You’ll find the internet access isn’t as good here as other places in Laos (and that’s saying something), and that life goes a little slower. Lao’s four thousand islands are seriously one of the best places to rest and recharge your travel batteries for a few days, but that said there are a few things that you might want to try and see and do while you’re here.
1. Go on a Kayaking Trip to see Irrawaddy Dolphins
This is one of the most popular things to do in the 4000 islands and with good reason. Collected from the main street, you are driven out to a section of the river to spend the morning kayaking through impressive scenery with Cambodia on your right and Laos on your left!
On a full day kayaking tour you’ll get to explore the hidden waterways of the Mekong, see water buffalo eye to eye cooling off in the shallows, marvel at some beautiful waterfalls (including Li Pi Falls and the largest in South East Asia: Khone Phapheng Falls), and glimpse the elusive and endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins near the Cambodian border.
2. Rent a Bike and Cycle around Don Det and Don Khone
One of the best ways to spend the day on this laid back island it to rent a bicycle and explore. Bikes can be rented from almost anywhere and only cost 10,000 kip (under £1) for the entire day until 11pm!
You’ll find yourself meandering down riverside pathways and palm tree lined lanes, and there’s many a cafe to stop at and have a drink to cool down.
You can even cycle over the iconic bridge to the neighbouring island of Don Khone, where there are several waterfalls to be explored or you can catch a boat to see the famous Irrawaddy Dolphins near the Cambodian border.
3. Visit the Largest Waterfall in Southeast Asia
Over the bridge is Don Khong which provides a home for the largest waterfall in South East Asia, Khone Phapheng Falls (featured image), and it is impressive! You can also find some lovely beaches to relax on before cycling back.
4. Go swimming in the Mekong River
The Mekong River flows around the Si Phan Don Islands and this means that activities on the river offer you the best ways to explore the region.
There are a number of small beaches dotted around the islands and you can take a boat and island hop to your heart’s content.
Many of the main guest houses on the Si Phan Don Islands have small jetties located in front of them which offer you the chance to go swimming and the waters are amazingly clear in many places so you can check out a range of marine life including colorful indigenous fish.
5. Check out the Ban Khon Steam Locomotive
The Bon Khon Steam Locomotive is a relic from the 1800s when it was constructed during the French colonial period.
This was used as a way of transporting goods and building materials around the islands and although it stopped operating after the Second World War, it is still worth a visit as there are a number of signs here which will fill you in on all the history of how the railway was built and how it would have operated in the days of old.
On a visit here you will also find a number of old fashioned locomotives which have been out of commission for years.
The tracks, many of which no longer exist, would have run between Don Khon and Don Det.
6. Visit Wat Khon Tai
Wat Khon Tai is located on Don Khon and is one of the main attractions on the island.
This is a Buddhist temple and it is actually built atop a previous Khmer shrine.
You will find a number of stupas here as well as some ancient Khmer relics and carvings which make this a great spot for history buffs.
The temple is gracefully crumbling now which only serves to add to its old world charm.
7. Hike to Ban Hang Khon Viewpoint
Located on Don Khon is the Ban Hang Khon Viewpoint which is also close to the ancient port built by the French during the colonial period.
To get to the viewpoint you need to travel to Ban Hang Village where you will find some 150 steps that lead to the lookout.
Bear in mind that the walk is steep and you will need to have a reasonable level of mobility to attempt the hike.
Once you get to the viewpoint however you will be rewarded with vistas across the stunning Mekong River.
8. Try the local food
The Si Phan Don Islands are a great place to try some local Laotian food.
Many of the restaurants on the island grow their on vegetables on local plots which mean that the food is fresh and delicious.
As the islands, by definition, are close to the water, fish also features heavily on most menus and focuses on freshwater species plucked straight from the Mekong.
Favorites that you can expect to find in most restaurants on the Si Phan Don Islands include fresh papaya salad which usually comes with a kick of chili as well as other delights like chicken rubbed with fragrant lemongrass.
9. Go tubing
As the Si Phan Don Islands back onto the Mekong River, one of the main activities here is tubing.
If you are looking for a way to relax then there is no better way to do so than by renting a tube and then drifting along the water for an afternoon.
You can usually rent a tube from a guesthouse and float around in the water in front of it, or if you are looking for something a little more exciting then you can go on a boat tour and then tube off the boat which will allow you to explore a little further afield.
10. Shop in Muang Khong Market
If you want to check out a traditional Laotian market then you need to head to Muang Khong Market which is known for its local produce, much of which is sourced from local farms.
You will also find many local ingredients which have been foraged for by locals such as wild mushrooms, so if you want to find out more about traditional foods in Laos then this is a great place to visit.
Come early in the morning however as this is when the market is most active.
11. Explore Wat Phu Khao Kaew
Wat Phu Kao Kaew is located on Don Khong and is close to the village of Muang Saen.
The temple was built on top of crumbling ruins which are thought to be Khmer in style which is how many of the temples in this part of Laos were constructed.
This is a very important pilgrimage spot for locals and you can check out a large statue of the reclining Buddha here as well as some stupas covered in ornate gold leaf.
One of the big draws here is that this temple sits looking out over the mighty Mekong and local legend says that a naga (a mythical serpent) also lives here.
12. Dine at a floating restaurant
As the Si Phan Don Islands are located on the water, it stands to reason that there are also a number of floating restaurants here.
Most of these restaurants are upscale, and therefore more expensive, compared to other local eateries on the islands, but they usually serve a wider range of dishes such as traditional Lao sausages, salads and curries.
As you would expect you can also get a range of tasty grilled fish that is caught straight out of the Mekong.
These restaurants are also some of the best places to watch the spectacular local sunsets across the islands.
13. Take a boat trip
If you don’t have much time in the Si Phan Don Islands then one of the best ways to get an overview of the region quickly is to take a boat tour.
Boats can be charted and fees are usually negotiable, and you can either sign up for a tour of the islands or just go island hopping and moor where the mood takes you.
One of the best reasons to take a boat tour is for the chance to explore the small beaches and inlets that the islands are famous for, so make sure you bring some drinks and a picnic and make a day of it.