Erica and Matt Chua: Laos Unexpected II: 4000 Islands

Let’s be honest, sometimes you just do what’s easiest.  Even on a quest to do everything, on-the-fly adjustments are based on convenience.  For example, we took a night bus from Vientiane to Pakse to visit Vat Phou, pre-Angkor ruins.  Coming off a 12-hour bus ride we realized that our enthusiasm would fade quickly, as it would take five hours of additional travel to Vat Phou, then a 3 hour bus ride to 4000 Islands; traveling with all our bags.  As we considered our next move, a bus to 4000 Islands pulled up; hitting the easy button, we boarded.

The entry point to Don Dhet, the beach.

With plans as fluid as the Mekong which we stood on the banks of, we waited for additional travelers to share a boat to the islands.  Though we intended to stay on Don Khone, the next travelers to arrive were going to Don Det.  For the second time in one morning, our “plans” were pushed aside by the realities on the ground.  We joined them on the boat to Don Det, knowing little about where we were headed.

As we wearily tried to orient ourselves on the main street of the island we heard “Erica!”  Sixteen hours into this journey we thought we were hearing things.  Looking around, we saw a traveling buddy we had met entering Laos on the porch of a cabana.  He then told us the cabana next door was open for $4 a night.  Without much thought we moved in.  This was a morning of the unexpected, and meeting up with traveling friends was a nice end.

Our cabana, shelter from weather, nothing else.  The bathrooms were…well, disgusting is too kind.

By the afternoon we discovered the best, arguably only, thing to do: hang out on the beach.  We spent much of the next two days doing this.  The 4000 Islands are a place of relaxation.  All of the “sights” can be visited in an afternoon by bicycle: seeing the Irrawaddy freshwater dolphins and waterfalls, both on a neighboring island connected by bridge.

The evening brings the best out of the Mekong, beginning with a stunning sunset.  After the sun goes down there was a brief, but powerful, rain that slowed the tourists migration to the bars.

Before we went to 4000 Islands we had expected an alternative island universe filled with things to do and islands to explore.  As Laos does, the unexpected becomes the norm, and 4000 Islands was unexpectedly laid back.  When it takes you 16 hours to get somewhere, coming upon a few days of rest is a nice parting gift to travelers on their way to Cambodia.

LOCAVORista jumping for joy over 4000 Islands.


  1. Bring cash. There are no ATMs or banks on the island.  The only way to get money is to pay for a trip to the bank, which depending on your card could take hours.
  2. Bring things to do. There isn’t much to do on the island beyond lie on the beach and hang out.  Probably a good place to bring a book.
  3. Places to stay are primitive. There are few places to stay that have amenities, so be prepared.  We looked at several other places and the nice places, with things like toilet seats or air conditioning are few and far between.


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