The South of Laos


see Si Phon Don Area for the surveys

Description : Two small islands connected to each other by a bridge.

Comments : This is the ideal place to be based as most of Si Phan Don's attractions are in the area.

What to do ? Relax ! / Say wow at the biggest cascade in SE Asia / Splash yourself ! / Say wow again at the small falls and re-splash yourself ! / Walk along the river or in rice paddy fields / Scare some kids, pigs & dogs along your way / Meet the farm (water buffalos, colorful pigs, poultries,...) / See some huge & colorful butterflies, dragonflies and lizards / Watch coconut climbers / Spot the fin of a dolphin / Photography charming old colonial houses / See plenty of fishing net, some of them full of fish / Speak French with the old generation / Relax a bit more on the sand of a beach (splashing optional) / Listen to birds and spot Kingfisher or Eagles / 

What you may not like ? Some ganja or money kids / Some barking dogs / The noise from the boats / The hammer activity as everyone seem to be building a new guesthouse, to be soon replaced by other noisy nuisances / The lack of electricity in the rooms / The long walk from Don Det Pier to the attractions on Don Khon / The entrance fee to part of Don Khon / The cost of tuk-tuk to the big waterfall / Not seeing any dolphin / Getting a falling coconut on your head / The future development / The flies & mosquitoes at night and the endemic malaria during wet season (cover yourself !) / 

How long ? From two days to several weeks

Where to stay ? By the time you read this, there should be a dozen new GH as everyone seem eager to cash on the huge tourism development of the area when the border with Cambodia will open. Places recommended below are those which were relatively isolated at the time of writing, yet not too far from the activities. Electricity outside the rooms usually run from 6pm to 10pm only.

- On Don Det :

  • Souksun GH, next to the pier / Dorm (4) B25, Bungalows B60 (mattress on the floor), B75 (beds) or B90 (privacy) / Go there for the nice, clean and relatively spacious setting, the great sunset spot, the few B60 bungalows with a terrace on the river, the pier proximity / What you may not like : the distance to Don Khon (40mn), the busy area
  • Cafe Don Det, opposite the pier, next to the above / A new place still in development / Basic bungalows B50 or B60 (on the river) / Go there to check how this place turn out as the English manager had a couple of great ideas, incl. a meditation center on the west side of the island (with accomodation), a good restaurant, water games, etc. / What you may not like : the probable busyness as it could turn quite successful with fun seekers.
  • No name GH, a bit further / Rooms in house B50 / Basic, noisy (generator), not so clean and no English but some rooms apparently enjoy shared lights...
  • ® Mr. Tho's Bungalow, 15 mn walk toward Don Khon / Rooms in bungalow directly on the river B50 / Go there for the relaxing terraces with hammock, to put some distance between you and the pier, the small village environment / What you may not like : the 30mn walk to Don Khon
  • ® Hangdet Bungalow, 40mn from Don Det pier, 10mn from Don Khon bridge / Rooms in bungalow B25 per mattress, with shower B100(2) or B75(1) / Go there for the excellent location (not too far but not too near) and the small size of this relaxing place / What you may not like : having to walk back if full, not being right on the river

- On Don Khon, west of the bridge (way to falls) :

  • ® Mr. Bouaphanh GH, on the left of the road / Room in house B50 / Go there for the correct clean rooms and relative isolation at good price / What you may not like : not staying in a bungalow by the river
  • No name GH, after the above, just on the right before the temple / Rooms in bungalow B100 / Nice location by the river and away from the road but, with six rooms side by side, it could be noisy

- On Don Khon, east of the bridge :

  • Pon's River Resort, by the river / Rooms in bungalow B50 / Also GH in Don Khong so organize boat trips (see story) / Small somehow crowded area but the rooms on the river should be relaxing enough
  • Somphamit GH, on the right / OK rooms in nice house B50 / Shower in house 
  • Silipheds GH, on the left but off the river / Rooms in house B40 / Shower in garden / Cheap but basic : the whole house moves when walking...
  • Bane Khone GH, on the right / OK rooms in big house B50 / Shower in garden
  • Mr. Bounh's GH, on both side, in garden or by the river / Rooms in bungalow B50 or B75 w. shower / Go there for the relaxing rooms on the river, next to the restaurant / What you may not like : the probable
  • Auberge Sala Done Khone (office in Pakse : 212725), a charming colonial house in a flower garden on the right / In the house : Dorm (3) $3, Dbl w. shower $10 / Bungalows w. HW shower $16(1) or $22(2), cheaper in LS / The only luxury place in the village with well decorated rooms, lots of charm (in particular in the house) and electricity from 6pm to 9:30pm / What you may not like : after renovation (which should have take place by the time you read this), all the rooms should be priced at around $22 but it cost nothing to have a look and ask for a discount...
  • Pakha GH, on the right after the school, 10mn from the bridge / OK rooms in big house B50 / Shower in garden / Next to a path toward the beautiful countryside

Where to eat ? Plenty of restaurants near the bridge in Don Khon. Less in Don Det but your GH should take care of that...

