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!
Welcome to Isan!
We had never been to Isan before – Thailand’s undiscovered northeast. The countryside where you’ll hardly find any Western tourists.
Our experience? To be honest; we felt a bit lost in Isan for the first few days. Large, unattractive cities interspersed with – you guessed it – miles and miles of countryside in dull shades of brown.
The distances here are immense. And although public transportation is well organized, you can’t just quickly check out a few sights. We had to adjust to this way of traveling.
And we finally succeeded. After a week we found the right spot in the right place. This is what we like to see and want to show you too!
Khong Chiam on the Mekong
Khong Chiam is the place to be in Isan as far as we’re concerned.
It’s 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).
But do you know the real reason you should visit Khong Chiam? To see Pha Taem National Park!
Pha Taem National Park
The park is situated only 20 kilometers north of Khong Chiam and has loads to offer.
From three-thousand-year old rock paintings that are up to 180 (!) meters long to mysterious rock formations that you’ve never seen before. The park also has several unique waterfalls that are especially worth seeing during the rainy season.
There’s almost too much to mention; but we’ll take you through the highlights of the park anyway!
Rock paintings in Pha Taem
From the visitor center, where you’ll find good information about the park, you can start an almost 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. You’ll find more than three hundred images: mainly of animals, people, hands and the harvesting of grains. Seeing this was truly impressive.
The paintings are well preserved and guarded by barbed wire. It was also cool to see huge honeycombs hanging under the cliffs.
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 ‘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 years.
The last two pictures are of the Sao Cha Liang Yai rocks (the larger version), which are 50 kilometers north of the visitor center.
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 have a look. It was magical.
Getting to Pha Taem
Even though Pha Taem National Park is all the way in the easternmost tip of Thailand, it’s easy to reach from Bangkok.
You can fly to Ubon Ratchathani from Bangkok in less than an hour. And it doesn’t need to be expensive at all; if you’re lucky you can book flights starting at only 600 Thai Baht per person!
Pha Taem National Park is less than 100 kilometers east of Ubon Ratchathani and can be reached by rental car, taxi and/or bus.
However, we recommend visiting Pha Taem National Park from Khong Chiam, which is easily reached from the Ubon Ratchathani bus station. It’s only two hours by bus.
You can organize a motorbike, taxi or tour at the hotel in Khong Chiam to get to Pha Taem National Park. Entry to the park is 400 Thai Baht per person.
Good shoes and plenty of water are essential by the way, because it can get extremely hot! That’s why it’s best to visit the park early in the morning or late in the afternoon, near sunset.