4000 Islands: My Reward for Days on the Road

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Water coming from every direction. You can see why the French had trouble getting their boats up the river.

4000 Islands: My Reward for Days on the Road

By the time I arrived in the 4000 Islands of southern Laos it felt like I had been traveling for days on end. I knew that it would be a tough couple days when I was leaving Vang Vieng last Tuesday morning. My first stop was an overnight in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. I didn’t arrive here till it was dark after a long, rough bus ride.

I spent the night in a disgusting hostel called Vientiane Backpackers Hostel. I don’t really know what bed bug bites are like because I have no prior experience, but I’m pretty sure after waking up in the middle of the night in a hot, stuffy, smelly room itching my legs with little red welts all over them that I can say I am fairly certain they have a bed bug problem. So, if you are ever in Vientiane please avoid this place.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to see much of the city, but from what I did see it looked very nice. The locals are very friendly. After sitting down by the river for only a few minutes I had several conversations with different locals in broken English. All very interested to hear where I was from and where I had been so far in their beautiful country.

The Patuxai Monument in Vientiane was built with cement donated by the US to build a new airport which is why it was nicknamed "The Vertical Runway"

The Patuxai Monument in Vientiane was built with cement donated by the US to build a new airport which is why it was nicknamed “The Vertical Runway”

My bus ticket was booked to leave the following evening around 8 pm (yes a sleeping bus). After transferring buses in Pakse I was due to arrive the next morning around 11 am in the 4000 islands.

Many hours later and 3 buses instead of 2, plus a short boat ride I was on the island of Don Det.

Relaxing in the 4000 Islands

I think I earned some time just to lay in a hammock and not do much of anything after the last couple of days spent on a bus. And that is exactly what I did. I was exhausted my first day even though I did manage to sleep most of the way on the bus. I only got up out of the hammock to go across the street and set up the tripod to take some photos of the sunset. I stayed right on the river of the “sunset side” of the island after all, what was I supposed to do?

Sunset on the Mekong 4000 islands

I would have been content to have another day laying in the hammock, but since I came all this way I thought I would see what these wonderful islands have to offer. I rented a bicycle on my second day to explore Don Det and neighboring Don Khon 2 of the 3 major islands in the 4000 Islands.

There are just a few basic dirt “roads” on these sleepy islands that are linked by an old railroad bridge. I started out by riding south along the sunrise side of Don Det. It’s only about a 20 minute ride to get to the bride that takes you to the larger island of Don Khon. Most of the natural attractions are on this island, although, most of the accommodations and restaurants are on the northern tip of Don Det.

Typical scene on the roads of Don Det.

Typical scene on the roads of Don Det.

After crossing the bridge I started for the first waterfall up around the northern point. I spent a few minutes checking out the smaller of the 2 waterfalls around the island and set out for the southern point of Don Khon. This is where sightings of the rare Irrawaddy dolphin found around the 4000 Islands are most common. Unfortunately after waiting around for a while I didn’t see any. I later learned it is best to come first thing in the morning as this is when most people see the dolphins. Oh well.

Can you see any dolphins?

Can you see any dolphins?

Continuing around the western side of the island I finally came to the big waterfalls. I was not prepared for how spectacular it was going to be. I didn’t think there would be much of a waterfall since the islands are very flat. Vertically they are not huge, but it is definitely a sight to be seen. It’s kind of hard to describe and the pictures don’t even do it justice. I’d like to come back to see it in the wet season when the river is really flowing.

Waterfall in 4000 islands

When the French were colonizing the area and trying to find a trade route up the Mekong River to China this waterfall was their only major obstacle. It took them years, decades actually to execute a plan. They shipped a couple steamers all the way from France to just below the falls. Then they dismantled the boats, built a railroad to transport the pieces across the islands to Don Det and reassembled them there. By the time they finally got the boats back in the river and up to China, a highway had been built through Laos and their original plan of using the Mekong River as a trade route was useless.

Water coming from every direction. You can see why the French had trouble getting their boats up the river.

Water coming from every direction. You can see why the French had trouble getting their boats up the river.

I had a full day of riding through the islands and once I got back there was another sunset waiting to be captured.

Sunset in the 4000 islands

 

 

Brooks

Brooks

I am traveling the world focusing on adventure and photography.

2 Comments

  • Cara

    Wow! What a cool place! What a cool adventure!

    December 8, 2015 at 9:53 am
  • Kaely

    Sounds a lot like bay of many coves where I swam with my dolphins! Finally catching up on reading your blogs! I didn’t see any dolphins is that picture, just a boat? What are those people doing? Practicing for the Olympics?

    December 25, 2015 at 12:25 pm

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