-16 hours, but only 12 hours after leaving Thakhek, we were just across the river from Don Khong. The bus had AC all night, was reasonably comfortable, and provided entertainment in the form of loud Laotian music blasting through speakers all night long (note to self: always bring earplugs).

We had wondered how transportation would work to get to the other islands since the bus went to Don Khong. Turns out, super easy. A guy came over to all the falangs to offer a ride to Don Det (and Don Khon). So, for $2.50 per person, we had a lovely 45 minute ride in the back of his pickup truck while we watched the sun rise and small strings of monks on a solemn and spiritual alms collection walk (similar in spirit to in Luang Prabang, but on a smaller scale and without the paparazzi). Then we got a little boat for a scenic trip to the islands.

On Don Khon

We were advised to just walk along the area near the bridge to Don Det to find a guesthouse. We paid approx $13 USD to stay in a lovely little bungalow with a private balcony and hammocks right at the river’s edge. The owners of the bungalow and adjoining restaurant (both called Dok Champa) were super lovely and helpful, made great food, and were fine with us sitting there for hours each day working on the computer.

The restaurants along that little strip of the island were quite good, the vibe was every bit as chill and laid back as we were hoping, and the 3G internet connections continue to shock us with how good they are. The one variance to the tranquility was a wedding on the island while we were there, which meant that most of the people from the village gathered in one place to drink BeerLao and sing Laotian karaoke for a couple of days. Laotian music and karaoke, which we have heard everywhere we have been in the last 6 weeks, seems to be dominated by 3 or 4 beats, with slight differences in melody and singing, so it feels very stable, consistent, and ultimately becomes iconic of Laos (to the outside ear). The most amusing thing is that as soon as the wedding stopped pumping loud music, other establishments (on our island or across the river on Don Det) would rush to fill the void so the Laotian music could continue on.

As planned, we didn’t leave a 100 meter span of our bungalow in the 4 days we were there, but had a beautiful place to plant down and got a bunch of business accomplished (ie: taxes are almost ready to be filed, huzzah!). We are kind of bummed we didn’t at least take a bike ride to see the waterfalls on the other side of the island, but we were also relishing the uninterrupted work time. On our last day, we went for a short walk (probably about 100 meters from our bungalow), but the heat and sun drove us back to our shady office… where we could watch the boats go by, see the sunset shimmer on the water, drink coconut banana shakes, and have the resident kittens curl up in our Laos while we worked.

4,000 Islands to Phnom Penh

We had already added 14 days to our Laotian visas and had to leave the country by March 14th, otherwise we both wish we could have stayed a couple more days for R&R and exploring the islands. Alas…

We booked a ticket through the guesthouse straight through from Don Khon to Phnom Penh, which was quite pricey ($30 per person). It turned out to be one of the worst travel days we have had, with delays along the way (including a completely destroyed tire) and absurd overheating (no AC), plus clouds of dust (literally clouds, inside the bus) from the bumpy eternally-mid-construction roads. Add to that, since we had changed over all our Laotian Kip and spent almost all our dollars on the Cambodian visa, we were left with $1.50 and had been completely unprepared with snacks for the journey (a small bag of double-barbecue chips and 3 fruit jellies). So from when we left the Don Khon at 8am until we arrived in Phnom Penh at 11pm, we spent $1 on a bottle of water and otherwise pretty much fasted – but since we could barely even breathe in the overheated and dust-filled bus, we weren’t actually hungry until we got off the bus.

Next entry about Phnom Penh, coming soon! In the meanwhile, here’s the full set of photos:


  1. Rendall

    Love it! Keep the updates coming!