The South of Laos
Phon Don Area for the surveys
Description : The biggest island of Si Phan Don Area
Comment : This is were you arrive by boat from Pakse (at Muang Saen) and it is well worth a few days. It does not have the best sceneries but it got the best guesthouses and even round the clock electricity (in Muang Khong).
What to do ? Take some rest ! / Cycle & visit the island (about 30km, 6 hours) / Swim in the Mekong / See old colonial houses / Meet plenty of schoolchildren in white uniform shirts / Walk the jungle looking for a cave
What you may not like ? The light from 6pm to 10pm only at Muang Saen / The cost of bikes and what you get / Not finding the cave / The flies & mosquitoes at night / Visiting during the dry season when rice fields are arid and the road dusty / The endemic malaria during wet season (cover yourself !)
How long ? One or two nights
Where to stay ?
- At Muang Saen, near the boat pier from Pakse. Considering that electricity is switched off at 10pm, it is recommended to select a room with good natural aeration
(that means upstairs)
Say Khong GH, just opposite the boat landing / Downstairs Dbl w. cold shower B100, Upstairs Dbl B75 / Restaurant overlooking the Mekong /Go there for the clean upstairs Dbl at good price.
Muong Sene GH, further up, just follow the touts / Dbl or Trpl w. cold shower B100, Downstairs Dbl B75 (or even B50 for Sgl occupancy) / Garden in the front / Go there for the huge wooden rooms with charm and the relative tranquility (rooster around) / What you ma not like : staying in the downstairs rooms during the humid season
- At Muang Khong, opposite the bus station at Hat Xai Khun (bus to/from Pakse & Ban Nakasang) :
Done Khong GH, the first GH, on the north of the big place / Basic Dbl or Trpl B100 / Go there for the cheapest rooms in the village / What you may not like : not being able to spend a bit more for a nicer & cleaner room
® Villa Kang Khong (213539), on the west side of the place / Huge Dbl w. cold shower B175 but maybe down to B125 if Sgl occupancy / Little extra / Go there as this is arguably the best GH of Laos : superb teak house with relaxing reading area, great spotless well furnished rooms with western toilets,... Lots of charm & comfort for an excellent price (even if you do not get the discount) but ask to see all the rooms are some are better equipped (mosquitoes net) than others / What you may not like : having to leave...
® Pon's River GH (214037), from the place 2mn on the way north, near the boat landing / Also GH on Don Khon / Rooms B100, w. cold shower B125 / Trip organized to the area (Don Khon,
waterfalls, etc for K15-20000 return or K10-15000 one way plus the cost of Tuk-Tuk from Ban Nakasong) / Go there for the clean & nice rooms with charm / What you may not like : the relative noise from the surroundings
® Bungalow Souksan (212071), another 3mn north / Bungalows w. HW shower B200(2) or B150(1), w. AC B350 but negotiation seemed possible / Go there for the cheapest bungalows, HW or AC in the village / What you may not like : the relatively basic rooms
Mekong GH, 5mn walk on the south path of town / Basic rooms without shower B125 / Expensive for what you get but if the other are full...
Also on this south path, two "luxury" places w. AC & HW shower at $25(1) or $30(2) :
Auberge Sala Done Khong (Rooms) & Muang Khong Villa (bungalows in a nicer setting)
Where to eat ? Plenty of places with English
menu so no worries.
Bikes ? The standard price in a lot of places (incl. most of GH) is K10000 per day or K5000 for half a day. Unfortunately, the bikes are rather
unsuitable for this big island...
Bank ? One bank in Muang Khong can change cash but at a relatively bad rate
Island attractions ? Basically, the island itself is an attraction. The nicest areas are in the North triangle between Ban Hua Khong (boat to Pakse), Ban Hua Khong Laem and Ban Dong. The best way to see it is of course on bike.
There is a cave (Tham Phu Kiaw) just north of Muang Khong but it is tricky to find. The first path is easy to spot (among banana trees, after path with TV antenna in the background) but then it goes in every direction inside the jungle. Let me know if you find it...
The old temple just north of Muang Khong is very photogenic and the area real relaxing.
