The largest island of Si Phan Don (4,000 islands), Don Khong is nowhere near as popular as backpacker hotspots Don Dhet and Don Khon. There are no cheap-as-chips bungalows, banana pancakes or river bars here. Instead, Don Khong offers real Lao life paired with a languid pace and sensational river views.
Don Khong is a sizeable chunk of land wholly embraced by the Mekong. A single road rings the 18-kilometres long and eight-kilometres wide isle, while another bisects east-west through the bottom half. Most of the 60,000 that live here depend on subsistence farming and fishing and the interior is almost entirely given over to rice cultivation and hilly forest. All the accommodation is found in the sleepy town of Muang Khong on the east coast. Boats used to be the only way to get to Don Khong. A newly constructed bridge at the southern tip now makes this under appreciated island easier to reach.
Don Khong doesn’t have the waterfalls, restaurants and activities of Don Dhet and Don Khon. The major pastime here is cycling or motorbiking around the countryside—which is the whole island—best done in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the oppressive midday heat.
South of the boat landing, the Tourism Information Centre (open Mon-Fri 08:00-16:00) has a map outlining the sights, all very minor, that dot the edges of the isle such as Ban Hinsiew-Tai village where palm sugar is made from the distilled juice of palm fruit, a few temples and the market at Meuang Saen, the other town that brings you within a stone’s throw of Cambodia. Take a photo of the map and gather some ideas of what to check out along the way, but don’t bother waking up the staff.
Worth a look is the two-story 1935 colonial house, now the Khong District Museum. Called Sathanavoudthi “Garden of Eden” by the family or “the Brick House” by villagers, the building was the home of the 11th governor Kou Abhay. The ground floor has information about the the island and its inhabitants, the history of the house and family, as well as a display of traditional instruments. Upstairs has some of the original furniture, a glimpse of how it looked as a residence. It’s a snapshot of history that no one visits—the staff were absolutely shocked when we ventured in. Open Mon-Fri 08:00-16:00, admission 5,000 kip.
As you’ve probably surmised by now, Don Khong is less about sights and more about relaxing. A highly recommended spot to do so is at Sabaidee Restaurant and Homestay, on the Mekong, 350 metres south of Mekong Inn, accessible from either the dirt path along the river or the main road. The shady terrace is great, as is the food. The owner Mr Khamla is a upstanding soul and a welcoming host who will make you feel like part of the family. He speaks excellent English and if he’s there (he’s sometimes away for work), those interested in Lao culture and exploring the islands should have a chat with him. He can organise boat trips (150,000 kip for two hours, add 50,000 kip per person for a picnic) and make you a tasty, filling sindad (Lao hotpot and barbecue)—order the dinner in advance, a set with meat, vegetables, noodles and egg is only 50,000 kip. T: (020) 5969 2777.
Mr Khamla also runs free English classes and a library for local kids and it’s delightful to see children flocking there after school to browse the few books available. If you know you’re headed to Don Khong, consider donating some Big Brother Mouse books (found in Vientiane or Luang Prabang) or beginner ESL books.
To really step back in time and get a feel for the 4000 Islands, do a day trip to Don Som or better yet, if travelling with your own bicycle or motorbike, island hop from Don Khong to Don Som to Don Dhet/Don Khon. Simply head to the pier at the southern tip and it’s 10,000 kip (15,000 kip with bike) for a transfer to Don Som, traditional and still untouched by mass tourism.
Orientation Opened in 2014, a bridge now spans the Mekong connecting the mainland with the southern end of Don Khong. Boats are still one of the common ways to arrive to the island. Route 13 swings west to within a kilometre of the Mekong at Hat Xai Khoun village (Ban Hat Xai Khoun). At the landing, boats can ferry across to Muang Khong, where all accommodation and restaurants are concentrated.
An important note: Don Khong is often confused with Don Khon. Be mindful of this when doing research, especially in the online world of crowdsourced information.
Most accommodation on the island have WiFi, if not in the room then at the reception/restaurant. 3G also works well.
There are a few ATMs. Try the Agricultural Promotion Bank on the main road across from Mekong Inn, or the BCEL ATM 300 m west of the boat landing close to the wat.
Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Don Khong or check hotel reviews on Agoda and Booking . If you're still figuring out how to get there, you need to read up on how to get to Don Khong.
By Cindy Fan.
Last updated on 10th February, 2017.
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