Waterfalls, a steam engine, endangered dolphins and a few good walking trails should keep most occupied for a few days on Don Khon.
The Liphi waterfall is a sight so see — a roaring collection of powerful falls spilling down at odd angles along a branch of the characteristically coffee-coloured Mekong river. To get here, take the first right after the French bridge and follow the signs — it’s possible to get here on foot or by bike. If you haven’t paid the admission fee at the bridge you’ll have to pay it here, but your ticket will be good for the whole day. A short walk down river from the waterfall is a place called the beach. Simply a sandy section of the river, you can have a dip here if you feel that way inclined. In the dry season it’s a fairly poor swimming spot, but you should have more luck after the side river has filled up a bit.
To the right of the road that leads off the bridge, an old steam engine is on display with a sample bit of the small gauge track that was used to transport mostly teak wood down to the French port at the southern tip. It’s in really bad shape and is rusted through in parts but is still worth spending two minutes checking out.
Khone Po Soi Waterfall is accessed by taking a signposted dirt track from the middle of town towards the east of the island. A kilometre or so and a few left and right turns later you arrive at a lovely restaurant overlooking the falls. Across the top of the falls is a rickety old suspension bridge from which you can grab a photo or two. Even though it’s a fairly remote waterfall, many people still manage to come out here for lunch. It’s a relaxing little spot and worth a visit if you’re on the island for a couple of days. Best to use a bicycle, but avid walkers will have no problems making the journey.
There’s a road now that transects the island where the railroad used to be — the tracks are long gone but it’s still paved in golf-ball sized gravel. It’s a long walk, and not a comfortable ride on a bike, but there’s a path along the western side of the island that’s much more pleasant — both roads terminate at the southern tip of the island, near the old French port.
A third road along the eastern side of the island is a bit of an adventure and is best tackled on a bike. It crosses multiple wooden bridges and cuts straight through a large forest which keeps the sun off your head for almost the entire way. It’s a good option if you’re coming from the Khone Po Soi Waterfall in the middle if the island.
There you can hire a boat for 60,000 kip that can carry up to three passengers out to the middle of the Mekong river. From there, you’ll be looking across into Cambodia side, which is where the rare and endangered Irrawaddy dolphins make an appearance with surprising frequency. It would be nice to get a little closer, but then you’d be crossing illegally into Cambodia. It’s a shame the dolphins don’t favour the Laos side of the river.
If you really must get close to the dolphins, it’s possible pay the boat driver extra cash which allegedly goes towards paying border officials. The odds of seeing a dolphin here are quite high. Although they won’t be doing circus acrobatics like those at Sea World, you should see a fin or two come out of the water occasionally as the animals come up for air.