Transport in Don Khong ? There is one 8am bus from Muang Saen to Muang Khong (K3000, 30mn). After that and for other destinations, tuk-tuk or motorbikes are the solutions. A whole tuk-tuk between the above and Ban Hua Khong should cost around K20000
Backpacker's Tips : Amtrak Amtrakker,
Australia (April 03)
« Souksan Bungalows were excellent value at 30k KIP and the restaurant does
fantastic food. Pons Restaurant does a great day trip (8 USD) from Dong Khong at 8a.m. to Don Det and then
Don Kong to visit the small waterfall (5k KIP entry). After lunch at Don Kong, take a boat to eastern bank of
Mekong and catch a songthaew to big waterfall (9k KIP entry) for a couple of hours, then onto Veunkhan and to
watch the Irrawaddy dolphins (2k KIP entry). Can also rent bikes at Pons restaurant (10k KIP for the day) for a
fantastic circuit of the island. Some of the friendliest people I've ever met live on Don Khong.
Mr Pon also arranges a 7a.m. songthaew (20k KIP) back to Pakse. Takes an hour to alight at km30 for turnoff
for Ban Muang. »
Backpacker's Tips : Peter Christiaen, Belgium
« Interesting, beautiful island. Difference with Don Khon and Don Det : a lot of normal, common life going on on the island
/ Guesthouse : Souksun Guesthouse (nice bungalow; private bathroom with hot water and western toilet; 30.000 Kip). Have a restaurant on the river side. Good food and wonderful view.
/ What to do : rent a bike and cycle around the island (bike : 10.000 Kip/day) /
Organized boat trip to Don Khon- big waterfalls (15.000 kip/person).
Small boat to dolphins (12.000 Kip) : "I saw a fin" is really the right expression.
Big waterfall : really impressive (9000 Kip entrance)
Leaving Don Khong ?
The boat from Pakse arrive in Muang Saen but it does not depart from there. Boat to Pakse depart from North East Ban Hua Khong Village at 6am, which is not really convenient. The 8-11 hours trip upriver cost K15000.
From Muang Khong, the boat crossing to Hat Xai Khun cost K6000 per boat. From there, buses go to Champasak / Pakse or Ban Nakasong (for Don Det)
There are also boats at around 8am to Don Khon / Don Det for K80000 per boat (less than 8 people) or K10000 per people (if more than 8). There is usually more than 8 people as this area is becoming touristy. In Muang Khong, ask at
Pon's Restaurant. This trip is also possible from Muang Saen.
Bus Schedules : From Hat Xai Khun, opp. Don Khong
Note : To Champasak & Pakse, Japanese bus.
Also at around 8,9,10 & 11 at No13 road (bus from south) / To Ban Nakasong,
also at around 9:30,11,12:30,13:30 & 15:30 at No13 road (bus from Pakse)
The trip to Don Khon & big waterfall : SSSSS / Everywhere / B50 + B35 / 1.5 hrs + tour / Boat + Tuk-Tuk
Everything had been arranged with Mr. Pon : some people would come back at Don Khong after visiting the two falls (K15-20000) while others would stay at Don Khon (K10000). The price for the boat is K80000 but we were 15 and we still paid K10000 minimum.
The boat could not use the most beautiful way as the water level was too low but the trip was very nice nevertheless. We reached Don Khon at 10:30.
People who had negotiated a "tour" were given 1.5 hours to visit the small waterfall & Don Khon (really not enough to fully appreciate the area) before going to the big falls.
I was staying in Don Det but had been nicely offered to join the group. So I was back on the boat at 12am after having left my big bag in a small bungalow by the river.
Another backpacker had negotiated to join us for K5000. Actually, it was not a full tour but just a boat trip to Ban Nakasong. From there, we had to negotiate for a tuk-tuk to the fall. We were 14 and it took us half an hour to get the price down from K10000 to K7000 per person. A lot of money for a 20mn ride to & back plus a 1.5 hours wait (just enough) at the falls. We also had to pay the K2000 entrance fee.
Back in Ban Nakasong after this refreshing experience, we splitted in two groups : one went back to Don Khong on the big boat while a few took a small boat to Don Det and Don Khon.