One of my favorite national parks in Thailand is located just next to the impressive Mekong River. Pha Taem is named after a large cliff where besides the panoramic views, you can also admire ancient rock paintings. There are excellent hiking trails and well-maintained campsites.
How much is the entrance fee?
The ticket for one day costs 400 THB for foreigners, so it’s quite expensive compared to other national parks. To fully enjoy it, I suggest spending two days in the park, including camping on one of the cliffs.
How to get there?
Ubon Ratchathani can be reached by air, train, or bus from Bangkok. There are daily flights from Bangkok to Ubon which take less than an hour. Train and buses are significantly cheaper but the travel time takes between 9 – 11 hours. My preference is the sleeping train which has the best comfort-to-price ratio but the arrival is very early in the morning, so you will need to hang around the city a few hours before checking in to the hotel.
From Ubon Ratchathani, you will need to get a bus or minibus further to Khong Chiam.
You may check your connections at 123Go.Asia
How to get around?
You can travel comfortably through the park by car or motorbike. If you are in Khong Chiam, ask around at your accommodation or Baan Steak Restaurant.
If you plan a long road trip in Isan, I recommend renting a car in Ubon Ratchathani. In bigger cities, there is always more competition and better prices. I used the services of Smile Rent a Car and got a well-maintained and cheap Toyota Yaris.
When to go?
The park has a monsoon climate with three seasons: the rainy season (June to October), the cool season (October to February), and the dry and hot season (February to June). The waterfalls will look the best in the middle or at the end of the rainy season. Other periods are nice as well but be aware that in May, the road to Pha Chana Dai Cliff is closed and there is very little or no water in the falls.
Where to stay?
I recommend the Khong Chiam 2 Hotel in the small town of the same name. It’s conveniently located close to the main road and the night market. The room was clean and very spacious, with fast internet.
The first turn-off when driving from Khong Chiam takes you to Sao Chaliang. It is a natural monolith formed by water and wind erosion that resembles mushrooms. There are visible remains of shells, gravel, and sand in the rock, therefore, it is assumed that about a million years ago, this area used to be the sea. The Meak Mai Sai Than Hin Taek Nature Trail is comprised of 3 pathways. The first trail is 350 meters long, the second one has 1 kilometer and the third one is 2.7 kilometers. I highly recommend doing the longest loop as the views are really beautiful.
Further down the road is Pha Taem Cliff with incredible views over the Mekong River, a natural border between Thailand and Laos. Due to its geographical location to the east, the area is also known as the best place to experience the first rays of the sun in the country.
The hiking trail takes you first down the cliff to see ancient prehistoric paintings that were first discovered in 1981. They were made in various styles and techniques and present people, animals (elephant, turtle, catfish, and freshwater stingray), utensils, symbols, and human palms. The paintings are dated to be approximately 3,000 – 2,500 years old. Then you will climb up and return to the parking lot following the path at the top of the cliff. The total distance is nearly 5 kilometres but it is worth it!
Another turn-off from Road 2112 takes you to Soi Sawan Waterfall. From the parking, there is a short walk down to the falls. It was a beautiful sight even though there was very little water in May. From the parking area, you can also take a longer hike to Pha Chek Cliff and Pha Moei Cliff. The panorama of the Mekong River from there is simply breathtaking. The distance is about 4.5 km one way which should take 1.5-2h to complete.
Come back to the main road and continue further north. Saeng Chan Waterfall is another exciting place to stop by and quite unusual because the water runs through the hole in the sandstone rock. Take your time to absorb the atmosphere of this place!
Nearby, there is Thung Na Mueang Waterfall and if you continue following the road along the Mekong River, you will reach its end and the easternmost point of Thailand.
The next two attractions are a bit more difficult to reach. The road up to Pha Chana Dai Cliff is narrow and there are specific times when you can go up and down. The schedule as of April 2023 looked as follows:
Time of going up: 04:30 – 06:30, 10:30 – 13:00, 16:00 – 18:00
Time of going down: 07:30 – 09:30, 14:00 -15:00, 19:00 – 19:30
The road seems to be closed during the month of May. Check their website for the most recent information.
The cliff is an easy 10 minutes walk from the car park and provides great views over the Mekong and into the mountains of Laos. Consider camping overnight to see the magnificent sunrise! Huai Phok Waterfall is nearby.
On the way to Pha Chana Dai, don’t forget to stop at Twin Pillars which is another sandstone formation shaped like a mushroom. Very photogenic!
Further north, you may visit Pha Chang, another scenic area with lower cliffs on the Mekong riverbank. It’s free to visit and you can park your car just at the end of the road and walk down the remaining distance. In the same area, you will find Sao Chaliang Yai, which is another rock formation resembling a giant mushroom.
Sam Phan Bok
This place doesn’t belong to Pha Taem National Park but it’s pretty close to it and in my opinion, you can’t miss it. Sam Phan Bok means 3000 holes and as soon as you see the landscape, you will understand why it is called like that. The waters of the Mekong River eroded sandstone rocks into unique shapes. You may walk down there by yourself or hire a pickup truck for 150 THB to give you a lift. The distance isn’t long but it’s exposed terrain and on a sunny day it can be incredibly hot. There are people selling drinks and you may also accept the service of a young local guide showing you around, pointing at some unique rock formations such as Mickey Mouse, and taking photos of you.