Si Phan Don
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The Si Phan Don (Lao: ສີ່ພັນດອນ; meaning 4000 islands) is a riverine archipelago in the Mekong River, Champasak Province in southern Laos. Si Phan Don is part of the Khong District (that includes the islands and a part of the mainland in the east). Si Phan Don is characterised by numerous islands, half of which are submerged when the Mekong River is in flood. The principal islands of Si Phan Don are Don Khong (the largest), Don Som (the second largest), Don Det and Don Khon. Si Phan Don is bordering Cambodia and historical and cultural ties link the people on both side of the border. Pakse is the closest of the bigger cities in Laos to the area.
Key features of the Si Phan Don archipelago include:
- The remains of the first railway in Laos, the Don Det – Don Khon narrow gauge railway, built by the French to bypass the Khone Phapheng Falls and enable vessels, freight and passengers to travel along the Mekong River.
- Freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins (Pakha) that can be viewed by boat off Don Khon island. They are considered highly endangered.
- The Khone Phapheng Falls, a succession of impassable raging rapids that gave rise to the construction of the railway.
Timber was historically logged on the islands but it is now regulated; illegal logging incurs stiff penalties.
While the local economies are predominantly based on agriculture, the Si Phan Don archipelago has seen an increasing number of visitors wishing for a 'picture-perfect' experience of Laos. However, tourists numbers are concentrated on Don Khong, Don Det and Don Khon, and many of the other islands remain rarely visited, although in 2016 a small guesthouse opened on Don Som.
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