Muang Khong is dominated by Wat Phuang Kaew and its towering modern “naga protected” Buddha image facing east. The locals believe the abbot used supernatural powers gained in meditation to defeat government efforts to oust him after the Revolution.
Pile of ant egg in morning market i n Don Khong
Elsewhere in Muang Khong, the market is fascinating between 4.30am and 6.30am, when people come from throughout the islands to buy and sell. Many come by boat and getting yourself down to the small beach at dawn to watch the boats unload their fish, fowl and other fare is a fantastic way to start the day. Take your camera and a tripod.
At Ban Xieng Wang, a neighborhood at the northern end of Muang Khong, is Wat Jom Thong the oldest temple on the island. Dating from the Chao Anou period (1805-28), the main sim features a unique cruciform floor plan in crumbling brick and stucco with a tile roof. Carved wooden window shutters are a highlight, and an old wooden standing Bud- dha in one-handed abhaya mudra(offering protection) is notable. The sandy wat grounds are shaded by coconut and betel palms and mango trees.
A kilometre or so north of Muang Khong, in some hills more or less behind the mayor’s office, a trail leads to Tham Phu Khiaw(Green Mountain Cave). The cave – actually more of an overhanging ledge – contains some old Buddha images and is the object of local pilgrimages during Lao New Year in April. To find it, head north from Muang Khong for 1.5km and take a track to the left, through a banana plantation. It’s only a 15-minute walk (mostly uphill) to the cave entrance, marked by two tree trunks, but the track isn’t always obvious – it’s best to get a local to guide you.
Muang Saen, on the opposite side of the island from Muang Khong, is a bustling little town with boats servicing the islands to the west of Don Khong that have no road access whatsoever. Wat Phu Khao Kaew, on a low hill north of Muang Saen (about 5km from the junction of the north-south and east-west roads), was built on the site of some Khmer ruins. It is believed to be home to a naga, though the entrance to its lair is covered. Look for a stand of frangipani trees on the eastern side of the hill to locate the path to the temple, or hire a motorcycle taxi in Muang Saen for around US$2 return.
Two smaller villages at the southern tip of the island worth visiting for old wats are Ban Huay and Ban Hang Khong.