Bikes ? Just after Mr. Tho's Bungalows, bad bikes for K8000 per day. Probably more places soon... But walking around is best anyway.

Visit the area ?

- Khon Phapheng Falls, the "big" falls, 12 km from Ban Nakasong : The first step is to take a boat to Ban Nakasong : K15000 per boat from Don Khon (20mn) or K7000 from Don Det (5mn). There, negotiate the tuk tuk. At the time of writing, those guys had a tuk-tuk monopole and where charging K10000 per person (we got it down to K7000 but we were 14 !). Ask to stay at least 2 hours at the falls. If you wish to stay longer, you could ask Peter at Cafe Don Det to organize you something or negotiate harder. The tuk-tuk will stop at one point for you to buy the ticket (K2000) so there is no way around. The falls are certainly impressive and there are quite a few places were you could get wet, with the locals or alone. For the later, go down from the parking toward the bottom of the falls. But be careful : some bathing places gets waves of various intensity and the current from such waves can be quite strong ! 
I would recommend that you combine this visit with nice walks around Don Det on the way to/from the pier. To go, take the central road among rice paddies opposite the bridge until you reach Mr. Tho's Bungalows (30mn) then turn left toward the pier (10mn). To come back, walk along the river and small villages (40mn).

- Don Khon's attractions : There is a K2000 fee levied at the bridge but nobody will bother you early in the morning or late in the afternoon (say after 4pm). 
The main attraction are Somphamit Falls, which are nearly as attractive as the "big" falls and offer a few Jacuzzi spots. The 1.5km road is also very pleasant.
Trying to see the rare Irrawaddy dolphin is another popular activity. From after the bridge, it is a 2km beautiful way (with a side path toward a scenic water spot on your right) until you reach a (quite nice) sandy beach with a small restaurant. Boats there cost K35000 for 3 people maximum and about 1 hour tour. Note that opposite Phonepasak Restaurant (east of the bridge), another path (4km) takes you to boats which cost only K25000. The best time to spot dolphins are early in the morning or late in the afternoon. But bear in mind that those animals are rare : "I saw a fin" seem to be recurrent comment. 

- Other Islands ? Plenty to choose from obviously. With the development of Don Det & Don Khong, it should not be long until guesthouses appear on other islands. The South East & North West of Don Som were reported beautiful but most islands probably are... Explore !

Backpacker's Tips : Stefan Westerheide, Germany (Jan 05)
« Thon Don Family Bungalows (basic bungalow, nice location with sunset view, average food) 1 $
One day is enough to see Don Det and Don Khon by bike. Don´t miss the Somphamit Waterfalls, more spectacular than the big falls. Don Det is the nicer place to stay, tour groups and cars only on Don Khon. Charming village life, even if you don´t want to cross into Cambodia.
If you go to Cambodia it´s possible to make a short visit to the Khon Phanphaet Falls on your way, ask for it at Riverside Restaurant. Canoe + bus to border including side trip 1.5 h 5 $. Stamp fee on Lao side 1 $ (don´t pay 2 $ except on weekends or holidays). Canoe to Cambodian immigration 0.5 $ No need to pay any stamp fee on Cambodian side. Speed boat to Stung Treng 8 $ (32 $ for the boat, a price between 25-35 $ is the best you can get if you don´t want to deal for hours) 1h. Ask for helmets. »

Backpacker's Tips : Christine, USA (Nov 04)
«On Don Det: Mr. Tho's bungalows is a great place to stay. I swear, all the good books to read in the entire country are located at his place due to the generosity of a former traveler that apparently sends Mr. Tho the books. If you stay there, it's free to check out the books as long as you leave a deposit and if you don't, you pay a bit but it's really worth it to patron his place. I stayed there for 10 days, got to know the family... Mr. Tho is a sweet old man with a precious smile. He's got diabetes, no money for adequate healthcare, but doesn't really talk about that stuff much. He just smiles and treats you like a family member. On our last day there, He and his nephew, Lampon, who also has a little bungalow operation on the island, threw a big traditional Lao celebration... don't know what you call it but they got a huge centerpiece that they prayed to, covered with white strings, and then took turns blessing us with the strings and then tying them around our wrists; by the end of the night, they were drunk on Lao Lao and we were covered up to the elbows in white string. The whole experience just really touched my heart :) »

