Si Phan Don
Earth : Asia : Southeast Asia : Laos : Southern Laos : Si Phan Don
Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands) is a group of islands in the Mekong River in Southern Laos.
The Four Thousand Islands have three main destinations for travellers：Don（Island) Khong is the biggest, but apart from the usual chill&look there's nothing great to do there. Most people head to Don Det or Don Khon, where accommodation is cheaper, you can walk to one of the big Mekong-Falls by yourself, and biking and walking and swimming in the river is just the same as in Don Khong.
Take a bus going down Route 13 towards the Cambodian Border, for example from Pakse to Ban Nakasang, and take the river ferry at Ban Nakasang that crosses over to Don Khong and Don Det. As of October 2007 a "Jumbo" from Pakse to Ban Nakasang cost 50000 kips, and a ferry from Ban Nakasang to Don Det is 15000 kips per person if there are multiple people going, or 30000 kips for just a single ticket. In comparison joint tickets including a minibus ride from Pakse to Ban Nakasang and a ferry ticket to Don Det cost 65000 kips.
Coming from Cambodia you can take a van from Kratie ($15) or Stung Treng ($12) which includes the boat trip to Don Det or Don Khong. Some guest houses in Kratie may try to sell you the ticket for $50. The border crossing is in the middle of forest and there is pretty much nothing else there than a few customs officials and a bad road in Laos side. So you definitely want to get a ride all the way to Four Thousand Islands. You may not find any transportation at the border and if you do it's probably a rip-off.
Lao Visa is availible on the border from Febary 2010. Most get it for 30 or 35 dollars, but a few countrys have to pay more.
You can arrive also by boat from Stung Treng. The boats leave in the morning. Many tourists have been made to pay around $50 after the border for transportation to Four Thousand Islands. So again it's best to book the trip all the way to your destination if possible.
Be Careful: Travel agents will give you cash to pay for the boat ride from Ban Nakasang to Don Det. They might only give you as little as 5,000 Kip. The fare is at least 15,000 (depending on the number on people going)
Those of you going to Cambodia can buy bus tickets on all of the islands.
The prices might seem a bit expensive, but this is due to the fact that travelling in Cambodia is more expensive than in Laos.
There are two companies that offer transport to Siem Reap, Kratie or Phnom Penh. The international bus from pakse to Phnom Penh will take you straight to its destination, without much trouble (departure at Ban Nakasang around 9.45 am arrival at 7.30 pm depending on the weather, costs about $14), for Siem Reap you change into a less comfortable looking bus somewhere 70km north of Phnom Penh (arrival around 9.30pm). The other company takes you with a small van or bus to the border, where you change to another bus again. Later on for Siem reap switch again into bus or van. Prices for this trip are generally $2 less when booking from the border, but probably not worth the waiting, changeing and discomfort. Make sure you get the international bus which is comfortable!
Ticket price should include the fare of the boat as well. Don't be tempted to buy a ticket going only to the border since it is very hard to get a ride from there.
Buses leave early every morning from across the river. It's about an hour to the border, but that's only the first stage in what's sure to be a long day of travel. After paying a $1 "stamp tax" on the Laotian side and on the Cambodian side another $23 for the visa plus $1 for "processing" (and another $2 if you forgot the picture). There is also a $2 health check which is a hassle. Some people are able to skip this as there is no check later on. There is usually a "VIP" (tourist-minibus) leaving around noon at the border, but better have that organized before, the border is not much more than a street, two barriers and some bored guards in the middle of the jungle. If you want to break your travel, consider stopping at Kratie, which is a nice little city on the Mekong.
It's mostly people power. The islands are small enough that you can walk, although to get to some of the more far-flung destinations a bike will be nice. They can be rented everywhere. If you're feeling super-lazy, you might convince a local to take you on the back of their bike for a small fee.
A beautiful set of islands, set against a lazy and winding section of the Mekong. Be sure to check out the largest waterfall in Southeast Asia, and have conversations with the friendly locals.
There isn't much to do in Si Phan Don, but that's the point. The islands are laid back, with small huts mixing in with guest houses along the banks of the Mekong. But, if you get a bit restless, try these:
Not too much. Stock up in Pakse or if you forgot something look around in Nakasang before boarding the boat to the islands. that is your last chance for forgotten items.
A standard menu of Laotian food and backpacker favorites (banana panackes, garlic bread, pad thai) are on top at most places. Some try to get fancy with special pizzas and exotic smoothies. It's very hit and miss, but never terrible and the service is friendly. You'd be hard pressed to spend more than $3 on a meal here.
Beer Lao on the Mekong. Available about every 200 feet on the island, and big bottles for 10,000 Kip. Head toward the west part of the island (where there are only a few guesthouses) for a great view of the sunset.
Fruit Shakes on every menu. About 5000 kip. In most places they switch on the generators for preperation fans and music will work for some minutes.
Guest houses galore, at prices that are dirt cheap even by Southeast Asia standards. Most of these guest houses have bungalows situated by the river, and include a mosquito net, double bed and porch. Toilets and showers are mostly shared. There's electric power, but it operates off a generator that runs only from 6 pm to 10 pm. Bring flashlights and get ready for a return to nature. Most options run about $3-5 per night.