"Don Khong - Shhhh...." Top 5 Page for this destination Don Khong by RB_Oakes

Don Khong Travel Guide: 28 reviews and 90 photos

I departed first thing the next morning, unable to stomach being in such a place. The lifestyle in rural Lao is a little rough on me, too. Early to bed, early to rise is just not my thing. Especially when I've already got a bitter taste in my mouth.

I won over a suspicious cat at breakfast (the secret is food), which helped things, but I still had an hour to kill before the southbound boat arrived. I settled in for some coffee. A group of chicks and their watchful mother pecked around a pile of dirty dishes until they hit the jackpot - an unfinished bowl of rice. A group of kids played in the sand. For a country with such a small population, there sure are a lot of kids.

As rivers go, the Mekong is pretty lucky. Even in China, it passes through largely unpopulated territory. Laos has but a handful of factories in the entire country and a government that doesn't see much need for modernization. They probably went to New Jersey.

As I was sipping my coffee, I was informed that there would be no boat today. I grabbed my bag and took the ferry (the non-dock) to the other side of the river. I shared the ride with a bus. Locals took entire noodle soup-making equipment with them - broth, veggies, fish sauce, even bowls and chopsticks - so that they could sell breakfast to the passengers while crossing the river. I asked the bus driver if I could get a lift to the highway junction, some 6 km from the river on the other side. No, he couldn't. He was an express bus to Vientiane. That's splendid, I replied, but you have to stop at the junction anyway and I won't take too long to step off the bus. Plus, whatever you charge me will go straight into your pocket. No dice.

At the other side, there was one lone tuk-tuk. He wouldn't take me either! Apparently, he'd been reserved by somebody. So I started to walk. Halfway there, a sweaty mess, I got a lift in the back of a pickup. They refused to take my money. The Lao people may be easy-going, but until then they'd been as likely to do me a favour as the Chinese. It was just what I needed to wash away the stain of that crooked tuk-tuk driver the day before.

Moments later, the tuk-tuk from the dock came with four travellers who'd booked it. We were waiting for the bus when a minivan pulled up. It cost a little more, but the real estate, air conditioning, and most importantly speed made it worthwhile. He dropped us off at the dock and we caught a small wooden ferry to Don Khong.

Just a Quiet Day

"Don" means island and where Laos meets Cambodia a series of islands in the Mekong called the Four Thousand Islands emerges. Some more than others, as more than a few of them are nothing but treetops poking through the surface at this time of year. At the end of dry season, there will be many more islands in the river.

Don Khong is the largest and it should come as no surprise that it's a good place to relax. Every place in southern Laos is. I rented a bike and circumnavigated the island, a route well over 40km. This was done on a rickety, gearless, brakeless piece of work with a chain that wouldn't stay on. The scenery was a mix of sleeping villages, a karaoke party, water buffalo grazing in dried-up rice paddies, and shaded riverside pathways. These were the best, as most people on Don Khong are fishers and live by the river.

As chickens scatter out of your way and kids yell "sabaideeeee" at you, a way of life unchanged in centuries rolls by. Cars are a rarity, and even television sets are uncommon. Many nearby islands don't even have electricity. Best of all for the villagers, all the troubles nearby in Cambodia and other parts of southern Laos never came to these islands. Even tourism isn't a factor as all the guesthouses are clustered in one pocket and "tourist dollars" amount to a cold drink at the side of the road.

Phapheng Falls & Into Cambodia

I hired a motorcycle to get me to the border, as I wanted to take in Phapheng Falls. It's not the safest way to travel, but with no traffic and good roads it was little worry. The locals like to compare the falls to Niagara, not that they've ever been. Niagara are much bigger, but very tame in comparison. Phapheng is wild, as the Mekong breakes into several cascades, churning and rushing over rocks, through trees and into a mass of rapids.

After that, it's border time. The guards insist on a bribe of a dollar. It's annoying, but it's the price of doing business in the third world. Plus, you need to pick your battles. On the Cambodian side of the river, there is nothing and you need to take a speed boat to Stung Streng, the nearest town. Here's the place for hard, stubborn bargaining.

A German arrived and my odds of getting a fair price improved. Of course, the driver didn't want to start out reasonable. He caved, of course, because we knew there were three others coming and we'd just pay even less when they arrived.

The speedboat ride was surreal. The Mekong was glassy much of the way. Wet season ended recently and the water level is still high. It was as close to being a bird as I've ever been. There were many submerged trees poking out of the water and we zipped from treetop to treetop with no cares about the forest floor. The islands with the trees will emerge over the coming months but for now the area is a wonderland.

Cambodia is a whole new world. It combines the clamour of China with a thick layer of grunge. With roaring motorcycles, screaming kids and filth everywhere, it is nothing like Laos. That's not to say I don't like Stung Streng. There's an energetic vibe here and the people are friendly. It also encompasses many of my previous experiences, like a combination of Laos' weather and friendliness with Chinese bustle and Kyrgyzstan's grittiness.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Everything
  • Cons:Nothing
  • In a nutshell:I'm afraid to post this place on here - I don't want it to change.
  • Last visit to Don Khong: Nov 2004
  • Intro Updated May 19, 2005
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RB_Oakes

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