Introducing Phibun Mangsahan
Thais 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 bridge. The rocky islets make 'Python Rapids' rise between February and May, but the shady park here is a pleasant stop year-round. It has a Chinese temple, several simple restaurants (most serving deep-fried frog skins; năng gòp tôrt) and a long line of souvenir shops. Many fishermen work here and they'll take you on boat trips in little long-tails: it's 500B for a two-hour trip to an island temple. Ask at 'đăaw' restaurant if you'd rather ride a bigger boat (500B per hour), which can hold 20 people.
The bòht at Wat Phu Khao Kaew on the west side of town has some atypical artistic flair. The exterior is covered in tiles, the upper interior walls have reliefs of important stupas from around Thailand and a very unusual style of yák (temple guardian) keeps watch outside.
Villages just over the bridge as you drive toward Khong Jiam 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 roadside workshops. Small gongs start at around 500B and the 2m monsters fetch as much as 200,000B. People make drums and cymbals around here too.
Visa extensions are available at Phibun Mangsahan's immigration office, 1km south of the bridge on the way to Chong Mek.