Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands)

Our last stop in Laos was Si Phan Don or Four Thousand Islands. Si Phan Don is actually a river archipelago, where the Mekong River gets so wide that there are actually several large islands and tons of smaller ones in the river itself. Si Phan Don is mostly a place to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery, while there are a few trips possible from the area as well.

The great part about Si Phan Don is that accommodation and most other expenses are really cheap there. You can get a bungalow right on the water for just a few dollars per night and have great views of the Mekong River. We stayed on Don Det Island, where a lot of backpacker types like to stay. People definitely seemed to move at a slow pace as we normally had to wait two hours or more for our food at the small restaurants there. During our stay, we spent most of our time sitting along the riverside, watching the locals go by on their small boats, and enjoying the scenery.

Mekong River from Bungalow 

Hammocks on Our Front Porch 

One of the main reasons people go to Si Phan Don is to see the Irrawaddy Dolphins, a rare species of pink river dolphins. The Mekong River is big enough in the area that it is able to support dolphins, but apparently they are extremely endangered with fewer than 100 left. Their population is rebounding a bit thanks to conservation efforts, but they are still pretty rare and Si Phan Don is one of the few places where it is possible to see them.

To see the dolphins and some of the other sites in the area, we took a day long Kayak trip. The trip included some hiking on other islands and stops at some big waterfalls in the area.

Li Phi Waterfall 

Kayaking in Mekong

After kayaking for awhile, we actually crossed into the border into Cambodia to the place where the dolphins are normally active. It's a really wide stretch of the river and looks like it could be a lake because the water doesn't flow too quickly there. We were really lucky on our trip because the dolphins were pretty active and we could see them close up a few times. 

Waiting for the Dolphins

 A Dolphin Surfacing

At the end of the trip we stopped at the Khone Phapheng Falls, which is apparently the largest waterfall in Southeast Asia. While the falls are not that tall, since the Mekong River is so big in that area, they are pretty wide and have a lot of water passing through, which is why it is the largest falls.

 Khone Phapheng Falls

Khone Phapheng Falls

One of the best things to do in the Si Phan Don area is to sit along the Mekong River and watch the sunsets. There are several restaurants and guest houses along the riverside that offer great views in Don Det and you can just grab a drink and play cards as you watch the sun going down.

Chilling on Riverside 

Red Beard Allred

 Hidden Sun

Sunset over Mekong 

Locals Heading Home

Sun below the Horizon

That wraps up our trip to Si Phan Don and also Laos. Our trip to Laos was the best part of the trip for me and it's one of my favorite places that I've visited. While there are few large cities or developed areas, there is a lot of beautiful, unspoiled nature, the local people are really friendly, and you can see a lot of the country without spending a lot of money. We enjoyed pretty much every stop in Laos and met a lot of great people along the way.

Even though the trip ended a long time ago, I've really enjoyed reliving the experience by writing these blog posts and going through the old pictures. There are only a few stops left on our Southeast Asia circuit, so hopefully I can finish things up before my time is over in China.

For more pictures of Si Phan Don, see:


Yoli said...

Wes your photography is breathtaking. I have enjoyed looking through your blog. I came here because I am embarking on a trip to Datong and you had fabulous pictures of the Hanging Monastery.