4000 ISLANDS, LAOS (DON KHONG, DON DET, DON KHON): WHERE BACKPACKERS GO TO DO NOTHING:
They say Asia is the pulse of the world. If that is true, 4000 Islands in Laos is the place where that pulse is nearly flatlining.
Si Phan Don, as the area is formally called, has slowly been growing a tourism scene for the past few years. It now has a steady stream of backpackers, and laid back travelers passing through year round. While it is no longer an undiscovered island, the comforts of electricity and fans outweigh the cost of seeing other travelers.
4000 Islands is collection of sandbars poking out of the Mekong River as it runs through Laos, very close to the Cambodian border. If the name is true, there are thousands of islands in this part of Laos. Some are big (inhabitable), and others are less than a meter long. Travelers usually visit 3 - Don Khong, Don Det, Don Khon.
These 3 islands must be the place where 'island life' and 'island time' were invented. Life is simpler, and because of that, much slower. Traveling is usually about the doing. In 4000 Islands, it is about the being.
Days are spent walking barefoot on sand roads or biking through rice paddies. It doesn’t matter where you are going, you are just going.
That is, if you decide to get out of your hammock at all.
The views don’t hurt either. While hot water and ATMs are difficult to find, there is apparently no shortage of colored paint. Every piece of wood is covered in a thick coat of pastel glue. Some are signs, welcoming you in to eat. Some build the walls of the sunset cafes and bungalow guesthouses that visitors spend their days in. Brightly colored homes hover above the ground on stilts, waiting for the rain season to come and tickle their floors.
The star of the show is the Mekong River - the guy who made it all possible. Depending on the season, the river either thunders, or meanders around the islands. The water isn't always clear blue, especially after the wet season when the current is strong. However, it is always impressive.
The most famous part of 4000 Islands is its sunsets.
It is impossible to talk about this area without mentioning the sunsets. Everyday is worked around these spectacles. They are the only form of time on this island. Forget about the clock. Everything is either done before sunset, or after sunset.
Hammocks and sunsets aside, it is the people of Laos that make the experience. Locals and tourists interact organically on Don Det.
If you take the time to learn 3 or 4 words of their language, the people of Laos are some of the most welcoming in the region.
4000 Islands is really a place where nothing matters. For example, there are not enough bills in circulation on the islands, and places rarely have enough change when you pay. In response to this, businesses either shrug their shoulders and don’t give you enough change, or let you come back later and with smaller bills. This may sound frustrating, but it is actually the opposite. It reminds you that money is just money… so what?
Have I convinced you yet? I fear for 4000 Islands (and Laos) future - I am not sure how long it can remain untainted by tourism. Until then, what are you waiting for?
TYPICAL 4000 ISLANDS ACTIVITIES:
Forgetting what time it is
Lounging endlessly in hammocks
Being disconnected to wifi
Parking a bike not locking it
Not wearing shoes
Riding a bike to the bar at night while wearing headlamps
Fresh fruit smoothie stalls
Listening to local music blasting from homes
Eating in restaurants where the only seating is cushions on the floor
Drinking the best iced coffee in Southeast Asia at Little Eden
Enjoying a blend of many cultures…. Indian, Laotian, French, Israeli
Watching small children (ages 7-9) drive a motorbikes
Interacting with these children... so friendly, so adventurous