Ok so the title is a bit misleading….we didn’t paddle around all of them. Si Phan Don, located in the south of Laos, translates to The 4000 Islands. Spread across the Mekong River, these islands vary in size from a few meters to many kilometres, with only a few of them inhabited.
We arrived in the area after a long bus journey from Cambodia, a little weary but spirits instantly lifted by the sight of the river. Crossing from the mainland, our boat sitting perilously low in the water, we were dazzled by the sun’s rays as they bounced off the shimmering surface. After a small tour of the island, we settled in to a simple guesthouse with stunning views to the west. Accommodation on the island is sold on either having a sunset or sunrise view. Whichever you choose, make sure you’re as close to the rivers edge for the best experience (but don’t expect anything flashy). That night, huge electrical storms provided entertainment on the horizon.
Invigorated by our recent hiking and climbing, we felt the need to keep the activities rolling. What better way to explore this watery wonderland than hopping in to a kayak and going for a paddle. There was a decent group of us that headed out that day, full of enthusiasm for the adventure ahead. The river started out winding along in a sleepy fashion, children waving from the river bank, cool water splashing up from our paddle strokes.
Soon we started weaving our way through narrow channels between islands, bushes brushing past and mini rapids providing plenty of entertainment. We followed our guides through an increasingly confusing maze of waterways, glad to have their expert knowledge at our disposal. Soon it was time for a break and, pulling in for a lunch stop, the guides whipped up a BBQ of impressive standards given the situation. We were glad to refuel and give our arms a bit of a rest. The local kids were also glad to have a new toy for a while.
After another series of tight rapids, we emerged on to a vast stretch of the Mekong river, a dramatic change in the scenery. Now the river stretched in every direction as far as the eye could see. In the distance, river dolphins could be seen surfacing from time to time. The sun blazed down on us, little specks in the vast watery expanse. We paddled steadily along, enjoying the silence, broken only by our rhythmic paddle strokes.
Our little kayak adventure now took a detour over land. Loading up the boats and bodies, we drove back up the river towards a mighty sight, the Khone Phapheng Falls. The power of the water charging through these rapids are enough to make your spine tingle. A low rumble gradually grows to a deafening roar as you get closer and closer. Also, thanks to Laos health and safety laws being nonexistent, you can get REALLY close!
To finish the day, we headed further back up the river so we were back in line with Don Det island. A lazy paddle towards the setting sun wrapped up a truly incredible experience, 14km of kayaking through thoroughly beautiful scenery. Top that off with some tasty grub, a cheeky beer and a starlit walk around the island on the way home and you’ve got the perfect start to a new country. Thank you Laos, we’re looking forward to more of the same!