Waterfalls & dolphins

kon phapheng waterfalls

Khone Phapheng waterfalls © Hiroo Yamagata (Wikimedia Commons)

Somphamit / Liphi Waterfalls (Don Khone)

The Liphi waterfall (map) is a collection of powerful falls spilling down at odd angles along a branch of the brown Mekong river. To get there, on foot or by bicycle from BABA guesthouse, just go straight on the main path towards South, following the Mekong, during about 3 km, until the old French Bridge. Cross that bridge, then take the first right immediately after, and follow the signs. If you havenít paid the admission fee at the bridge youíll have to pay it here (35.000 kips), but your ticket will be valid for the whole day. A short walk down river from the waterfall is a place called the beach : simply a sandy section of the river, where you can have a dip. In the dry season itís a fairly poor swimming spot, but you should have more luck after the side river has filled up a bit. There are more beaches in Don Det and Don Khone to swim in the Mekong.

liphi waterfalls

Liphi waterfalls

Watch this 55 seconds Youtube video to get a preview.

Irrawaddy dolphins

In Lao, we call them "Pa Kha". These rare freshwater dolphins hangs out beneath the rapids in a wide pool, off the south of Don Khon. Boats are chartered for one-hour trips from the old French landing pier (map) in Ban Hang Khon (60.000 kips, maximum 3 people), or for one-and-a-half-hour trips from the main beach (map) of Don Khone, after the Liphi falls (90.000 kips, maximum 3 people). Sightings are regular year-round, but the best viewing is from January to May. Try to go early evening or early morning, when sightings are more regular and the river is at its most scenic.
This Mekong pool lies mostly in Cambodia, which Lao boatmen are reluctant to enter, but you may be able to see them from your boat, or pay a small extra fee (20.000 kips) to the border officials to be allowed entering in a small island that looks over the conservation zone in Cambodian waters. The odds of seeing a dolphin here are quite high. Although they wonít be doing circus acrobatics like those at Sea World, you should see a few ones coming out of the water occasionally as the animals come up for air.

irrawaddy dolphins

4000 islands freshwater irrawaddy dolphins © Stefan Brending (Wikimedia Commons)

What are you most likely to see in reality ?
To give you a good idea of what you can expect, below is our own experience at Baba guesthouse in a single tour. Leaving Don Khone at 4:00 pm in August under a cloudy sky (rather good for the dolphins, but not so nice for the scenery), the dolphins were quite far, but certainly visible. They appeared quickly, approximately 3 seconds only every 2-5 minutes.

irrawaddy dolphins far

Simple shot with a DSLR camera © Baba Don Det

Take a look on this 50 seconds Youtube video to get a realistic preview.

Khon Phapheng waterfalls (mainland)

Near the border with Cambodia (map), the Khon Phapheng Falls (or the "big falls") are the largest in southeast Asia and they are the main reason that the Mekong is not fully navigable from Cambodia into China.
The highest falls reach to 21 meters, and the succession of rapids stretch 9.7 km of the river's length.
In the late 19th century French colonialists made repeated attempts to navigate the falls but their efforts failed. This difficulty led to the construction of the Don Det / Don Khon narrow gauge railway.

How to see them from Don Det ?
The first possibility is to subscribe a kayaking tour, that includes the Khon Phapheng Falls in the program.
The second option to see the huge Khon Phapheng Falls from Don Det is to cross the river towards Nakasang (the main land, see the map), if possible in the morning when there are more tuk-tuks (read the section transportation Don Det > Nakasang). The Phapheng Falls are located 12 km from Nakasang. Negociate the price of the tuk-tuk. You can take a go and a return with your driver who will wait for you 2 hours on the place, or ask him to come later to bring you back to Nakasang at a specific time. The price of the course depends on the number of passengers, and the length of the wait. Entrance fee to the Falls is 55.000 kips. They are very impressive and there are a few places where you can get wet !
Every afternoon at 2 pm, Mr Phao (near Mr Tho's guesthouse, see on map) drives his boat towards the Phapheng falls to lead the visitors to the entrance. The price is approximately 90.000 kips / person and you will get back to Don Det at the sunset time after a nice cruise on the river. Mr Phao is a nice person who speaks enough English to adapts to all requests and if necessary special tours within Si Phan Don.
Also, it might be easy to book a private tour by bus or boat especially for you to reach the Phapheng Falls, from any transportation office in the center of Don Det.

phapheng falls

Khon Phapheng, the largest falls in southeast Asia © Wikipedia

Bridge between Don Det and Don Khone

Don Det is joined with Don Khone by a historic railway bridge built by the French in 1910. Read the complete article concerning this Don Det-Don Khone narrow gauge railway on Wikipedia.

locomotive with goats

Locomotive with goats in the olympic games © Baba Don Det

Next to the bridge sits an old locomotive, one of the last remnants of the railway, and another one is located near the old French landing pier (map).

photo bridge

Old bridge between Don Det and Don Khone © Romain Brengues

This bridge is a historical legacy, and crossing it from one side or another will cost you 35.000 kips. The ticket sold here offers above all an access to the Liphi falls.

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