Photo: A great way to explore.

Kayaking the 4,000 Islands

Our rating:

An excellent and varied day tour by kayak is a favourite day trip in Laos’ 4,000 Islands. It combines kayaking, dolphin spotting and two waterfalls. Not only is it economical, it is simply not possible to do it on your own.

The tours usually use two-man kayaks, and those new to the sport can pair up with the guide. It’s straightforward paddling on the river but no rapids or whitewater. Trips from Don Dhet start with a leisurely practice paddle down stream to the bridge where the kayaks are loaded onto a truck and taken down stream, thus avoiding Li Phi waterfall.

Don’t forget a hat. Photo taken in or around Kayaking the 4,000 Islands, Don Dhet, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Don’t forget a hat. Photo: Cindy Fan

Tours may vary, however, the classic trip starts with a photo opp at a waterfall before launching on a sandy beach. They may have waterproof containers for your belongings but take minimum gear and use your own personal dry bag you know is reliable for anything you want to ensure remains dry. The first section heads down a scenic, narrow channel between Don Khon and the mainland before it merges with the main channel of the Mekong.

The deep, vast, placid waters is home to a pod of Irrawaddy dolphins, which along with a second area near Kratie are the only two pods remaining on the entire river. Don’t get your hopes up. The Mekong has been affected by damming and tragically, in 2016 the Irrawaddy dolphin was declared functionally extinct, meaning the current population will die out.

Traffic is generally fairly light. Photo taken in or around Kayaking the 4,000 Islands, Don Dhet, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Traffic is generally fairly light. Photo: Cindy Fan

The best chance to see them is from the Cambodian side so there’s a stop to have lunch with cold drinks and views over this part of the river. In October 2016, backpackers returning from a trip said they saw them. They are particularly elusive during the rainy season when water levels are high and when you do see them, it’s their tops skimming the surface, not leaping out of the water like trained bottlenose dolphins at SeaWorld.

After lunch it’s a paddle back across the wide waters to the Lao bank, usually a stop on a sandy island half way for drinks and a swim. From here it’s a straight, if slightly long, paddle down the main course to the finishing point at the Lao village of Veung Kham. From here tuk tuks return you to Nakasang with a stop at the spectacular Khone Pha Pheng falls en route.

There’s a couple of outfitters and the tours are comparable and can be booked at their office in the tourist centre. We were quoted as low as 170,000 kip per person, which typically includes guide, transport, equipment, lunch, drinking water and entrance fees.

No matter what time of year, the sun is intense. A hat and suncream are essential. Judging by the number of painfully burnt necks and shoulders from returning trips, it’s not a bad idea to cover those up.

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