From the title, those with some knowledge of their geography may be scratching their heads, given that Laos is a landlocked country. But the islands referred to are in the middle of the Mekong River, and there are four thousand of them – presumably a clever soul will in future create a salad dressing four times as good as any other?.
The largest of them is Don Khong, several kilometres long and wide, and a popular location for tourism. The river itself is, as so often, the principal attraction, for it gives life to the region and provides the most beautiful of backdrops for the visitor. Most activities are driven by the surrounding waters, such as heading off the southern tip of it hoping to see the Irrawaddy River Dolphin. This is a critically endangered animal, it’s survival prospects not helped by the damming of the river at various points. Tourism has often enough assisted with the preservation of species by making their survival valuable (in the interests of balance, tourism has damaged the ecosystem at least as often) and perhaps that may turn out to be the case here. It is to be hoped so at least.
Access to the southern tip of the island is via Tuk Tuk, which follows the path of the old railway built by the French who were looking to use the Mekong to develop trade.
The railways wasn’t a commercial success and fell out of use. The tracks have long gone, removed for fencing and construction in the area. The locomotive is still extant and can be seen next to where the line ran, and the derrick platforms on the river can too be seen. There are some plans to rebuild the railway along the old route and from a tourist perspective this would both make sense and would be a specific attraction in its own right were they to utilise the old equipment.
The reason why the railway was needed was because of the waterfalls that made navigating up the river impossible. There are numerous examples of large scale falls throughout the region that is centred on Paxse and the ones at Don Khong are large, impressive and numerous comprising a 13km long stretch of rapids. The best by some distance and the largest are those at Khon Phapheng near the village of Ban Thakho. They are undoubtedly spectacular, and have the added advantage of not having suffered from any attempt at “improvement” of the natural wonder. By Lao standards, entry is quite expensive at 55,000 Kip, but it still only amounts to £4 and is a must see.
Waterfalls are wonderfully impressive no matter how many you see. The simple truth of it is that seeing them is the thing, talking about them not so much.