Don Khone

Khone Phapaeng Falls

The Laos - Cambodia border is close to the series of falls/cataracts which effectively block the Mekong to shipping at this point. The temple like structure below contains the remains of a famous tree that survived many years on an impossible rocky island, but eventually gave up the struggle.

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We looked at one of these rapids, then drove upstream, past the falls, and took a long tailed boat to Don Khone Island, one of the largest of the 4000 Islands. The small boat us straight up to the hotel , the Sala Done Khone Hotel

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We stayed in one of the 2 rooms in the Old French Hospital. The hotel owns a lot of rooms, some in their garden area, some along the river front, and some in floating rooms.You need to be quite clear what you want when you book. I was very happy with the authenticity of the French Hospital room that we had.

We ate in their river-front restaurant. But there are lots other other restaurants close-by if you want an alternative. I doubt that there are vast differences between any of them. Their restaurant had a nice atmosphere, was clean and service reasonable for this part of the world. If you want anything done, then you need to stand up and find the head man who speaks reasonable English - big mistake trying to attract his attention from your table!. For example, you can sign for meals and drinks against your room, but the staff may try to deter you, in which case ask the head man who will be happy to arrange it.

Breakfast is a bit odd - toasted half baguettes with little to put on them - the butter tends to run out, and you need to see the head man to get them to put more out, ditto with the fried eggs. Accept that it is a charming little hotel in a remote corners of Laos.I t is not the Ritz, but you would not expect that here. I would happily return here and am happy to recommend it.

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Next day we had a motorbike with sidecar tour of the island (the alternative being to cycle oneself, which was declined). A pleasant trip round the small island, taking in the Old French Railway, the old colonial buildings, and more of the Mekong Rapids

The Old French Railway

The French colonial administration of Indochina was determined to exploit the Mekong River to get a route into China, and also to counter British colonial expansion in Upper Burma. The Governor of Indochina saw the Mekong as ‘the main point of connection between the different countries of French Indo-China’. However, the key obstacle lay in southern Laos, where at Siphandon Islands, the river splits into numerous channels forming formidable rapids collectively known as the Khone Falls.

Attempts in 1891, 1892, and 1893 to scale the falls failed; there are accounts of steamships - 'engines roaring and boilers near bursting, with hundreds of men hauling from the rocks on ropes and others pushing from the decks with pikes’, and one vessel ‘allegedly wriggled up a narrow water-slide to within fifty metres of the top before the attempt had to be abandoned’. Thus, alternatives modes of transport had to be found. The French settled on a small portage railway across the island of Don Khone and later Don Det island. This would allow specially designed vessels that could be dismantled, transported via the railway and then reassembled and launched further upstream

The route stretched four kilometres from the south eastern corner of the island of Don Khone by Ban Hangkhon village in a north-westerly direction, terminating on the north side of the island by Ban Khone village. For the first four years the railway was a temporary affair, laid in segments that could be lifted once the train had passed and then relaid in front; the gun-sloops Lagrandière, Ham Luong and Massie were the first to cross the island via this method, and were followed by Garcerie, The Colombert and Trentinian (the latter later sank in the Mekong River after a gasoline explosion in 1928), in 1896.

Pressed Vietnamese labour man-hauled the wagons carrying sections of the vessels. By 1897, a permanent railway was laid and a wood-burning steam locomotive replaced manpower for traction. Trains could be as long as 12-car formations, consisting of a steam locomotive, open-topped wagons and carriages- yet it still took an average of two shuttle trains to load a vessel. At the northern terminal by Ban Khone village, passengers would make the transfer to a steam ship once more on the river channel that divides Don Det and Don Khone islands. As these vessels could only travel when the river was in flood, the decision was made in the 1910s to extend the railway by another three kilometres to the island to the north, Don Det, where the railway terminated by a pier near Ban Khone village. The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 appears to have sealed the fate of the railway, and the last train was reported to have run in 1940.

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Back to the mainland by boat the next day.

On to Champasak

Our Cambodia and Laos Holiday

All Our Holidays