Introducing Phibun Mangsahan to Khong Jiam
Visitors often stop in the dusty town of Phibun Mangsahan to see a set of rapids called Kaeng Sapheu, just downstream of the Mae Nam Mun river crossing. The rocky islets make ‘Python Rapids’ rise only from end of January until June, but the shady park here makes it a pleasant stop year-round. It’s got a Chinese temple, several simple restaurants (most serving frog skins and fish) and countless souvenir shops. Many fishermen work here and they’ll take you on boat trips (per hour 400B, all day 1500-1800B) where you can see many birds and visit island wats. Phibun Mangsahan is also the location of the Ubon immigration office (0 4544 1108; 8.30am-4.30pm Mon-Fri), where visa extensions are available. The office is 700m south of the bridge on the way to Chong Mek.
The villages just over the bridge, as you drive east to Khong Jiam along Rte 2222, are famed for forging iron and bronze gongs, both for temples and classical Thai-music ensembles. You can watch the gong-makers hammering the flat metal discs and tempering them in rustic fires at many houses and simple roadside shelters. Small gongs start at around 500B and the huge 2m gongs fetch as much as 200, 000B. People make many drums and cymbals around here too.
Five kilometres before Khong Jiam you can cross the Pak Mun Dam to little Kaeng Tana National Park (0 4540 6886, reservations 0 2562 0760; admission 200B; 6am-6pm). After circling thickly forested Don Tana, linked to the mainland by footbridge, Mae Nam Mun roils through the beautiful namesake rapids, which lie underwater during the rainy season. The island has a beach at the north end and the 2km clifftop trail to Lan Pha Phueng viewpoint is serene. Bikes cost 50B per hour and, if you call a day in advance, park staff can arrange canoe rental (per hour 100B) and horseback riding. Five kilometres south of the visitor centre ( 8am-6pm) is Nam Tok Tad Ton, a wide waterfall just a 300m walk from the road. There is a camp site (per person 30B, 2-person tent hire 150B) and restaurant by the rapids. The park is 14km from Khong Jiam; there is no public transport.
Khong Jiam sits on a picturesque peninsula at the confluence of the Mekong and Mun Rivers, which Thais call Mae Nam Song Si (Two Colour River) after the contrasting coloured currents formed at the junction. Huge conical fish traps are made here for local use; they look very much like the fish traps that appear in the 3000-year-old murals at Pha Taem National Park. You can charter long-tail boats to take you out to Mae Nam Song Si (300B, up to 10 people), Kaeng Tana (600B) or Pha Taem (1200B).
Thais can cross the Mekong to Laos and though this is not an official crossing for foreigners, it is possible to persuade the Lao immigration police (all it takes is 50B) to let you visit the market in the Lao village across the river. First you should get a border pass from Thai immigration, which officials will give you if you are polite and dressed nice.
Last updated: Feb 17, 2009
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