13.04.2010 - 16.04.2010
It took Elona, my Israeli traveling companion and I, about three hours on the bus/boat ride to get to Don Khong, the biggest of the Four Thousand Islands. We stayed there one night, but when it became apparent that there was nowhere to swim and little to do, we moved to the southern and less crowded part of Don Dhet, another nearby island. We had our boatman take us to the River Garden , in what turned out to be a basic guest house close to the Mekong.
It was highly touted by the Lonely Planet, undeservedly so, as the rooms were not particularly clean and I spent most of the night dodging the spiky bed springs. Even more disappointing, we found that there really weren't good places to swim here either. We were were told that the river was very low this year, which might help to explain the many places where garbage was visible at the waterline.
The heat was OVERPOWERING, as it was the hottest time of year, close to or over 100F on most afternoons. For most of the day it was impossible to do much of anything except stay in the shade and sweat. Walking and biking were next to impossible, and even when I got into the water, the bathtub-like temperature and the burning sun made it less than refreshing.
We did manage to walk across the old French bridge connecting Don Dhet to ]Don Khon, , to see the water falls, half an hour away, by leaving at 7 AM before the sun was too high.
The falls, a series of them, are carved out of black volcanic rock and even at low water levels they are impressive. There is a small beach, blissfully clean, and I went for a quick dip.
Alas, no shade, so we didn't linger. The falls are already being developed as a tourist attraction, and normally admission is charged to see them, but because of the hour no one was there to collect.
At our guest house there was a lot of hype about the river dolphins at the end of [Don Khong, but when we spoke to someone who had taken the expensive boat ride to see them, he said they were few in number and too far away to really get a good look. We passed.
After suffering in the heat for two days we opted for a more expensive bungalow, Pan's, across the bridge on Don Khon. Nothing fancy, but the AC did work. The downside is that there were many squawking roosters. We managed to avoid the big parties for Lao New Year, though nearby there were booming speakers grinding out bad Lao pop music more or less constantly. Luckily they stopped fairly early at night.
Main Street on Don Khon
Before I came here. I pictured a collection of small islands with bungalows on stilts in a wide and pristine estuary, good swimming and fishing everywhere. Instead there are a few islands with a variety of bungalows, mostly overpriced, some on the river but many not, and there is already ramshackle over- development in several places. The pictures you see here do not show most of that.
There are other islands, but most are tiny and inhospitable, and in the main, uninhabited. Development of both cheap and more upscale accommodations is proceeding at a furious rate. Though the locals are still friendly, the days when Four Thousand Islands was a collection of simple fishing huts are long gone. It is hard to see what the fuss is all about. Granted, this was not the time of year to come here. November through February is much better, but with the poor swimming and the generally unexceptional landscape, I can't understand the rave reviews.
After a night at Pan's, I was more than ready to leave and return to Pakse