Nestled deep in the south of Laos lay the 4,000 Islands. Now, Lonely Planet refers to the area as the one in which the waters of the Mekong turn to a deep turquoise and salvation is found. Though the 4,000 Islands are a sight to see, it is not the backdrop you want for the next tropical horror film.
Laos is a poverty-stricken country, the claim-to-fame for backpackers being loosely-enforced drug laws, a timeless, relaxing atmosphere, and some long-standing French influence. The 4,000 Islands were no exception. We first arrived on Don Khong a few days before New Year’s. Don Khong is the largest island in the archipelago situated in Southern Laos and so one would think, the most “hap-nin,” correct? No.
We opted for just a day in Don Khong, in which we rented some shitty bicycles and traveled up the main street. Being the semi-professional mechanic that I am, my chain came loose immediately, but help was just around the corner. Perfectly exemplifying the helpful, selfless nature of the Laotian people, an older gentleman on a tractor with his wife and son stopped to help us! He did what he could for my bike while Spense wandered in the woods with the camera, Glove brandished the Go Pro along the road, and Chan soaked up some rays.
Don Khong consists of beautiful country-side and one main strip of restaurant/guest house/laundry/bike rentals, or the financial district. So we decided to ship off to Don Det, the backpacker center of the region, for Chan’s birfday and the New Year.
To put it lightly, Don Det is small. So small in fact, you can bike around the entire island in a matter of hours. That being said, it’s charm was unparalleled. Something about one drag of civilization accompanied by miles of desolation brings a special feel to a place. Before you go on Hostelworld to start booking places for Don Det, do not worry. There is little to be found online when it comes to accomodation there. Instead, the norm is to walk from bungalow to bungalow, searching for available rooms for a good price with a toilet attached. The bungalow we ended up booking was easily the “simplest” we’d had up to that point. I loved it, any excuse to get out of the room is a good one, and this room wasn’t exactly comfortable.
We opted for renting bikes and exploring the area on our first day. We took our time riding through the rice fields of Don Det and crossing the bridge into the neighboring Don Khon Island, home to the largest waterfall in the world, Li Phi. “Vast” doesn’t even begin to describe the epicness of this waterfall. It seemed to go on forever, spanning in each direction as far as the eye could see.
Chandler shares a birthday with New Years Eve so there was extra cause for celebration. We met up with some of our favorite friends met on the slow boat and rented a private long tail to take us around the Mekong, finally settling on a tiny, tiny island (1 of 4,000) to set up shop. After making ourselves a fire, drinking plenty of beer, and sharing an amazing sunset, we headed back to Don Det to ring in the New Year with other backpackers. Since the island is so small, there was less excitement than I was hoping for, but the experience was unique none the less. Everyone joined together for the countdown huddled around a bonfire on the tiny beach.
The 4,000 Islands are certainly a gem of Laos, offering quite an incredible view into the lives of the locals. I cannot argue that it was my favorite spot, but I can agree that the landscapes were breathtaking and the sunsets amazing.
Cambodia here we come!
(p.s. Thanks to Spense for helping write this post, and taking some great photographs)