Bueng Kan: 4 Awesome Things To Do
For intrepid travelers looking to escape the crowds and delve into the heart of authentic Thailand, Bueng Kan is a destination that should be at the top of your travel radar. Embrace the untouched wilderness, connect with warm-hearted locals, and uncover the hidden gems of this province.
Population: ~424,000 (2019)
Climate: Tropical Savanna
Currency: Thai Baht (THB)
Time Zone: Indochina Time (ICT), UTC+7
Length of Trip: 3-7 days.
Trip Type: adventure / gastronomic.
Our Experience: We spent 4 days in Bueng Kan in 2022.
Disclaimer: Before planning your trip, it’s essential to check for any travel restrictions, visa requirements, and other relevant information, as these might change over time.
Bueng Kan is ideal for:
It isn’t ideal for:
Bueng Kan’s untouched landscapes offer uninterrupted vistas of the mighty Mekong River – a view that stretches as far as the eye can see. Vast expanses of forest-covered hills create a sense of remote seclusion, making Bueng Kan an idyllic destination for those seeking respite from bustling city life.
Beyond its serene beauty, the province offers an array of off-the-beaten-track attractions waiting to be discovered. Ancient temples, historical sites, and cultural landmarks dot the landscape, offering a glimpse into the region’s fascinating past. From exploring cave temples and waterfalls to witnessing high-spirited festivals, every corner of Bueng Kan holds surprises that will leave a lasting impression on your travel memories.
Nestled within the protected Kala rainforest, Phu Sing Forestry Park is a jungle-laden conservation area that’s home to a variety of natural wonders, with its most renowned being several awe-inspiring rock formations.
Among these geological marvels, the crown jewel is the mesmerizing Hin Sam Wan, aptly referred to as Three Whale Rock, which resembles a family of sperm whales when viewed from the air. These ancient sandstone slabs, estimated to be around 75 million years old, have weathered the test of time.
To reach Three Whale Rock for sunrise, we paid 500 baht for a 4WD vehicle to traverse the park’s bumpy dirt roads at 5:30 am sharp. The journey took us ~20 minutes from the park’s entrance, and upon arrival, we embarked on a short, 5-minute walk to reach the panoramic viewpoint within perfect timing.
As the first light of dawn graced the horizon, the sky transformed into a breathtaking canvas of soft pink and delicate peach hues, effortlessly blending in with the yellow rays cast by the rising sun. The ethereal view was reminiscent of the aesthetics embodied by Japanese watercolor paintings.
Amidst the natural beauty of Three Whale Rock, a gentle reminder echoed in our mind – CAUTION!
This gargantuan rock formation, with its multi-sided cliff structure, standing tall and proud, comes with an inherent risk that demands your full attention. There are no railings to hold onto, and the drop is significant. While the experience is generally safe, it’s crucial to tread carefully and avoid getting too lost in the splendor of the view.
After sunrise faded, our journey continued to see more attractions within Phu Sing Forestry Park. Just a short drive away, we encountered the Elephant Stone, a natural formation that mirrors the contours of its namesake – which ultimately turned out to be not worth a full stop.
Quickly leaving the Elephant Stone behind, our next destination was the iconic Phu Sing Gate.
The Phu Sing Gate serves as a symbolic entrance to the heart of Phu Sing Forestry Park. Its sheer physical presence represents a passage to exploration – a journey of discovery for the natural wonders that lie deep within the park’s confines.
To be honest, Phu Sing Gate didn’t leave us in awe like the grandeur of Three Whale Rock did. So, we continued our exploration and stumbled upon a hidden gem nearby. To the left of the gate, we followed a dirt path that led us to a cliff face which had a much more scenic view of the surrounding landscape.
Venturing further into Phu Sing Forestry Park, we encountered a porous rock formation known as “Sang Roi Bo” or “a hundred wells.” Its porous appearance is the product of intricate geological changes and long-term erosion by the elements, over millions of years.
In retrospect, Sang Roi Bo’s unique structure served as a reminder of the Earth’s enduring power and the beauty it bestows upon Bueng Kan, with its extraordinary geological heritage.
Considered to be Thailand’s most dangerous temple, Wat Phu Tok (วัดภูทอก) which literally translates to “lonely mountain” is not for the faint of heart. Out of all the temples we’ve visited across Thailand, Wat Phu Tok was hands-down the most thrilling – it’s an experience reserved for intrepid souls.
