Si Phan Don (4000 Islands)

For the last couple of days I have tried tirelessly and in vain to write a post about the 4000 Islands in Laos. I wrote a post, rearranged it, re-wrote it and finally gave up on it.

There’s just something about that place that can’t really be put into words. My days passed in a blur of lounging in hammocks, watching reruns of Friends and drinking until the early hours. I celebrated Songkran with the locals, cried on a Laotian man and met friends who I would travel with for the next few months.

So instead of trying to fit all of that into one post I shall instead just tell you about Songkran in Laos, and say the rest in pictures.

Cow in the 4000 Islands, Laos

This cow sauntered up to our bungalow, had a poke around the rubbish and then wandered off again. I was unphased by cow encounters at this point after being nearly run over by a herd of cows running down the main street at 2am in the morning.

Drinking beers in the 4000 Islands, Laos

A day spent chilling out drinking beers with new friends

View from our bungalows in Laos

The view from our hut in the 4000 Islands

Sunset in Laos

And another Laos sunset

Songkran in Laos

Songkran is a Southeast Asian New Year celebration falling in April every year. There is a whole bunch of traditions and customs behind it but perhaps the most notable of them all is the huge three-day water fight. Armed with water guns, everybody, old and young, takes to the streets soaking themselves and each other to symbolise the cleansing of their bodies.

If you’re in Southeast Asia during Songkran and hold any kind of illusion that you will be able to remain dry for those three days then think again. So if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right?

I’d been lucky enough to spend Songkran in Thailand two years before and had an absolute blast. This time around I was on the 4000 Islands. Being such a sleepy, backwater place I was half expecting Songkran to slip by with barely a mention but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The hype started ramping up days before the actual festival itself with crowds of Lao children stalking the streets with giant high powered water guns. So by the time it actually came to it, everyone was at it – natives and travellers alike.

The Big Party

There were various events happening around Don Det (my island of choice) and Don Khon (the neighbouring island) but instead we decided to head for the big party on the mainland.

When I was first told it was a ‘big party’ I thought “yeah right!” but I was proven wrong. There was a huge hall (basically a giant hut) with row upon row of tables and chairs squeezed in. Around the outside of the hut were dozens of street food stalls and market sellers. And at the front was a DJ entertaining a huge crowd of dancers.

We were staying in Sunset View Bungalows opposite Happy Bar, who arranged a boat to take about 20 of us across. For a fee we got our transport there, chair hire (yep – we had to rent chairs), beers, glasses and buckets of ice (this is a common thing in Laos as the beer is often not chilled).

Songkran in Laos

The boat on the way out to the party

Lao boy, 4000 Islands

The driver of the boat

Water fights

Within seconds of arriving I was soaked and covered in chalk. There was a huge group of people stood in the river waiting to attack any boat that pulled up and when we got into the hall we were surrounded by kids (and adults) running around and spraying everyone in sight.

My watergun was gone in a matter of minutes, ‘borrowed’ by an enthusiastic Lao boy who promised to bring it straight back. I suppose that’s what I get for buying a watergun shaped like a guitar and microphone.

Water gun for Songkran in Laos

Me and my guitar shaped water gun

Party hall in Laos

The huge party ‘hall’ on the mainland

Celebrations

The afternoon was spent making our way through the huge quantities of beer in front of us, dancing and celebrating with the locals.

Whilst I diligently avoided the ice like the plague, I paid little attention to all the dirty Mekong river water that was landing in my drink which I was happily guzzling down. Almost definitely the cause of the crippling stomach problems I suffered over the next few days. Clearly I will never learn.

Songkran in Laos

I met Anita, Annie and Sophie at the Songkran party. We spent months thinking we had met days after this, not realising until we saw these photos

Boy at Songkran in Laos

Celebrations aren’t just for the old. This little boy had just downed that pint of beer in front of him

Dancefloor at the party in Laos

The dance floor

Dancing at Songkran in Laos

Dancing with the locals

It was one of my best days in Laos and, dare I say it, even more fun than the Songkran celebrations I attended in Thailand. The day flew by and before we knew it we were being herded back onto the boat and shipped back to Don Det, a little more worse for wear than we had been on the way out there, and ready to carry on the party into the early hours.

Songkran celebrations in Laos

Annie and Or, two of the people I would end up travelling around Southeast Asia with

Beach fire on the 4000 islands in Laos

When the bars closed everybody would move to the beach to continue the festivities

Stay tuned for more from 4000 Islands including ‘that time I cried on a Laotian man’ and the horrendous bus journey from the 4000 Islands to Siem Reap.