4000 Islands (Champsak)
Known also as ‘Si Phan Don’, the Four Thousand group of small islands are dotted across the Mekong. The southern islands of Don Dhet and Don Khong are the two most visited as the remaining majority stay wild and uninhabited, largely due to their minute size. Both islands are situated close to the Cambodian border and as such provided a vital connection between Saigon and Laos during the French Colonial times when a railway was built to connect the two sides. Don Dhet is the most laid back of the two, although it has some bars and restaurants, Don Khong is the biggest and easier to reach and often a little busier with accommodation getting overcrowded at times. The waters surrounding the islands are home to the rare and illusive Irrawaddy dolphin and provide plenty of fish to the local villagers. Self-sufficient villages survive on local produce including rice, coconuts, sugar cane and vegetables, with clothing and textiles made by their own weaving techniques as and when required. The islands are a great place to discover a new very rural side to Laos, rich in tradition and culture with old buildings, walking trails and a choice of places to sleep and eat. Don Dhet and Don Khong provide a chance to really escape from it all. There are some interesting rapids and waterfalls close to the Cambodian border including a waterfall that is rumoured to be the biggest in Southeast Asia, plus a chance to see the famous Irrawaddy dolphins. The dolphins are best spotted from the south of the island towards the end of the day from December until May. There is also a boat tour available from the end of the pier but remember you will need to pay regardless of whether the dolphins put in an appearance or not. Bicycles are available for rent which you can use to explore the entire Don Khong Island, expect to discover plenty of secluded beaches, rice fields and small villages along with some very old temples. The main village is Ban Khong which is home to Wat Jom Thong, a temple from the Chao Anou period built on the site of a Khmer temple with a hundred-year-old stupa alongside it. There are also a few villas dating back to the French colonial era and a market which gets busy early evening. Heading out west from the temple are the rapids and Li Phi Falls. If you are visiting in December then stay around for National Day when there is a five-day boat celebration with additional activities including late night boxing matches. The islands are best visited from November to January. March through to May brings very hot dry weather whilst the monsoon rains beat down and wash out the small roads from June to October. You can also use the islands to enter Cambodia via Voen Kham as long as you have a Cambodian visa. Reaching the islands depends entirely on the season with regards to which boats you can take, some boats do not run on new moon days due to superstition. Most boats depart from Pakse and small boats can be chartered from as little as $1US but you may find that you have to travel to Don Khong and then walk across to Don Dhet. The islands offer basic accommodation and do not have phones or electricity.