Introducing Si Phan Don – 4000 Islands
4000 Islands is the English translation of Si Phan Don. The location of Si Phan Don 4000 Islands is on the Mekong River in southern Laos very close to the Cambodian Border. The islands are a 1-2 hour motorbike ride from Pakse which is within easy distance.
Basic Mekong River Facts
Transporting over 450 sq kilometers of water annually makes the Mekong River among the largest rivers in the world. Starting on the Tibetan Plateau the Mekong travels over 4000 kilometers to southern Vietnam where is empties into the South China Sea.
Unfortunately, for commercial use, the Mekong River is also one of the world’s most difficult rivers to navigate. The Khone Phapheng Falls located in southern Laos are the main obstacle blocking the path.
However, this is not a problem for visitors to the area. Unless you want to sail over the falls of course, then its a big problem.
Khone Phapheng Falls at Si Phan Don 4000 Islands
The Khone Phapheng Falls Falls and Si Phan Don 4000 Islands are actually one in the same. After all, waterfalls and islands are really just a bunch of semi-submerged rocks.
Si Phan Don is a river archipelago consisting of thousands of islands and half of them are submerged when the water is high. High water levels on the Mekong River transform the Khone Phapheng Falls into one of the natural wonders of the world.
I have traveled on the Mekong during both seasons and the water is normally very smooth. Although the difference is most evident as the water flows over the rapids.
The difference between flood stage and low water stage is very profound and you can view it in the photos below.
Si Phan Don 4000 Islands – Mekong River Crossing
Although there is no bridge from the mainland it is still possible to reach Si Phan Don 4000 Islands by boat even during flood season. Crossing the Mekong river to get to the islands is actually a rather placid affair, even during flood. Just follow the road to the boat launch and embark.
Don Det, Don Khong and Don Khon
Fortunately, the 3 main islands do not become submerged when the Mekong is at high water levels.
Ironically, Don Khong is the largest of the 3 islands although I doubt it is named after the giant Hollywood monkey. We stayed for 2 days on Don Khong. However, just because it is the biggest doesn’t mean it is best.
Positive attributes of Don Khong island include some nice restaurants on the banks of the Mekong and road access around the island is good. Traveling by motorbike is the best method because you have the freedom to move around.
Besides the friendly monkey, other features of the islands include the remnants of the French railway and also some old French colonial administrative buildings. Also, if you have the patience for it you may want to go in search of the elusive Irrawaddy dolphins that live near Si Phan Don.
Some local kids are putting the former French administrative building to good use in the the photos below.
Subsistence Living in Si Phan Don
Living off the land is quite common in developing countries. Of course, this includes both agriculture and fishing. On the banks of the Mekong it helps to have a huge source of fresh water nearby to irrigate the rice fields.
Plus, the fishing is very good here. This section of the Mekong is home to the world’s largest fresh water fish called the plabuck. It is actually a giant catfish and it can grow to 10 feet in length and weigh up to 650 pounds. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to catch one when I was at Si Phan Don.
Si Phan Don and the Khone Falls are both must see locations when you visit Laos. If you read this post, you probably deduced that the photos were taken at different times. That conclusion is correct as I was visiting the area at different times of the year. The first trip was with my girlfriend when the river level was lower and the second trip was during flood stage when I was traveling solo.
The second trip to Si Phan Don was after I had attended one of the school opening ceremonies for the projects that I have funded in this area.