Open from 6:30 am – 5:00 pm, we highly recommend that you get to Wat Phu Tok as early as possible to escape the heat. When we arrived at 6:26am, the sun was already blazing and quickly building up to its full oppression mode. By arriving early, we not only escaped the fiery glow of Isaan’s mid-day “heatfest,” but we ended up being the only tourists exploring the site at this time.
*Admission to the temple is free, but small donations are encouraged…
Rising majestically to a height of 359 meters, Wat Phu Tok is a sandstone massif that offers a spiritual ascent through a flight of rickety wooden stairs. The trek to the top is comprised of 7 levels, each representing the sacred realms of the 7 Buddhist heavens and virtues.
It’s important to note that ascending Wat Phu Tok is both challenging and rewarding. The journey itself, does demand a decent level of physical fitness, as each flight of stairs is steep and requires determination to climb.
For us, ascending and descending the entire structure took approximately two hours to accomplish – keep in mind that we’re relatively young and fit individuals. On the way up and down, there are several cave-like shrines that function as rest points and offer a welcome retreat from the sun’s radiant oppression.
When venturing up the well-worn stairs of Wat Phu Tok, each careful step emitted a horrific symphony of creaks, bows, and faint cracks. As we ascended higher, the stairways assumed a more precarious and narrow width, complemented by a clear view of the straight drop down, adding a touch of thrill to the journey.
While the rustic stairs and walkways exude a ramshackle build, it was comforting to know that they have withstood the test of time for over five decades, thanks to the efforts of volunteer monks who diligently maintain them. Remarkably, there has been no recorded instance of the walkways collapsing with anyone on them – at least that’s what we were told…
Even though Wat Phu Tok boasts seven distinct levels, we advise considering your hike accomplished once you reach the 6th level shrine. Although we curiously explored the 7th level “jungle” for a brief moment, we were later cautioned by the temple staff about the presence of venomous snakes in that area. Thankfully, we didn’t encounter any King Cobras, but venturing to the 7th level entailed unnecessary risks.
Regardless of safety concerns, the 7th level lacked any notable attractions – it was devoid of any shrines and obscured by a dense canopy of trees that obstructed the view. Moreover, the once-defined walking path had been overgrown by thick vegetation and winding roots, presenting potential hazards and precarious footing. In the interest of safety, it’s wiser to conclude your ascent at the 6th level, which will reward you with the view of an expansive vista – arguably, the pinnacle of the hike.
As dusk descends, the Mekong Promenade comes alive with a vibrant local market that features finger-lickin’ good street food and classic Isaan delicacies. However, arriving an hour or so before dusk, offers the perfect opportunity to soak in the views of golden hour and fully embrace the local atmosphere.
Strolling along the shallow banks of the Mekong River, we witnessed skilled fishermen hauling their wooden sampans out of the water, deftly collecting their bountiful catch of Catfish for the day. It was a picturesque scene that provided an immersive glimpse into the timeless fishing traditions that still thrive along the river’s edge.
Strolling further along the river, we observed more fishermen aboard longtail boats as they navigated their way back home. Despite the apparent simplicity of this scene, there was something truly special about this random fly-on-the-wall situation.
With dusk quickly approaching, the Mekong River took on a golden hue, while the distant Laotian mountains were cloaked in a palette of contrasting blues. This breathtaking sight stirred up a sense of hangry anticipation for a sumptuous meal. Fortunately, the night market and its plethora of street food was just a short stroll away, promising a feast that would satisfy our bottomless pits.
Along the promenade, just before the market, we came across several Petanque courts where local teams had gathered for their nightly practice session.
Introduced to Thailand by Princess Srinagarindra in the 1970s, Petanque has since taken the nation by storm, becoming a cherished pastime with a remarkable 80,000+ competitive players across the country.
As dusk arrived, the promenade’s night market became saturated with street food stalls and local families that were enjoying picnic-style dinners.
Amongst the sea of stalls, a meatball hawker stood out as the star attraction, with lines of eager customers vying for their offerings – all for a good reason. Having explored the various corners of Thailand, we can confidently proclaim that these meatballs were the finest we’ve ever savored. A bold, yet true claim.
Succulent pork, beef, and fish varieties are on their menu, each priced at a modest 5 or 10 baht per stick. A visit to this stall is an absolute must for any food lover seeking an authentic and gratifying street food experience in Bueng Kan.
If meatballs aren’t your thing, fear not; the market offers an array of freshly prepared delights that cater to every palate. Whether you crave the indulgence of duck rice, the crispiness of roti, or the oily goodness of an oyster omelette, the options are endless.
