Si Phan Don is the landlocked archipelago in the southernmost point of Champasak province, composed of about 4000 islands. While most of the ‘islands’ are no bigger than a patch of sand sprouting sparse vegetation, some of the islands are large enough to support farming and villages. Subsistence living can be seen all along the banks of the Mekong with floating fishing villages and crop farming on land. In some sections of the river it becomes as wide as 14 km during the rainy season. This stretch of the river is a habitat of pla buek, the giant catfish. This rare species of catfish can reach 250-300 kilos, making it possibly the largest freshwater fish in the world.
If touring the biggest islands by road transport, then there are ferries and bridges that link the islands. On the ferries, vendors sell an assortment of convenience items (batteries, flashlights, film, sunglasses, etc) and more “exotic” snacks (lotus flower seeds, grilled grasshoppers, grilled banana, spiced meatballs). A chartered boat ride straight from Pakse is possible as well, taking about 1.5 hours to Don Khong. On the other hand, seeing the smaller islands require travel by longtail boats, easily hired at the piers. The most inhabited islands are Don Khong, Don Dhet and Don Khone. Each of these has different features and contains unique sights.
On this island, vestiges of the colonial period can be seen all around. There is a defunct railway bridge connecting Don Khone and Don Dhet that allowed trains to carry cargo and passengers across. In the village of Ban Khone, an abandoned primary school building stands surrounded by traditional thatched huts. A walking tour from this spot will lead to a railroad steam engine and a French locomotive on display in the woods.
A 5-10 minute truck-taxi ride leads to the Somphamit Waterfall, also known as Liphi. The best time to see these impressive cascades is in December, when the clear waters are naturally tinted an emerald green. Food and drinks are for sale near the falls in basic restaurants catering to tourists.
The waters around Don Khone are known for sightings of elusive Irrawaddy dolphins, another rare species that is threatened by extinction. These creatures are regarded by the Lao as bearers of good luck and associated with much folklore.