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Laos: Si Phan Don

Magical, amazing, calm, awe inspiring 4000 islands with freshwater dolphins, amazing hospitality in true Laos culture

sunny 35 °C

Si Phan Don

Si Phan Don literally translates to 4000 Islands, and is an unmissable stop in SE Asia. This was a real highlight of my trip!
The islands are scattered around the vast, wide open currents of the Meekong.
The scenery and atmosphere is incredible... almost indescribably.... but I will try :-)
It really is amazing!


Journey to the Islands

It was a long trip to Si Phan Don...

I took the long bumpy bus from Vang Vieng down to Vientiane and spent the night.
In my limited experience of Vientienne - it is pretty boring. Not much happening, the night market is tiny and it just felt dull.
In the morning I flew down to Pakse (Laos Air is a great, and cheap option for getting around the country).

When I arrived in Pakse I met a guy who offered private taxi to the port for Si Phan Don (approx 3 hour drive) for about US$20.
It was a good option to take!
At the port, he arranged a boat for me to get across to Don Khong

Don Khong


This island is stunning yet so sleepy, everything seems to move in slow motion.
The people are so amazingly friendly and laid back... if you wanted to write a novel, this would be the place to do it!
The quiet is so calming, with the currents of the Meekong in the background and the occasional boat drifting past.

I stayed at Pon Arena Hotel, one of the more upmarket places, for a bit of a treat!
They gave me a really good rate - 5* service, food and truly spectacular room for a relatively tiny price.
Pon Arena is right on the river, with truly amazing views!
The owner had family in the neighbouring suburb of where I grew up in Melbourne! Small world huh!


Exploring Si Phan Don

I took a boat tour going to Don Det, one of the busier islands where the majority of backpackers seem to flock, and then on to Don Khon to see the amazing waterfalls.

We then ventured further along the Meekong to some of the smaller islands.
One of which I took a boat ride out to the Cambodian side, for a glimpse of the Irrawaddy dolphins!
A definite trip highlight - we saw a pod of around 6 emerging from the water... really incredible!!!

After some cycling around the rest of the island it was time to venture back to Don Khong.



As we cruised the hour long journey in the tiny wooden motor boat back, the enormity of the Meekong really became apparent.
Passing the colourful houses and huts, that line the banks, with tourists and locals alike lazing outside in their hammocks, as the sun slowly sets I couldn't help but think... this is heaven on earth!

khàwp ja̖i Laos!

Laos is truly spectacular; stunning, quiet, friendly country to explore, relax, immerse and just take your time.


Posted by SkinnyFists 00:40 Archived in Laos Tagged irrawaddy_dolphins si_phan_don don_khon don_khong laos_waterfalls meekong_river Comments (0)

Laos: Vang Vieng

Hedonistic jungle party zone and fast flowing currents...

overcast 34 °C

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng indeed has a notorious reputation; tubing, soft drugs, hard drugs, police corruption, etc.

The focus however should be the scenery.
Someone described it like being in Jurasic Park. It is so easy toimagine Terradactils and Tyranasauraus roaming this land.
VV is a pretty chilled out place and very backpacker friendly.

Note I didn't take any photos in VV, due to constant water immersion and light stupor.

Meekong Mayhem

This is the big attraction here and it is worth the trip if you're in Laos (I heard this whole thing has been shut down since I was there though).
You go to the registration "shed" - sign your life away, grab a tube, jump on the back of a jeep and head to the starting point.

As you let the current take you down the river, staff at each bar throw a tube attached to a rope out to your group, and you pull yourself/your group in to the pier.
Free shot of whiskey upon arrival at every bar.

Directly opposite take-off is 'Q-Bar' - where most people spend all day. The tunes were good, and everyone was dancing.
Every kind of cocktail bucket is available plus laughing gas balloons.
They day went quickly - we only managed to get 3 or 4 bars in over the course of the day.
I met some folks there who were tubing every day for a week....1 day destroyed me

The next day we got some kayaks and did the tubing route… a much more controlled and peaceful way to see VV.

We stopped at just one bar frequented by a super energetic (see: smashed) group of South Koreans.
"Hi, we are from South Korea… not Kim Jong Ill, OK? hahahaha" :-)

After a few rope jumps and backflips from the pier we moved on and cruised the remainder of the magical path.


VV nightlife is pretty crazy.
It's no Ko Phangan, but there are late night outdoor discos jammed with sunburnt backpackers off their faces having consumed as much whatever as they possibly could, and blasting house tunes.
We found a more subdued bar up the road playing mashups, with a pool table, darts board and more level headed punters... a much better option for me.

Thanks VV, but I won't be back...

I left Vang Vieng with mixed feelings.
It is a beautiful place, but feels tarnished.