To make matters even more enticing, the icing on the cake is the affordability of the food; the fares proved to be more budget-friendly than those found in Nong Khai. So, rest assured, your taste buds will embark on a delicious expedition, with a feast of flavors that will leave you satiated and satisfied without breaking your precious piggy bank.
Since Buddhism reigns supreme in Isaan, it comes as no surprise that this northeastern region features an abundance of temples. Among them, Bueng Kan hosts a unique gem – Wat Pho Chai Nimit. While its exterior might not exude the same breathtaking splendor as some of the region’s grand temples, the genuine joy emanating from the monks within is contagious.
Stepping foot into the temple grounds, we were immediately captivated by its undeniable charm. Here, we were met with an uncommon scene – young monks engaging in lively play after fulfilling their daily duties. Witnessing these youthful souls revel in joyous camaraderie provided an uplifting glimpse into the simple, yet profound sense of happiness that resides within the temple’s walls.
Wat Pho Chai Nimit finds its sanctuary amidst natural surroundings, which provided a neutral counterbalance to the youthful exuberance of the monks. With nature’s gentle whispers enveloping the temple grounds, the heartfelt laughter of the monks took on a harmonious and soothing tone .
After paying our respects at the temple’s ubosot, we were fortunate enough to be spectator’s of a gorgeous sunset that cast its warm orange tinge upon the deep, reflective waters of the Mekong River.
In stark contrast to the vibrant ambience of Wat Pho Chai Nimit, Wat Ahong Silawas exudes an understated charm. At a convenient distance of approximately 21 kilometers from Bueng Kan town, this temple is more easily accessible for those staying in the city center.
The primary draw of Wat Ahong Silawas is its close proximity to the Navel of the Mekong, a legendary site that is the deepest section of the lower Mekong basin, reaching an impressive 196 meters in depth.
During certain times of the year, the current in this area forms a whirlpool that locals attribute to Nagas, large serpent-like creatures that dwell in the Mekong River. Whether the local folklore is true or not, this enigmatic backstory adds a touch of mystique to the temple, inviting all to marvel at the Mekong’s lore.
The best time to visit Bueng Kan depends on your preferences and tolerance for weather conditions. Below a breakdown of the different seasons to help you plan your trip:
Dry Season (November to February): The dry season is a delightful time to explore the province. The weather during these months is cool and pleasant, with sunny days and comfortable temperatures. It’s the perfect time to engage in outdoor activities, such as hiking, exploring waterfalls, and visiting temples.
The landscapes are lush and vibrant, making it a picturesque setting for photography and sightseeing. This season also coincides with many local festivals and events, providing a unique opportunity to experience the cultural heritage of the province.
Burning Season (March to April): Isaan’s burning season can be challenging for visitors due to the slash and burn agricultural practices that take place in the region. The air quality will be affected by haze and smoke, which can impact visibility and create respiratory issues for some individuals.
If you plan to visit during this time, it’s essential to monitor air quality levels and take necessary precautions to protect your health. Despite this challenge, there are still beautiful aspects to appreciate during the burning season, such as the unique sunsets created by the haze.
Monsoon Season (May to October): The monsoon season in Bueng Kan brings frequent rainfall, particularly from June to September. The province becomes lush and green during this time, and waterfalls are at their most impressive. However, the continuous rains may limit outdoor activities, and boat trips might be affected due to rough waters.
We recommend that you check weather forecasts and plan indoor activities or be flexible with your travel itinerary if you plan to visit during the monsoon season.
When considering the best areas to stay in Bueng Kan, there are a few key factors to keep in mind – proximity to activities, budget, and the overall ambiance. Below are some recommendations to help you make an informed choice:
Bueng Kan City Center: Staying in the city center provides convenient access to various amenities, restaurants, and local markets. You’ll be close to the bustling atmosphere of the town, making it easier to explore nearby attractions and enjoy local delicacies. Accommodation options in the city center range from budget-friendly guesthouses to mid-range hotels, making it suitable for all kinds of travelers.
For a wallet-friendly holiday, we recommend staying at the Century Grand Hotel. We stayed there for 600 baht a night with zero complaints. Alternatively if you’re seeking a fancier room, check out The One which starts at 1,200 baht per night.
Near Bueng Khong Long Lake: If you’re a nature enthusiast or seeking a peaceful retreat, consider staying near Bueng Khong Long Lake. The lake is one of the main attractions in Bueng Kan, offering opportunities for boating, bird-watching, and enjoying scenic sunsets. Accommodations around the lake often provide a serene environment and a chance to be close to nature, making it an excellent choice for those looking for a more relaxed experience.
