Where time stands still: The serene river islands of Si Phan Don in Laos
At Champasak in Southern Laos, the great Mekong River is home to a group of islands called Si Phan Don which loosely translates into Four Thousand Islands.
Described by some as rustic, the islands offer a blend of nature, culture and history within a truly peaceful environment.
While this destination is celebrated for its 4,000 Mekong River islands, three islands – Don Khon, Don Det and Don Khong – are must-visits when in the area.
Dolphins. For many people, that’s enough reason to drop by Don Khon. You can catch sights of rare Irrawady freshwater dolphins that hang out beneath the rapids of a wide pool just off the south of Don Khon.
It’s advisable to go early in the evening or at dawn as more sightings are reported at these times. Other than dolphins, Don Khon is also blessed with many beautiful waterfalls like the Liphi waterfall and the Khon Phapheng waterfall – the largest in southeast Asia.
There also a few old French colonial buildings at the eastern side of the island including a school, a French port, and a French embankment.
From Don Khon, you can cross over to Don Det via the historic railway bridge constructed by the French in 1910.
Right next to the bridge you’ll see what’s left of an old locomotive and along the way, remains of old railway tracks that make for quite a scenic walk as you cross the bridge.
While some tourists find Don Det too quiet and offer little to see and do, those who are looking to spend time out in nature would appreciate the serene outdoor landscapes that are great for hiking, cycling, camping, or simply lazing around in a hammock.
The largest island in Si Phan Don, Don Khong is a great place to explore if you would like a cultural experience in Laos.
Biking is recommended as you can cover more areas of this island in a day. But Don Khong comprises both flat lands with sprawling paddy fields and hilly interiors – so biking is best done just around the villages and countryside.
Muang Khong is the main town in Don Khong and has two temples that are worth checking out – the Wat Kan Khong features a large gold Buddha statue while Wat Chom Thong which was built in the early 19th century is a beautiful example of architecture with Khmer influence.
Where to stay
If you are wondering about the choice of accommodation on these three islands, they are rather limited and fairly standard. Don Khong has more hotels to choose from and they offer a better range of modern amenities.
In Don Det and Don Khon, you can go for the colorful bungalows or wooden cottages turned into guesthouses. Although some may appear a little shabby, a good number of them have air-conditioning and basic facilities to keep you comfortable throughout your stay.
However if you prefer larger hotels, you can always stay on land at Pakse near Si Phan Don and arrange for day trips to the islands instead.