Thursday, October 22, 2009

Another naming problem

Known as Asia's answer to the Niagara, the Mekong falls straddling the Lao-Cambodian border are known by a variety of names. One problem in this name, is that the area over which the Mekong river drops is 14 km wide, partially on the border, partially inside Lao. The Mekong meanders here. There a number of different channels with their own distinctive falls during the drier months. However during the monsoon these separate falls combine to form one major fast flowing fall. Just look at the photo above, taken in April 2009: the barren rocks will be covered by water in latter months and the main channel sees water tumbling in from all sides.

In short it's difficult to assign a name to the fall above. The photo above however is the western most channel with everything below the fall and due west Cambodian, while all upstream area is Lao. Therefore it seems not unreasonable to use the Cambodian name. An old French map mentions this as "Chute de Salaphet" or Salaphet falls, though if you google this there seems to be some credibility lacking to this assertion.

This lack of credibility is partially explained by it's remoteness. On the west shore of the Mekong in Cambodia there are no roads, the roads north to Lao straddling the opposite shore. Lack of access means lack of tourists means lack of mentions on web sites. However on the Lao side, other channels are mentioned as the Mekong falls of Khon(e) and Papheng (falls here are 300m wide and fall 15 m). This is hardly surprising as this area of the Mekong has been a tourist destination otherwise known as 'Sipandone', the Four Thousand Islands. Additional attractions are besides a very relaxing atmosphere a former railway and dolphin watching. The Lao side contains a wide range of lodging and is often included on various tours.

Though I mentioned these falls as Asia's Niagara, the truth is Niagara is America's Mekong Falls:
'This monstrous segmented waterfall on the Mekong River near the Cambodian border in the extreme southern part of Laos is the widest in the world, stretching to as much as 14 kilometers wide during the monsoon season! ... The Khone has the greatest volume of the world’s waterfalls, its 2,500,000 gallons (9,500,000 litres) per second being nearly double that of Niagara Falls'.

Visits to the above and below photographed channel are being organised by the Cambodian NGO Mlup Baitong which is assisting a local village (Preah Rumkel) in dealing with tourists, gaining revenue with the objective of protecting the forests around the falls. This is partially supported by the Mekong Discovery trail. The best way to visit is by arranging beforehand transport to Ou Svay and meeting up with a boat there. From Ou Svay it still is a 2 hour journey to Salaphet falls. Along the way there is a big chance of spotting dolphins.

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