Enjoy laid back days in the Si Phan Don (4000 Islands)

As the Mekong River completes its journey through southern Laos and creeps up to the Cambodian border, it splits into a network of tributaries, 14 kilometres wide. This creates a land-locked archipelago of 4000 islands (once every rock and sandbar is counted!), known as Si Phan Don. The best time to visit the area is during the dry season, when the waters recede and the islands can be clearly seen.

Of the 4,000 islands, many are unstable and others can only accommodate a single tree. Only three permanent ones are inhabited. Most visitors start at Don Khong, the largest island in the group and well-known for its collection of hundred-year-old temples. Its quiet roads are perfect for cycling. You’ll see forests, traditional villages, ancient monasteries, endless rice paddies and the waters of the Mekong.

On Don Khone, about 10 km south of Don Khong, you can explore by foot, discovering the rusting remains of a railroad built in colonial times, and an old French bridge still used to cross over to neighbouring Don Det Island.

It’s still possible to see endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins in the Mekong here, but numbers are falling fast, and the creatures are understandably shy of humans. There are two impressive waterfalls nearby, Tat Somphamit and Khon Phapheng, the latter said by some to be the largest in South-East Asia.

Travellers wishing to continue south will find it easy to cross into Cambodia’s north-east province by land, or return to Pakse for flights to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.

Traders line the Mekong River at the Champasak crossing

4,000 Islands

Taking relaxation to a whole new level, this is a region rich in waterfalls, paddy fields, temples and monks. It’s perfect for a chilled out pause in your Asian adventure.