We are somewhere high on top of a rock in the Isan region overlooking the Mekong River. We can see monks standing at the edge of a cliff, fishing boats in the distance and the western part of Laos while the sun slowly sets. We’re all alone here. Swallows dance around us cheerfully, pirouetting with joy. Welcome to Isan, welcome to Pha Taem National Park. Here are five of the best things you can see in and around the park.
1. Mekong River meets the Mun River
Khong Chiam a small village in the easternmost tip of Isan, on the Laos border. It only has a few guesthouses, one 7-Eleven, a night market and a few small restaurants. It’s also the place where the greyish Mun River joins the dark brown Mekong: a spectacle that’s particularly visible during the rainy season – June through October. See it, to believe it!
2. Rock paintings in Pha Taem
From the park’s Visitors Center you can take a five kilometer walk along the park’s rock paintings. The easy trail takes you on a walk under the tall overhanging cliffs. There are four different sites with rock paintings distributed along the path, which are surprisingly well preserved, despite being up to 4,000 years old. You’ll find more than three hundred images: mainly of animals, people, hands and the harvesting of grain. Seeing this was truly impressive. The paintings are well preserved and guarded by barbed wire.
3. Sao Cha Liang
The Sao Cha Liang rocks right past the entrance to the park were equally impressive. These are rock formations that, believe it or not, were not formed by human hands, but simply by nature. At the top of these rock mushrooms you’ll find fossils of shells and other sea creatures, which means this area was once a seabed. Bizarre, right?!
The bottom of the rock formations is made of sandstone. It was shaped by heat, wind and rain over the course of the centuries.
4. Sunset at Pha Taem National Park
But our very best memories would have to be of the sunset in the park. On top of the big rock only a ten-minute walk from the Visitor Center. While Thai tourists (yes, you’ll mainly find Thai tourists here on a weekend visit from Bangkok!) show up in huge numbers to see the sunrise, we were the only ones there at sunset.
The monks meditating on the large cliff below us were the finishing touch. We don’t need to say any more, just visit and take a look for yourselves, it’s a magical place.
5. Sam Phan Bok – The Grand Canyon of Thailand
A landscape with hundreds of holes – maybe three thousand? – were sprawled out in front of us. Sam Phan doesn’t mean “three thousand holes”; in Thai for nothing. Some are dry, while others are filled with clear pools of water where you can see swimming fish. In the distance the Mekong River appears innocent, but under the surface the river currents are ruthless. It felt like we had arrived on another planet, and one all travellers to Thailand should visit.
How to reach Pha Taem National Park?
The Pha Taem National Park is easily reached from Bangkok. A one hour plane journey takes you to Ubon Ratchathani. From here you can take the bus to Khong Chiam to see all the sights!