4000 Islands can occasionally be found in a lethargic region of the mighty Mekong River in the deep south of Laos. Some of the islands are mere rocks, home to a hardy sprouting bush or two. While the largest, Don Khong is 144 square kilometres and home to 60,000 people.
This section of the Mekong is so wide you'll be forgiven for thinking it's a lake. Known locally as Si Phan Don, the actual number of islands depend upon the height of the river. During the wet season, it can expand up to 14 kilometres wide. Upon its retreat, a multitude of islands and islets are revealed; The 4000 Islands.
The rich Biodiversity of the 4000 Islands
The pace of life is slow here. Former colonial plantations and languid riverside hamlets are scattered throughout the area. Local people inhabit small basic riverside dwellings propped up on stilts. Cows, goats, pigs and chickens roam free. Such a relaxed and natural setting have made the islands a popular backpacker destination.
A study in the 1970s described the region to be among the most biologically productive of all systems on earth. A fault line just above the border with Cambodia braids the river. Consequently, the region displays an enormous variety of landforms and scenery including not least a gigantic waterfall and colossal Samanea samans (rain trees). Teeming with life, the river itself is home to 150 species of fish including climbing perch, nandid, threadfin, halfbeak, catfish and the goby.
Photographing the 4000 Islands
Opportunities to capture simple, rural life are endless here. However, if you're after something pacier then there's a pretty big waterfall to point your lens at. The Khone Phapheng waterfalls at over 10 kilometres wide are the largest in south-east Asia.
For the keen wildlife photographer, head to the waters off the southern tip of Don Khon island. Early morning or late afternoon from December to May is the best time to capture a small group of rare Irrawaddy dolphins frolicking and squeaking about the Mekong. Alternatively, you could catch a glimpse on Kham Island, a small sand island over the border in Cambodia.
Wat Phou Khao Kaew overlooks the Mekong River in Muang Saen Nua. Built on the site of pre-Khmer ruins, a stone lintel from that time can be seen at the base of the stupa. A bright red and gold modern stupa now occupies the site, dominated by a large reclining Buddha. It's a popular holy spot for the locals. sitting atop some exposed bedrock, the magnificent view down to the alluring Mekong is worth the visit alone.
Completely Useless Facts about the 4000 Islands
- This region of the Mekong is home to the 'plabuck', an endangered species of catfish said to be the largest freshwater fish in the world
- An enchanting tree can be found at the Khone Phapheng falls. Prior to 2012, this three-branched Manikoth grew on a small island in the centre of the falls. However, due to flooding it was rescued and relocated as the locals believe that anyone eating its fruit will instantly gain magic powers
Have a wemooch elsewhere...
Fancy a bit of island hopping on the Mekong River?
You'll need a few things to come together for it all to work out. There's some useful stuff to be clicked and pressed below.