The tubing, and loud parties completely contravene's Laotian culture, and this is probably why the government has intervened.
Laotions are music less willing to overlook poor western behaviour than perhaps their neighbours.

2 days in Vang Vieng was more than enough... on to Si Pha Don

Posted by SkinnyFists 00:27 Archived in Laos Tagged tubing vang_vieng Comments (0)

Laos: Luang Prabang

Lazy and gorgeous LP; jungle trekking, canoeing, awesome food, amazing views, beautiful culture

overcast 34 °C
View liftyrskinnyfists on SkinnyFists's travel map.

Arriving in Laos

There is nothing to dislike about Laos, and a million reasons to fall in love with it.
Dense jungle like greenery, immersed in a huge complex of water systems governed by the mighty Meekong; a rich, easy friendly culture which retains and acknowledges the nicer aspects of it's French passed (architecture, great coffee, etc).
Combined with the wonderful adventure sports on offer - Laos is perfect for the intrepid backpacker in search of thrills (of every kind!) to the easy living retirees in search of quiet, calm, beauty, quality accommodation and food.

Laos hasn't been tainted by the farang… yet.
In a way I dread what will become of Laos in years to come when tourism inevitably takes off.
Money and tourism has a funny way of changing priorities and diluting culture in Asia.

When you come to Laos, please tread lightly and relish one of the most peaceful, happy and beautiful places on this Earth.

Luang Prabang

I took a buddy's advice and stayed at Sopha Guesthouse. It's right on the Meekong banks, suer quiet, and the price is right.
Roughly AUD$15 for a super huge dark wood room, with brand new air con, cable TV, strong wifi, fridge, new bathroom, etc ,etc.
The young couple managing it were really helpful and gave me a discount after returning from a trek.

The Town and Surrounds

Luang Prabang is gorgeous, super clean, but somehow lacks local feel, like it was purpose built for tourists. This isn't a bad thing, but every shop in the main street was either a restaurant, travel shop, spa, gift store or guesthouse.
Mechanics, plumbing supplies, must all be far out of central LP.
LP is surrounded by the swerving Meekong. There are river views from wherever you look!

Night Market


The ubiquitous south east asian night market. This one is special, because:
a) it's just gorgeous
b) none of the vendors push their wares. Every seller just smiles as you walk past and invites you to look.
c) THE FOOD!! There is a great food area, selling yummy Lao dinners - from spiced BBQ fish, dumplings, chicken, sticky rice (+banana or chicken or veg) wrapped in banana leaves… all the good stuff. I ate heaps!


I booked my treks through White Elephant. Everyone online and the Lonely Planet raves about them, and this is justified.
The dude on duty showed me the treks and kayaking routes using Google maps and knew his stuff. I booked an overnight trek/Khmu home stay/kayak package.

The first day was tough. It was myself with 3 fellas from Italy and our 2 Hmong guides.
I don't recommend trekking in Laos in rainy season. The track was basically slippery, deep mud and we had to slip/climb/slide for the full 14kms.
The views made it worthwhile though.


Our home stay was at a large Khmu (indigenous Laotian) village - home to roughly 70 families.
They were really hospitable!

I sat down with a large contingent of raucous kids and gave an impromptu English lesson…
I always start with getting them to reply to "how are you?"
Teaching states is a good way to help students express themselves (i.e.hungry, thirsty, sleepy, happy, sad, etc) because you can also show them the actions to indicate which helps associate the word. It adds humour and interaction and helps memory.


The next day, we hiked down the other side of the pass - a bit easier sliding down than up. Then hit the magnificent Tad Lo waterfalls!

After a brief swim we kayaked downstream, down the Meekkong ... all the way back to Luang Prabang! whoop!

An exhausting day, but worth it.


If you want to meet other travellers and have a bit of a night out Utopia is really the only place to go.
White Elephant gives you a voucher for free dinner there. I was ready for tucker then sleep after the trek, and made my way down.
The place is run by an ex-pat (I think Canadian), and employs young locals. The place is huge, serves good food and nice drinks; and there are tables and cushions everywhere for folks to congregate. It was really socially conducive.
By law, all bars must shut at 11:30 in LP…. and there is only 1 place left to go after that...

Night Bowling

When Utopia closed everyone stumbled out to the greeting tuk-tuk drivers…
"you want party more, bowling?"
I joined new pals from Ireland and the UK and we ventured to the bowling alley which is about 15 minutes out of town.
Locals seem to take bowling seriously. There was an even mix of backpackers and locals sharing lanes, drinking Lao whiskey (too strong for this lightweight) to the sounds of loud local music.
Was such great fun!!!!
Got home at 3am, and set my alarm for 7am to catch my bus to chaos aka Vang Vieng...

Posted by SkinnyFists 23:53 Archived in Laos Tagged luang_prabang night_markets trekking_laos hmong_tribes Comments (0)

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