Southeast Asia’s largest waterfall
Published/Last edited or updated: 16th February, 2017
Called the “pearl of the Mekong”, thunderous Khone Pha Pheng is Southeast Asia’s largest waterfall (by volume) and one of the widest in the world.
It’s located on the mainland, about seven kilometres shy of the Cambodia border. Don Dhet is the closest tourist base, but it can also be visited from Don Khon, Don Khong or Pakse.
The path first leads visitors past the top of the falls, the rising mist from the pour over giving a hint of what’s to come. Carefully take the stairs down for a closer look at the raging, boiling torrent of angry water squeezing through boulders. Also follow the path all the way to a wide covered pavilion for a great view.
What you are able to see is a fraction of the wide and long falls and the many islands creating many cascades. Khone Pha Pheng should give you a clear idea of what French colonialists faced in trying to create a shipping link between Cambodia and China and the reason why they turned to building a railway on Don Khon and Don Dhet. See our Don Khon history section to learn more.
Khone Pha Pheng is usually one of the stops on Don Dhet’s popular kayak tours, an economical, good value way to tick the falls off your to do list. It includes transportation, lunch, some kayaking, dolphin watching (though there are hardly any dolphins left), Khone Pha Pheng and another smaller waterfall on Don Khon. We were quoted as little as 170,000 kip per person.
For do-it-yourselfers coming from Don Dhet or Don Khon, take a boat to Nakasang. If solo, the most economical way is to head out at either 08:00 or 11:00, the two waves of exodus from the island. It’s 15,000 kip per person from Don Dhet, 20,000 kip from Don Khon. Otherwise, for two or more, it’s 30,000 kip for the boat from Don Dhet, 40,000 kip from Don Khon.
Once on the mainland at Nakasang, hire a motorbike taxi for 50,000 kip roundtrip, or a tuk tuk for 80,000 kip, including an hour wait time. If there’s no tuk tuks at the boat landing, head to the market just down the road which doubles as a local bus station. Once on Route 13, it’s 6 km south before the turnoff on the right.
The steep admission fee is 55,000 kip for foreigners, the ticket including a shuttle by electric bus to the view point, a ridiculous frill to avoid an easy walk. At the entrance you’ll see local visitors making offerings to the Manikoth tree, considered to be sacred and have spiritual powers. It stood in the middle of the falls until flooding in 2012 brought it down and it had to be saved by helicopter, relocated now to its current position.
There are a few shops selling drinks and ice cream and there’s one large restaurant with a view of the river before it tumbles over the ledge.
Door to door from Don Dhet or Don Khon it takes half a day. It can also be done as a day trip from Pakse, 150 km away. Agents in the city can arrange minivan transport or book day tours.
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you’ll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.