Don Kho is a small island located across the Mekong River from Ban Saphai. According to the villagers of Don Kho, the island was originally settled by a small group of families from Attapeu hundreds of years ago. During the French colonial period in the late 1800’s, Don Kho became the first centre of political administration in Champasack Province, preceding Pakse, due to its safe and convenient location for docking French military boats, which travelled up and down the Mekong river regularly. During this ten year period, the island was referred to as Muang Don Kho Gavin and was ruled by three different governors-all Laotain-the last, Udon Sinbandith, died in 1982.
Although the original buildings of the provincial centre are no longer present, some remains can be found, such as the posts of the old building which are now used to support present-day houses. Two traditional style houses are still standing: There is the former house of a wealthy trader named Pau Tao Kud Khun Mi which was built over one hundred years ago and features a giant, woven fish trap underneath, and the seventy-year-old twin roof house (luuk fete), which has been maintained in excellent condition. Of more recent history is the site of the house of Mr. Philipe, a foreigner who lived on the island during the late 1960’s/early 1970’s and worked with the island’s silk weavers. Legend has it that the good-natured foreigner, who spoke Lao fluently, kept fit by swimming laps around the island regularly.
Don Kho is traditionally known for its weavings and today still produces fine silk weavings destined for domestic and international markets. You can observe weaving and purchase the products directly from the producers themselves. Also of note are Don Kho’s juicy watermelons, which grow without irrigation or watering and are harvested from January to March. Homestays are available on the island and include homemade food and a tour of the island’s attractions.
How to get there: To get to Don Kho, go to the old market in the centre of town where you can hire a boat to take you across the river to the island (a short ride). For those who like to travel in style, ask the boatmen to take you across in a traditional paddle boat, instead of a motorboat.