The Si Phan Don is a riverine archipelago in the Mekong River, Champasak Province in southern Laos. Si Phan Don is part of Khong District, including the islands and part of the mainland in the east. Si Phan Don is dotted with numerous islands, half of which are submerged when the Mekong River is in flood.

Si Phan Don is a tranquil riverine archipelago in the Mekong river in the southernmost tip of Laos. While hardly undiscovered and long part of the Southeast Asia backpacker trail, it remains a thoroughly gentle and sleepy place.

Si Phan Don means “4000 Islands” in Lao. Are there really that many of them? Who can say, but within this windy section of the Mekong you’ll definitely find a vast mosaic of islands both large and small.

The most visited-islands are Don Det, Don Khon, and to a lesser extent Don Khong. In this mini-guide, I will cover the first two islands, which are next to each other and connected by a bridge.

There is running water, electricity and WiFi on Si Phan Don these days. As of 2018, there are still no ATMs though. Get your cash out on land in Nakasong before boarding your ferry to the islands, or you may have to resort to expensive credit card advances or currency exchanges at terrible rates.

Don Det is, for the most part, a rather sleepy and rural island.

It sometimes gets branded as a party island, but I don’t think that’s quite correct. The northwest corner does have a lively scene, but this is mainly in the form of some hippie and reggae bars that all close at 11 pm.

Before I arrived, some other sources led me to expect a different Don Det. For instance, WikiVoyage states that “since the changes to the tubing scene in Vang Vieng in 2012, the young party crowd has moved here”. It then goes on to further compare it to Vang Vieng, a town that was once known as an anarchic anything-goes party mecca. But Don Det is much mellower than this would suggest.

Along the 150-meter or-so main strip you’ll certainly find some familiar backpacker trappings: Western food, cheap lao lao drinks, happy shakes, a reggae bar or two, and a few shops selling backpacker singlets (“Been There, Don Det”… heh). One travel agency had a sign out saying “book here get free shot”.

If you’re looking for authentic Laos, this isn’t it.

But… the place is not without its charm. As far as backpacker haunts go, this isn’t a bad one. It’s a great place to hang out and just watch the world go by. Most of the guesthouses here have a reception facing the road and decks with hammocks facing the river, where you can chill in peace. Some of the establishments have a kind of hippie vibe.

If the backpacker town of Hua Det in the northwest corner isn’t quite your scene, then all you’ve got to do is move up for a few hundred meters.

For example, you’ll find a rural vibe and scenic sunset views on the west side of the island. It’s pretty much just sleeping dogs and crowing roosters around here.

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