In a far-flung corner of Ubon Ratchathani province, Khong Chiam sits where the dark-blue water of the Moon River meets the chocolate-milk-coloured Mekong. The scenic town puts you within easy reach of two national parks, including the excellent Pha Taem, and a border crossing into Southern Laos. Nature enthusiasts looking to ease into a rural rhythm will not be let down here.
Drawing an increasing number of Thai tourists, especially on weekends and holidays, Khong Chiam (also spelt Khong Jiam) remains unknown to most foreign travellers. Those who catch wind of it will find a charming town with attractive old houses, a graceful hilltop chedi and a riverside walkway with views over to Laos’ fluffy green landscape. While minimal English is spoken by the locals, the town has some good-value accommodation and just enough conveniences to ensure that a tent and camping stove aren’t necessary.
The point where the Moon feeds the Mekong is known as mae nam song sii, or “two-colour river”. Sure enough, a fairly sharp contrast is evident from March to June due to the differing sediments and water levels. With the Mekong churning south as Asia’s third longest river, and the Moon holding its own as Thailand’s second longest, the confluence is impressive at any time. A bridge that fords the Moon to the south of town is one of the best places to take in the view.
For many, the Khong Chiam area’s main draw is Pha Taem National Park, headquartered 25 kilometres north of town near the Mekong. Along with a trio of worthwhile waterfalls and a viewpoint where you can take in Thailand’s earliest sunset, the park features striking 3,000-year-old paintings on a vast sandstone cliff.
Lao script can often be seen on signs and menus throughout the area, and nearly all of the locals speak the Lao dialect heard throughout most of Isaan. Just east of Khong Chiam, the Thai/Lao border deviates from the Mekong and cuts southwest to the crossing at Chong Mek, where travellers from many countries can grab a Lao visa on arrival and head onwards to Pakse and Champasak.
Just east of Khong Chiam is Woen Buek, a tiny village that has the distinction of being Thailand’s southernmost outpost along the Mekong. Many of its residents use a Lao cell service while routinely crossing the river to trade fish and hand-woven baskets with their neighbours on the Lao side. To the north of Khong Chiam, the similarly remote village of Baan Kum was still off the electricity grid as of 2015.
The area is known for its hand-woven cotton products employing a natural indigo dye known as gert tae din, “born from dust”. The process can be viewed at a workshop next to Once Upon a Time Cafe in the centre of Khong Chiam, where you can purchase scarves and other wears from the craftspeople. Mules are another of the area’s traditional products; you’ll often see them freely grazing along the roadsides.
Khong Chiam is located 70 kilometres east of Ubon Ratchathani’s provincial capital and 30 kilometres east of Phibun Mangsahan. It’s accessed by Highway 2134 from Pha Taem National Park in the north; Highway 2222 from Ubon city and Phibun in the west; and Highway 2173 from the massive Sirindhorn Reservoir and the Chong Mek / Vang Tao border crossing in the south.
The town itself is tiny, consisting of a small network of unmarked roads squished onto a triangle-shaped piece of land between the Mekong and Moon rivers. It takes only around 15 minutes to walk from one end of town to the other. The busiest road, Moo 1, cuts east from the morning market and bus stop, passing a couple of convenience stores, a few ATMs, two Thai bank branches, an internet cafe, the post office and a few restaurants and guesthouses on its way to the village temple, Wat Khong Chiam.
From there a road cuts northwest and passes the riverside park, the police station and an immigration office where Thai visas can be extended. Continue northwest and you’ll hit an intersection with Highway 2222; go left to ascend a hill before reaching Khong Chiam Hospital, across the road from Wat Tham Kuha Sawan. A bridge crosses the Moon River to the south of town, after which a left turn takes you to Tohsang Resort and Woen Buek village.
While malaria is now quite rare, Japanese encephalitis and especially dengue fever are increasingly common along the Mekong. Don’t forget that mosquito repellent.
By David Luekens. Last updated on 9th October, 2016.