Don Khong is the bigger island over Don Det, which is just a short bridge across. In my boat of 10 or more fellow backpackers, 8 of them dropped off at Don Det while 2 (including me) proceeded to Don Khong. It goes to show how Don Khong has been undeservingly omitted by visitors. And ironically, some of the most spectacular views and sights in this region are found in Don Khong. Somphamit Waterfall is one huge attraction. The mass amount water that forces through the jagged rocks and gushing down the river was thunderous. However, in the months of May, the sweltering heat can be highly unbearable. Do bring lots of water and wear enough to protect your skin from the strong sunlight. As Don Det and Don Khong are both connected by a bridge, regardless of which island you are stationed, you can practically visit both. Exploration by bicycle is highly recommended although some bike rental boss told me 6km was the distance for one round trip around Don Khong, which I highly doubted so because the ride took such a heavy toll on my body that I nearly fell flat from dehydration and fatigue before I could even finish 3/4 the distance. Towards the south-eastern tip of the island, there is homestay.
Prices may fluctuate during the seasons, but we rented for 10,000 kip for the whole day. Do not pay more than 15,000 kip.
The entire island of Don Khong is 18km x 8km. The road circling the island is flat and travels the entire distance about 40km. Pedaling at a leisurely pace and taking a few stops along the way, you should be able to circumnavigate the island in about 4.5 hours.
The rice fields are beautiful, the homes on stilts are picturesque and the people you pass will all be smiling! The children that I met on the road were so precious and friendly that we rode together for a few kilometers before they realized they were getting too far from home. (Check my Laos homepage for a picture of us together).
Laos has only had one functional railway in its history. It was installed by the French as a means to ease the passage over the waterfalls along what is not the Cambodian boarder.
They railroad could unload cargo and passengers on the low side of the falls and then climb the slight grade, cross over to Don Det island and pass farther to the north where another safe and suitable boat landing could be made. From here the boats could travel all the way up the Mekong past Vientiane and Luang Prabang.
Unfortunately the railroad was not maintained past the 1940's and quickly fell into disrepair. The pieces of the rails over time have not become building materials for peoples homes, foot bridges, etc.
There are still some portions of old rail bed laying on the sides of the trail. Just a few meters from the Don Khone side of the bridge is a narrow gauge train engine still on display.
It is required to pay a tourist tax of 9,000 kip. This ticket also allows you to visit the Somphamit waterfalls.
The Mekong meanders around the 4000 Islands and drops into Cambodia along a fairly wide, yet short waterfall. There are several to choose from, but the Somphamit is the easiest to access from Don Det and/or Don Khone islands.
It is about a 10~15 minute walk from the Rail Road bridge. At the bridge, you must pay a tourist tax 9,000 kip.
On the border of Cambodia and Laos are the Khon Phapheng waterfalls, they are the biggest of S.E. Asia and also a very popular attraction for the locals. The entrance is 10,000 Kip and it is sure worth a visit!
The large island of Don Khong is easy to go around by bicycle. We only managed to do half the island because of the high temperature (37 degrees). We were everywhere greeted by children and if you are thirsty, you find many houses that offer refreshments and also things to eat, the people are very friendly, but it is difficult to find someone who speaks english! But it was great! The island offers some beautiful scenery and also some nice temples.
Bicycles can be rent at almost every guesthouse or hotel. We paid 15,000 kip for a whole day of cycling, so that is a little under 2 US Dollars...
Hire bikes and cycle south along the path, to the southern end of the Island. You'll see the unfinshed railway bridge over to Don Khon. Pass over the road/footbridge to Don Khon, and head towards the Somphamit Waterfalls. Lots of nice places to swim, amongst the rocks, and even in natural plunge pools and jacuzzi's!
Hire a dug out canoe, and paddle upstream/downstream. Paddling upstream is surprisingly hard, as the current will continually try to push your bow to port or starboard. The best advice is to heave to, splice the mainbrace and make someone walk the plank. Alternatively, pull in to the bank and buy a cooling Beer Lao or two..
Seriously though, the fishermen make it look easy, it's humbling to find out it's not!
I hired a boat from a guy near the northern end of the island. Ask around.. only a few dollars for a few hours, and you can explore the smaller uninhabited islands. Just keep track of where you are, the islands all start to look the same after a while :)
When staying on an island, swimming is a great idea! During the dry season the currents arn't too strong, though swimming against it for long is tiring! This tree was stuck in the bottom near my bungalow. A helpful soul had attached some bits of wood to make climbing up easier. It's then a simple leap of faith into the deep cool water... excellent on a hot sticky day :)
The island of Don Khong has a few temples that can be visited. We found the Tham Phu Kiaw in the small village of Ban Xieng Wang the most beautiful. The buddha is covered in a giant snake!