Backpacker's Tips : Spunky, Dutch (April 03)
«There are lots of bungalows along the riverside on Don Det. Where the boats arrives there are a great many but it is better to walk a bit further down the road (there is only one road so you will know where to go!). Here it is more quiet. (Where the boats arrive there is this big generator making a lot of noise). Many of the bungalows have a restaurant. We stayed at Phonepasak Guesthouse: 1 dollar per bungalow with hammock and shared bathroom. The lady-owner is very friendly and a real good cook! She makes the best banana pancakes in not only Laos but in whole Asia!!! Dishes and drinks very cheap. / Don Det is very nice and relaxing but there are lots of tourists and 99 % is stoned the whole day. You will hear many of them saying "This is the real Laos"! I don't think that the real Laos exists of some western "try to be hippies" who are smoking joints from early in the morning till late at night. Like I said, Don Det is really nice but for me it was definitely not the real Laos! »

Backpacker's Tips : Hans & Greet, Belgium (Nov 02)
« Santhibap GH, near the old railway bridge between both islands. 10.000 Kip for a bamboo hut. Quiet, with nice view, good restaurant. Most bungalows are on the northern side of Don Det, but (to) many people there !
· For the best fish BBQ of Laos (9.500 Kip), go to the other side of the bridge, in a very small restaurant in front of the ticket-sell. Go at noon (no electricity there !) and order 2-3 hours in advance so that they have the time to catch your fish…. Here lives also the old train – driver !
Excursions: To go from Don Det (from the northern point, the boat landing) to the railway bridge, do not walk the path along the river, but follow the old railway track (… but no rails anymore) that starts and ends near the old pier, where they loaded the ships. At the same time this is a beautiful walk, +/- 30 minutes, through the rice-fields ! / De Somphamit –waterfalls on Don Khon, 20 minutes from the bridge. Walk another 10 minutes for the best view ! »

Backpacker's Tips : Peter Christiaen, Belgium (March 02)
Most people decide to stay on Don Det which is a mystery to me. Don Det is boring compared with Don Khon. Don Khon has at least a village life going on which is not the case on Don Det. / Guesthouse : Mr. Bounh's GH (10.000 Kip; OK room with private bathroom; Chinese toilet and cold shower) / Small waterfall : not very special, although some people really seem to like it (5000 K entrance) / Boat to mainland; (real) bus to junction to Champasak. From the junction no transport to Champasak. I started to walk and was after 1 km picked up by an empty tourist van (they didn't ask for any money, but I still decided to pay them something at the end); Ferry across the river; tuk-tuk to Champasak

Bus Schedules :  From Ban Nakasong, opp. Don Det

To Price Road Duration Time Nb Freq.
Champasak / Pakse K10000 good 3 6,9 2 na

The trip to Champasak : S / L&R / B50 / 3 hrs / Kind of a bus
The bus was original enough with its circus look but it was all too commonly crowded, uncomfortable and late. I showed up at 8:30 and it was already quite full. Half an hour later, it was packed and people were still waiting to get in... 
At 9:10, we were told it would leave at 9am... It really left at 9:45. I had a seat in the back and the ticket ladies on my knees, hiding me the view.. Definitively too uncomfortable so I decided to join some westerners on the roof. I had tried to go before but had been told it was forbidden by the police. But having to put the people somewhere, it was apparently OK now, at least for the men. 
So most of the journey was nice & fun. The road was good, then bad, then good again, then bad once more : they were constructing it and only some parts had been completed. As for the scenery, we saw an elephant & an eagle. That's about it.
During the trip, we had the visit on the roof of the ticket guy. Whether going to Pakse or Champasak, it would be a flat B50.
About 15mn before Champasak, everybody was asked to get inside as the police was nearby. I still wonder why traveling standing or kneeing at the back of a crowded bus is consider safer than on the roof but I knew I would not have to suffer for long... 
We were left on road 13, 4km away from Bang Thong Khop. Considering that the bus had previously made a 15mn detour to pick up more bags and the price we had paid, I though that it could have made the effort to drive us there. But I am often dreaming... Problem was : there was no tuk-tuk in sight. So I walked : it would only be the second 40mn walk of the day after all, except that this one was at sunny 1pm. I tried to hitch at 3 cars (incl. a pick-up) and 1 motorcycle but no one stopped. Indeed, this wasn't helpful Thailand ! 
Then I took a boat (K1000) for the 5mn river crossing, to learn on the other side that the guesthouses were another 4km away (about 3 actually)... But there were motorcycle so it turned out as a pleasant 10mn & K2000 ride. Ouf !

See also the trip from Don Khong