SI PHAN DON – Immerse yourself in the centre of the Mekong
i Phan Don, which means ‘Four Thousand Islands’ in Lao language, is a scenic stretch of about 50 km along the Mekong river located just north of the Cambodian border where, during the rainy season, the river reaches a breadth of 14 km, the widest width of the Mekong along its 4.350 km journey from China to Vietnam. During the dry season the waters recede and leave behind hundreds, if not thousand of islands and islets.
The largest islands are inhabited all year round and offer visitors a real glimpse of rural life along the Mekong where the people are nearly self-sufficient growing most of their food like rice, coconut, sugar cane and vegetables and fishing in the rich waters of the river.
The biggest islands of this area is Don Khong with around 55.000 inhabitants most of them located in two villages on either side of the island. As in all the Si Phan Don islands the best way to visit Don Khong is by hiring a bicycle and roaming around the small villages spread throughout the territory.
On Don Khong it is possible to find a wide range of accommodations from the simplest guesthouse to more sophisticated hotels.
The Islands of Don Det and Don Khone are close to the Cambodian border and were an important link for the flow of supplies between Vietnam and Laos during the French colonial era. Here you can still find the only remaining stretch of railway ever built in Laos, which was used by the French to bypass the nearby system of rapids and waterfalls that forbid navigation.
From either island it is possible to reach the Li Phi Waterfalls or to hire a boat in order to visit the surrounding areas where it is possible to observe (with some luck) the endangered Irrawady Dolphin (best viewed late afternoons, during the dry season as during the rainy season the water is too muddy).
On both islands there is a growing number of basic guesthouses as well as more comfortable accommodations.
The most impressive waterfall that can be seen in this area is Khon Phapheng located around 20 km south of Don Khong, here a large sala offers a good view of the biggest cascade of the Mekong River. Toilets and refreshments and coffee shops are available close to the sala.
To reach Si Phan Don area (Don Khong generally), it is possible to get a public bus/truck leaving from the “Lak Pet” bus station (there are usually two morning departures daily) or a much slower boat from the Pakse boat landing (during the late dry season those boats cannot completely reach Don Khong so you will have to hire a smaller boat for the final stretch).
Private transport services (small buses) can be orgnaised by Kingfisher Ecolodge or by local travel agencies at reasonable prices.
As often is the case in Laos the best option may be to arrange a trip to Si Phan Don at your hotel or guesthouse where you are likely to find that transport methods and time schedules are quite flexible and convenient.