Photo: At the French port.

Historic Sights

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It’s bungalows and hammocks galore but over a century ago, Don Dhet and Don Khon were more than a lazy backpacker idyll. It was a battleground where ambition clashed with nature as the French tried to create a passage for their colonial empire through Indochina.





Visit Khone Pha Pheng, Li Phi or Khone Pa Soi waterfalls and you’ll understand the tremendous obstacle to this dream, over ten kilometres of rocks and rapids. Spoiler alert: nature eventually won, but not before the French had a short period of success.

Wave to Cambodia. Photo taken in or around Historic Sights, Don Khon, Laos by Stuart McDonald.

Wave to Cambodia. Photo: Stuart McDonald

From their stronghold in southern Vietnam and Cambodia, the French wished to create a link to China as a way to move goods as well as help establish control over the region. In 1893, creating a passage became a matter of necessity as a dispute with Siam over the eastern banks of the Mekong had France scrambling to move gunboats above Khone falls to secure control.

By 1894, a railway through Don Khone was completed connecting the port at the southeastern tip to the northwest coast. This was the beginning of a rather short-lived heyday for the rail. Messageries Fluviales de Cochinchine soon upgraded the infrastructure. With cargo and tourists beginning to arrive at the turn of the century, in 1910 they extended the railway two kilometres into Don Dhet as well as built the 158 metre long bridge connecting the two islands. The result was a seven-kilometre long railway. The need for it dried up in the 1930, though it was used by the Japanese during occupation in World War II before nature reclaimed it. It’s still possible to see remnants of this interesting piece of exploration history and a few spots are worth seeking out as travellers wander ... please log in to read the rest of this story.


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Popular attractions in Don Khon

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A selection of some of our favourite places to stay in Don Khon.


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 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Don Khon.
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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Don Khon? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Laos.


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