Four Thousand Islands but only a few things to do. Swing in a hammock, check out a waterfall, and see if you can spot the famous Irrawaddy dolphins. Above all, Don Khon gives you the opportunity to just chill out, away from the world and away from other travelers. If you're looking for a party, you've come to the wrong place (the closest to that here is on Don Det).
See and Do
The main sight here is the Mekong and if you manage to snag a bungalow with a balcony and a hammock, you'll likely spend all day looking at its calm waters reflecting the surrounding palms. A good thing about the island of Don Khon specifically is that if you tend to get antsy, like us, there are still a few things to do. Li Phi falls, a short bike ride or walk away from most guesthouses, charges a steep 25,000K entry fee, but it's beautiful. Even in dry season, the gushing water makes it look like Class 5 rapids and it's easy to see why some travelers stupid enough to go in have died here.
If you're craving a dip, you can take one at the beach at Li Phi, at any beach alongside the edge of the island, or right outside your bungalow. The water isn't the clearest, but it is refreshing.
The thing most unique about the waters off Don Khon is that they're one of the only ones in the world to provide a home to the freshwater (and endangered) Irrawaddy dolphin. Hire a boat (60,000K) to take you out in the afternoon and see if you can spot these animals come up for air. These dolphins don't do tricks, so the most you'll likely see is a fin and the top of a head.
Either way, with less than 100 left in the waters between Laos and Cambodia, it's neat to say you saw them at all. If you're craving a closer experience, you can pay $2 a head to cross into Cambodian waters, which the dolphins seem to favor. That said, since they don't jump, you won't see any more than you will from a rock on the Laos side.
This photo isn't ours, but aren't these guys funny looking? Image courtesy of Frank on flickr.
The dolphins aren't hunted, but some get snagged in fishermen's nets, which has led to a rapid decline in their population. Additionally, scientists have noted that the youngsters seem to be dying off faster than before, which suggests that deforestation and soil erosion have contributed to negative changes in the water. Our guide said there were now only between 6 and 10 dolphins in the area. We were lucky enough to see three.
Don Khon isn't the cheapest and some of the rooms are upwards of $50 dollars. Don't let the sticker shock get to you though, as cheap bungalows can still be had. You'll have to decide whether you're sacrificing AC, a view, or WiFi, but once you figure that out, you can get something solid for around 70,000-100,000K.
We stayed at Dok Champa, which is one of the bungalows furthest away from the French bridge. We had a great view and decent WiFi, but no AC. To say it was hot at night is an understatement, but after we asked for a second fan to accompany the one on the ceiling, we slept a lot better. We paid 90,000K and the couple who owns the bungalows were nice enough to buy us a second hammock for our porch.
If you want to stay somewhere fancier, there are a few different places on TripAdvisor.
Eat and Drink
All of the hotels on Don Khon seem to have decent food at decent prices. We were honestly surprised by how affordable food was.
For a party, you'll have to head across the bridge to Don Det. All you have on Khon is BeerLao.
We headed to the islands after an overnight at Pakse. For the first time, we did a private transfer and man, was it worth it! For 65,000K, we had an AC bus without any chickens pick us up from a restaurant in town. It took us to Ban Nakasang and the ticket price included the boat to Don Khon, which would have been 20,000K. We perhaps paid 5,000K more than if we had taken the local bus; it was the best $0.60 I've ever spent.
We booked our tickets at Panda Restaurant on the main drag in Pakse. His prices were about 15,000K cheaper than anywhere else and he was amazing. We actually showed up five minutes before the bus was due to leave town and we didn't have a ticket. He jumped on his bike, booked us a ride at a travel agency across town, and then gave us the breakfast he'd prepared for himself since we didn't have time to order food. He was the most fast-thinking businessman we've seen in Laos. As an aside, he was Chinese...
More Don Khon
Interested in seeing more from the 4000 Islands? Check out our photo tour of Don Khon.
If you have any tips for backpacking the 4000 Islands, leave us a comment!