‘’4000 islands’’ – most probably the name of this place doesn’t sound familiar to you? Let’s change it! In Laos the islands are must-see if you want to relax during your stay in this country! The hottest part of Laos right close to the border with Cambodia is not only a place to wind down in bungalows in the islands of Don Det and Don Khon, but also a place where you can experience a closer contact with dolphins floating in the Mekong River! How is that possible? Dolphins in the river? Yes, confirmed and seen with our own eyes! 🙂
It is said that Don Det is cheaper and more attractive for backpackers, while the island of Don Khon is for people with money looking for relaxation, peace and tranquility. Is that true? Even if it is so, still 90% of backpackers visit Don Khon on bikes from Don Det (the islands are connected by a bridge) heading for waterfalls, beaches, villages, or renting a boat to see so called Irrawaddy dolphins.
One day, we did the same (excluding the waterfalls) .. Our main aim was to see the Irrawaddy dolphins and the question whether you could actually meet them was still there in our heads. Is it a scam to make tourists pay for the boat and when they come back they will hear that it’s nature so you cannot be 100% sure that you see anything? We passed about 7km from Don Det to the other end of Don Khon where you can find the cheapest place to ‘’rent’’ a boat with a boatman (70.000Kip / 9USD paid for 1 hour for a boat that could accommodate up to 4 people). The river’s most famous vantage point is the water boundary between Laos and Cambodia, where you can usually find these animals. At the beginning there were no signs that we would see anything, but at the very end when the boatman took us to another place we encountered 3 dophins, which alternately were appearing in the horizon 10-15 times for 2-3 seconds ..! Of course as you would expect it verged on a miracle to snap a photo of them. We were ‘’clicking’’ pictures like crazy to check later what came out and we were able to catch one dolphin! The quality of the photo is not good because of the maximum zooming and our excitement added to it:)
What do we know about the Irrawaddy dolphins? You can find Orcaella brevirostris mainly in India (up to 90%) and in 6 other Asian countries where it is considered an endangered species. Originally, they were typically oceanic dolphins but with time they adapted to life in rivers, and so they can be found in the Ganges, Irrawaddy and Mekong River… They are often compared to killer whales or orcas, but are much smaller (reach up to 2m in length) . Let’s take a closer look at these cute creatures, they should look like this 🙂 :
Similarily to what we had in the Bolaven Plateau here you also have to pay an entrance fee to waterfalls. Not only that, when crossing the bridge connecting the two islands you will encounter a little man selling tickets to the waterfalls for 35.000Kip / 4EUR. We skipped the waterfalls this time, so we refused to buy tickets. We preferred to explore the area around the island, we found a small beach, a village, then came back to Don Det to observe local people near their small houses.
Many local people do fishing nets during the day to be able to go fishing in the evening. Practically everyone has a boat. The Mekong River is a place where the locals take a bath, brush their teeth, wash clothes, set off for fishing, swim, take a rest… The river fulfills their basic needs, and is an inseparable part of their existence + let’s add tourism (the source of income) to that.
Many locals have restaurants and bars in their houses, or even guesthouses and the whole family with older children is involved in the family business. If it is a restaurant, children become waiters, a mother and grandmother cook, dad goes fishing, or runs a hostel and you can see small children running around somewhere behind the house and play close to the Mekong River completely unnoticed, left to themselves, as opposed to what we have in Europe… but as soon as they get older they need to suport their parents and help them run the business.
And what was left for us? A complete relaxation, but… there is only one thing that seems to be missing … If you look at the locals, they have been bathig in the Mekong River since they were children and cannot imagine not cooling off in the river after a hot day. As we read a lot about the quality of the water and pimples, allergies, skin lesions observed by tourists, who got tempted and dipped their bottoms in the river … we decided not to risk. A popular example can be ‘’tubing’’ – the same activity as in Vang Vieng, here you can also rent an inflated truck tube, and relax in the water, the Mekong will push you along with the stream to the place where you can get off and get back on foot with the tube under your arm. We preferred not to risk facing the unknown bacteria. And this is the relax that we opted for:) :
How to get there?
From Vientiane: the most convenient and the cheapest option is to buy collectively various types of tickets for transport to Don Det at a travel agency for 210.000Kip/25USD including: the pick-up from your hotel, a night bus to Pakse (travel time: up to 12h), a bus to Nakasang (travel time: 2,5-3h) and boat to the island of Don Det (15-20min). Why is that cheaper than when arranged individually? Here are the costs when you do it on you own: a night bus to Pakse with a ticket bought at the station: 170.000Kip, bus to Nakasang – 50.000Kip, a boat to the island: 15.000Kip – so altogether: 235.000Kip, and you still need to add a tuk-tuk to take you to the southern station in Vientiane … As you can see, not always arranging the trip on your own comes out cheaper …
From Pakse: if you sleep in Pakse the most convenient and cheapest to get tickets to Don Det is also at a travel agency for 65.000Kip /8USD(the price includes bus to Nakasang + boat).
However, going back to Pakse by boat and bus will cost you even cheaper from Don Det (50.000Kip-6USD) and can be arranged at the place of your stay. The plus is it that you do not have to go back to the main pier and the boat is literally waiting near your bungalow. We stayed in Mr Tho’s Bungalows, which were about 1.5 km away from the main pier, so even more did we appreciate this comfort. By the way, regarding the accommodation: the cheapest huts/bungalows in the island cost 5USD per night. The prices of meals in bars and restaurants vary between 15,000 and 30.000Kip /2-8USD in most of the cases 🙂 So maybe start thinking about visiting the 4000 islands? You will enjoy your vacation for sure!