Don Khong : A gentle introduction to the 'Four Thousand Islands'.

Don Khong Travel Blog

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Moving on a pace people!  60,000 Kip ($8) to friendly giggling hyena manager of Vong Paseud Guesthouse where Aiden and I stayed last night and it’s Mini-van, walk, makeshift Mekong traversing wooden-palette and canoes catamaran back to the east bank of the Mekong and then another Mini-van 2 hours down the road to where a small group of us hop a Long Tail style ferry boat back across part of the here ever-widening concourse of the Mekong (10,000 Kip) to Don Khong.  This is one of the first, and by far and away the largest of the splintering cascade of mid-Mekong islets referred collectively to as Si Phan Don or the ’Four Thousand Islands’.

At this point of its concourse the Mekong  explodes outwards over a 30-40km stretch within which float like frozen shrapnel a large collection of sand-bar or rock islands.

Ferryman takes us across to Don Khong, the largest of the Si Phan Don.
  Not 4,000, but “ya know”, lots.  The same sounds cool and it stuck okay!  Here on the east coast of Don Khong by the village of Muang Khong (where you will be ferried to and almost without exception will stay during your time on the island) the Mekong is very picturesque.  Aside from the islands, sand bars, and Lao fishermen flitting around them in their shallow bottomed skiff boats, large clumps of greenery break the waters surface and thrive in the silty waters.

I spot Aiden on shore right away, he having had to come with a pre-booked bus, but I head to stay at the ’Mekong Guesthouse’, 250 metres south of the drop-off to keep things cheaper (30,000 Kip/ £2.

First glimpse of the Si Phan Don : Four Thousand Islands.
80 for a laaarge twin room with fan and electricity). 

Don Khong, not reputedly to be the prettiest of Si Phan Don’s offerings is often overlooked by travellers wanting to head straight to the apparently far prettier little southerly islands of Don Det and Don Khon.  Whilst these have become tourist magnets and all the negatives that can entail, Don Khong is the island where, if such things interest you, you can get to travel around and observe large slices of ’genuine’ rural Laos village life.  The islands is approximately 40 kilometres in circumference and maybe 6-7 km wide at the widest point.  The island is relatively flat and has a tarmac road circumnavigating the island with an likewise tarmac midriff road bisecting the island east to west.

Stilt raised village houses on Don Khong
  The way to see the island is to get your ass on a bike - be it motorised or not - and get out there!  10,000 kip later (75p) and Aiden and I are on our sh*tty drop-bar girlie bikes with ‘E.T.‘ baskets (handy for my camera!) and ready for action!

Barely 1 or 2 kilometres out Aiden’s handlebars come loose sending him careening across the road and nearly into the path of an oncoming motorcycle.  Understandably unnerved and p*ssed of he determines to walk the bike back and get his cash back.  He hadn’t been comfortable from the beginning.  It is punishing, blazingly hot today and having given up ciggies 7 days ago his general fitness - by his own admission - ain’t so hot.  Probably happy to return and chill out… and for my part, it works out too for I am now at total ease to take things as I please and get to know Don Khong in my own way.

Rice plants.

It seems an extremely sparsely populated island and this may have something to do with its modest population  being spread over the largest landmass in the Si Phan Don.  I pass through a fair number of tiny (bizarrely well signposted) villages throughout the day.  Half the time these appear to be comprised of little more than three or four wooden-stilt hut-homes with slanted dry-grass roofs by the roadside with shaded areas beneath them where families sit, lie, work and prepare food in the shaded area this provides.  Chickens scratch around in the dirt.  Dogs chase each other and water buffalo wallow in muddy rice-paddy banks whenever they’re available.

A number of Buddhist Wats exist throughout the island, Wat Thephasoulin on the southeast corner and Wat Silananthalangsy on the south west of some note.

Village high street Don Khong style :)
  The majority of the landscape that you will enjoy though is of a purely agrarian sort.  The vast majority of the island’s flatlands given over to rice cropping paddy fields.  Some already harvested and now dry, cracked-mud beds of near desertification and others still a bright sun-stretching healthy verdant green.

If you are keen to be seeing more of the waters of the Mekong that encircle the island then you will have to drop away from the main tarmac road from time to time as this rarely if at all ever skirts close by.  More populous villages such as Ban Sene Hat Gnay to the west are a example of this.  Again you will be moving much closer to, and through authentic Lao family scenes and environments, your unusual presence calling for frequent touchingly joyful hailings of “SABAI-DII!” from parents, but especially hand-waving children alike.

'Buffalo in the water'
  A single track hard dirt path wends its way through the village until a return to east to the tarmac is forced.  Gunning past one hut to the north four children run out into the road ahead of me, all four right palms outstretched for a fly-by, cycle-by “High-5!” to the lot of them and “Sabai- diiiiiiii!” fading away over my shoulder.

It’s a very, very, very hot day today.  I even have my ’idiot hat’ on.  This is a very rare occurrence indeed!  As my 1.5 litres of hot water rapidly dwindles my spirits and energy begin to flag a little, but the novelty of the scenery and snapshots quiet, unhurried Lao family life continue to motivate the pedal-pumping legs.  More emergency water is purchased and downed (just to avoid…ya know… dying!) although nothing’s as refreshing as the sugar-cane and lime ice ’baggy’ drink that I slurped for 2,000 Kip (17p) earlier in Muang Saen village!

By the time I return it’s been nearly 5 hours on the bike!  Where did the time go and “f**k!” how much did I catch the sun in the end?!  Time for a cold shower followed by a watermelon shake sat here now, right besides the Mekong as fathers and sons drift together on their skiffs, checking their fishing nets as the sun begins to drop on the other side of the island painting pretty colours on the clouds and river waters before me over here.

 

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Ferryman takes us across to Don Kh…
Ferryman takes us across to Don K…
First glimpse of the Si Phan Don :…
First glimpse of the Si Phan Don …
Stilt raised village houses on Don…
Stilt raised village houses on Do…
Rice plants.
Rice plants.
Village high street Don Khong styl…
Village high street Don Khong sty…
Buffalo in the water
'Buffalo in the water'
Mekong boatman takes us over
Mekong boatman takes us over
Rice field countryside
Rice field countryside
Typical village house on Don Khong
Typical village house on Don Khong
Stupa (detail)
Stupa (detail)
Funerary stupas on Don Khong
Funerary stupas on Don Khong
An old, decrepit Wat temple
An old, decrepit Wat temple
Temple roof (detail)
Temple roof (detail)
Boat upon the Mekong
Boat upon the Mekong
Mekong sunset
Mekong sunset
Don Khong
photo by: Stevie_Wes