Pak Khat: For travelers who wish to explore the stunning Phu Wua Wildlife Sanctuary and enjoy outdoor activities like hiking and trekking, staying in the area of Pak Khat is a great option. The serene surroundings and proximity to nature make it a perfect choice for nature lovers. You can find some guesthouses and small hotels in Pak Khat that offer a comfortable stay for affordable rates.
Keep in mind, navigating Bueng Kan calls for the aid of a reliable vehicle, and whether you opt for a nimble motorbike or a sturdy car, having your own wheels is essential. Why? Because public transportation is limited and the roads are not in optimal condition.
Bueng Kan has a rich historical background that stretches back to ancient times. The province has been inhabited by various indigenous communities, and its historical narrative is intertwined with the broader historical developments of the northeastern region of Thailand, commonly known as Isaan.
In prehistoric times, the area that is now Bueng Kan was part of the ancient Khmer Empire, evident by the presence of Khmer ruins scattered across the province. Today, the Khmer influence can still be seen in the architectural styles and religious structures.
Throughout history, Bueng Kan has experienced significant cultural exchanges and migrations, particularly from neighboring Laos. The province’s geographical proximity to Laos has facilitated the movement of people and ideas between the two countries, resulting in a cultural fusion that is distinct and diverse.
In the modern era, Bueng Kan was officially established as a province in 2011, after being carved out of Nong Khai. This marked a significant milestone in the province’s development and autonomy, as it became a separate administrative entity.
Bueng Kan is renowned for its serene natural beauty and captivating landscapes along the Mekong River. This charming province, relatively new as it was established in 2011, has quickly gained fame for its picturesque scenery, including the striking Phu Thok Mountain, where visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
Moreover, Bueng Kan is steeped in history, boasting ancient Khmer ruins and archaeological sites that provide a fascinating glimpse into the region’s past. With its peaceful ambiance, warm hospitality, and a delightful blend of cultural heritage and stunning vistas, Bueng Kan has become a hidden gem for travelers seeking an off-the-beaten-path destination in Thailand.
During the cold season (October – January), visitors have the opportunity to explore several waterfalls in the area. One such waterfall is Tat Wimanthip, located in Pho Mak Khaeng subdistrict of Bueng Khong Long. This waterfall is renowned for its beauty and is considered to be one of the most picturesque waterfalls in Isaan.
During our dry season visit, the waterfalls were unfortunately dried up – so we couldn’t report on them.
To fully immerse yourself in the province’s cultural heritage, explore its natural wonders, and experience the local way of life, we recommend a stay of around 3 to 5 days.
During this time, you can visit the historical sites, explore the stunning landscapes around the Mekong River, and participate in local festivals or traditional events. The slower pace of life in Bueng Kan allows for a more leisurely and authentic travel experience.
If you wish to engage in more in-depth exploration or undertake off-the-beaten-path adventures, you may consider extending your stay for longer than one week.
The Naga Cave Hike in Phu Langka National Park is a popular trekking route known for its captivating limestone formations and ancient relics. Due to its popularity, you’ll need to book well in advance, sometimes up to a year ahead, to secure a spot with the park’s rangers.
The hike is only available during the dry season, as the trail can become challenging and slippery during the wetter months. It offers an opportunity to explore the lush jungle surroundings and uncover the hidden beauty of the Naga Cave.
The nightlife in Bueng Kan’s city center is decent, offering a selection of bars and karaoke joints to enjoy after the sun sets. While it may not boast the bustling nightlife scene found in larger cities, you can still find some places to unwind and socialize with the locals or other travelers. Whether you’re looking to have a relaxing drink or belt out your favorite tunes, the city center has a few options to cater to your evening entertainment needs.
To reach Bueng Kan from Bangkok, travelers have several transportation options. The most convenient and popular way is to take a flight from Bangkok to Nakhon Phanom Airport, which is the closest airport to Bueng Kan. From Nakhon Phanom, you can hire a private taxi or use public transportation to reach Bueng Kan, which is approximately 100 kilometers away.
Alternatively, if you prefer a scenic journey, you can take a long-distance bus from Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit) to Bueng Kan. The bus ride takes around 9-10 hours, depending on traffic and stops along the way.
For those who enjoy the flexibility of driving, renting a car is also an option. The drive from Bangkok to Bueng Kan takes approximately 8-9 hours, depending on the route and traffic conditions.
Keep in mind that transportation schedules and availability may vary, so it’s advisable to check the latest information and make reservations in advance to ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey to Bueng Kan.