Scenes from Si Phan Don

children in the mekong, don det

Si Phan Don, also known as the 4,000 islands, was final stop on my whirlwind tour of Laos and it was definitely the highlight. Located in Southern Laos, Si Phan Don is where the Mekong breaks down into many rivers and channels, forming thousands of tiny islands.

I would be spending a week on Don Det, the most well-known of these islands. You won’t find any fancy villas here – dozens of $5 a night bungalows line the river, each one with a bed, balcony, hammock and not much else. The island only recently got 24 hour electricity, there’s very little wifi and no ATMs.

You come here to relax, to chill out, and to do absolutely nothing. And that’s exactly what I did.

hammock bungalow don det

As soon as I arrived, I knew that I would find it so easy to be incredibly lazy here – that I would spend most of my days lying in a hammock, napping, reading books, catching up on some TV shows. That’s exactly why I forced myself to leave my hammock and go exploring on my very first day!

Renting an extremely old and rusty bicycle from my guesthouse owner, I set off in the early morning to explore Don Det, as well as the neighbouring Don Khon to the south.

don det 4000 islands road

I was alone for much of the journey – on a road that seemed to stretch for miles ahead of me, there was not a single person in sight. The only sounds were my groaning and panting as I struggled to ride for more than 5 minutes at a time in the dry, dusty heat.

don khon road

Reaching a crossroad, I decided to take the path leading to the “beach”. After racing down a small slope, I was greeted by a stretch of sand dunes lying before me. A single small bar could be found at the edge, offering ice cold beer and a couple of hammocks to lie in.

don khon beach
don khon beach

As I reached the water’s edge, I noticed I wasn’t entirely alone. Several children were shrieking and splashing in the water, a man stood in the distance, attempting to catch fish by hand, an elderly lady in the foreground washing her clothes in the Mekong. It was so delightfully foreign and I could have spent all day there.

beach on don khon

After a beer and a nap, I was back on my bike again. Reaching the crossroads once more, I decided to head in the opposite direction: towards the waterfalls.

road on don khon

Feeling unimpressed by the waterfalls that were more like a river, I decided I had done enough exploring for the day (and the week), and raced back to my bungalow to have a well-deserved nap. I napped a lot on Don Det.

don khon waterfalls

I stayed on Don Det for five more days and I could have stayed a lot longer. Despite preparing myself to be offline for a week, I was excited to find that much of the restaurants now offer wifi.

I spent most of my afternoons hanging out on this restaurant’s balcony, getting some writing done, drinking a hundred mango shakes and watching the adorable children playing in the Mekong.

children playing in the mekong don det

When I wasn’t spending hours trying to get pages to load with the slow and painful internet, I was lying in my hammock, enjoying having the silence broken every few minutes by a longtail noisily chugging past.

boat on the mekong, don det

My favourite time of the day on Don Det was early morning.

Awakening every day to the sounds of laughing children bathing in the river, I’d force myself out of bed and onto my balcony where I’d watch the island slowly begin to wake up. I’d laugh as I watched my guesthouse owner washing her plates in the river, realising why I’d been so sick over the past few days, and then cringe as I watched her begin to brush her teeth with the water.

children in the mekong, don det

This was the final photo I took on Don Det. I needed to catch an early morning bus to Siem Reap and as I checked out of my bungalow, I glanced across the river to see this spectacular sunrise.

I was really going to miss this place.

sunrise on don det

Don Det was the most peaceful and chilled out place I visited in Southeast Asia, which is saying a lot! it’s the perfect place to come if you’re burnt out from travelling and in desperate need of some relaxation.

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About the author

Lauren Juliff

Lauren Juliff is a published author and travel expert who founded Never Ending Footsteps in 2011. She has spent over 12 years travelling the world, sharing in-depth advice from more than 100 countries across six continents.

Lauren's travel advice has been featured in publications like the BBC, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Cosmopolitan, and her work is read by 200,000 readers each month. Her travel memoir can be found in bookstores across the planet.


  1. August 1, 2012

    Lauren, what kind of camera are you shooting with? You do an excellent job getting vibrant colors and interesting subjects! Laos looks very relaxing.. minus the idea in my head about all the giant bugs :)

    • August 1, 2012

      Thank you so much! I use a Canon 550D.

      Yep, Don Det was SO relaxing… There were a load of giant bugs, but you get used to them after a few days. Kinda. :)

  2. August 1, 2012

    You’re right, this was without a doubt one of the laziest places I’ve ever been–and I loved it. It’s the perfect place for a vacation from your vacation and your pictures capture the laid back atmosphere perfectly.

    Except for the one with the kids–four people doing something, anything, at the same time just doesn’t happen at the 4000 islands. Was that staged? If not, you managed to capture a scene more rare than bigfoot or Nessie–activity on Don Det.

    • August 2, 2012

      Hahahaha! I KNOW. I’m so, so, so lucky to have witnessed such an event.

  3. Waegook Tom
    August 1, 2012

    This looks totes amaze, Lauren – and the “beach” looks pretty decent, too. I need someone to take me away on a lazy, do-nothing holiday for a while.

    The last photo with the sunset is almost as beautiful, if not more so, than one of the beautiful Corrs. Beautiful.

  4. Jarmo
    August 1, 2012

    It’s a great place for just relaxing, as there really isn’t anything to do! Everything happens slowly, even the few wifis you can find ;) I also quite happily spent a week there last year.

  5. Toni
    August 1, 2012

    This place looks orgasmic :D

  6. Lee Sheridan
    August 2, 2012

    Great photos from one of my favourite places in the world.

  7. I haven’t even started traveling yet and I desperately want to go there… I think I am suffering from “travel planning” burnout, as the past few weeks leading up to our departure have been brutally busy. All I want to do is nap! I am going to mentally bookmark Si Phan Don as one of the places we MUST visit while in Laos (definitely seems more my scene than Vang Vieng).

  8. Sky
    August 4, 2012

    Beautiful! Sounds like the perfect places to rest and relax. Gorgeous pictures, too – I LOVE the second to last one!

  9. Nomadic Translator @latinAbroad
    August 6, 2012

    Seems like this is exactly what I need right now — gosh, I NEED a vacation where I simply do NOTHING! Been a WHILE since that’s happened in my life.. :(

  10. August 21, 2012

    Wow, gorgeous place. I’d never heard of it before and will definitely have to check it out when I make it to Laos. That first picture looks like the epitomy of relaxation.

  11. OutsideTheGuidebook
    September 2, 2012

    Ahh!! Why did I have to see this!!?!! I was going to stick to Chiang Mai->Luang Prabang->Vang Vieng->Vientiane->Hanoi.. Arrrr!!!!!

    Great photos :D


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