As Thailand’s newest province, Bueng Kan is a remote destination that’s ideal for adventure-minded travelers – it’s Thai tourism’s last frontier.
Nestled in a distant corner of Isaan, Bueng Kan remains one of the least visited provinces in Thailand and is characterized by traditional ways of traditional rural life. So if you enjoy uninterrupted vistas of the Mekong River, vast expanses of forest covered hills, and off-the- beaten-path attractions, Bueng Kan should be on the top of your travel radar.
Apart of the protected Kala rainforest, Phu Sing Forestry Park is a jungle-laden conservation area that’s known for several unique rock formations.
The most popular formation is Hin Sam Wan, which roughly translates to Three Whale Rock. These impressive slabs of sandstone are 75 million-years-old and earned their name from “aerial visuals” that make these jutting formations look like a family of whales.
To get to Three Whale Rock, we paid 500 baht for a 4WD truck to take us through the park – it’s a ~20 minute drive over bumpy dirt roads from the entrance and a short 5 minute walk to the viewpoint. In order to make sunrise (the best time to visit), we took off at 5:33am.
From the viewpoint atop these “whales”, you’re able to see the grandness of the Mekong River, the rolling fog over the mountains of Pakkading in Laos, and small villages that dot the seemingly never-ending green horizon.
During sunrise, the sky was a rich canvas of pink and peach tones that were highlighted by a radiant yellow from the glow of the sun. It was gorgeous – like something out of a Japanese watercolor painting.
When enjoying the view here, you’ll need to carefully watch your step. The rock formation is effectively a multi-sided cliff with no railings. It’s generally safe, but a tumble off Three Whale Rock would most likely be your last. So, don’t get too caught up in the jaw-dropping view.
After sunrise, the next natural attractions to see are a quick drive-by of the Elephant Stone (a formation that looks like its namesake) and then a full-stop at Phu Sing Gate.
To us, Phu Sing Gate was nothing special or really out of the ordinary – especially after the grandeur of Three Whale Rock. And since we felt a bit underwhelmed, we wandered around the area and stumbled upon a nearby cliff face with a picturesque panoramic view (to get there, just follow the dirt path to the left of Phu Sing Gate).
The last attraction in Phu Sing Forestry Park is Sang Roi Bo which means “a hundred wells.” This porous-looking rock formation is a result of geological change and erosion by the wind and rain. he top of the mountain. Compared to the initial 1 km of trail, the rest of the hike was a breeze and we moved at a quick pace to reach the top – we wanted to beat the rain.
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 in Thailand, Wat Phu Tok was hands-down the most thrilling – it’s awe-inspiring.
Open from 6:30am – 5:00pm, we recommend getting to Wat Phu Tok early 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 mid-day “heatfest” but we ended up being the only tourists exploring this majestic site.
*Admission to the temple is free, but small donations are encouraged…
As a sandstone masiff that towers 359 meters high, Wat Phu Tok is scaled by walking up a series of ramshackle wooden stairs. While the hike encompasses 7 levels that correlate to the 7 Buddhist heavens and virtues, only ascending 6 levels is recommended for safety reasons (more on this later). Just know that every flight of stairs is steep and requires you to have at least a decent level of physical fitness.
To go all the way up and down, it took us roughly 2 hours to complete – keep in mind, we’re relatively young and fit. We also stopped at several cave-like shrines that make for interesting rest points while offering some reprieve from the sun.
As we made our way up, the beaten-up stairs would creak, bow, and make cracking sounds with every step. And the higher we got up, the more shoddy and narrow the stairs would become.
Even though Wat Phu Tok’s stairs and walkways have a rickety vibe, it’s reassuring to know that they’ve held up for five decades with the help of monks who frequently maintain them. As far as we know, the walkways have never collapsed with anyone on them.
While there are seven total levels, we recommend considering your hike complete once you reach the 6th level shrine. Even though we wandered around the 7th level “jungle” for a bit, we were told by the temple staff (after our hike) that there’s venomous snakes up there. Luckily, we didn’t see any snakes but going up there just isn’t worth the risk.
On the 7th level, there’s absolutely nothing to see – there are no shrines and the view is blocked by trees. Even the walking path is overgrown with plants and roots, making it easy to trip and fall off the face of the cliff. Play it safe and call it quits at the 6th level – it has the best views and is the highlight of the hike.
Every evening, there’s a local market along the Mekong promenade that finger lickin’ good street food and standard Isaan fare. We recommend getting there an hour before sunset to enjoy the beautiful views and to immerse yourself in local-life.
Along the shallow banks of the Mekong, you can watch fisherman lug their wooden sampans out of the water and collect their catch for the day – mostly small Catfish.
Alternatively from the comfort of the promenade, you can watch fisherman on longtail boats making their journey back home. While this may sound incredibly simple, the atmosphere is what makes this fly-on-the-wall activity… special.
During sunset, the Mekong River turns a bright golden color and the distant Laos mountains become painted with contrasting shades of blue. It’s a beautiful sight that’s sure to evoke a sense of sublime hunger. Thankfully, the market and all of its glorious street food will only be a few minute walk away.
Just before the market, the promenade has several Petanque courts where local teams gather to practice nightly. Petanque is a game that was introduced to Thailand by Princess Srinagarindra (aka the “Queen Mother”) in the 1970s. As a result, Thailand now has 80,000+ competitive Petanque players and the sport has become a popular pass-time around the country.
At the promenade, you can merely spectate as teams play or even join in – the locals are friendly and will invite you to play a game with them.
By nightfall, the promenade becomes brimming with street vendors and crowded with hungry patrons – mostly local families that set-up picnic-style dinners. Demand definitely outweighs supply here, so expect to wait longer than usual for your food – albeit, the food is worth the wait!
If you do end up going to the market, be sure to stop by the meatball hawker (it’ll be the busiest vendor). After traveling all over Thailand, these are by far the best meatballs we’ve had. They serve an array of pork, beef, and fish meatball dishes – prices are set at 5 or 10 baht each.
If meatballs aren’t your thing, don’t stress. There’s a variety of freshly-made food available – from duck rice to crispy roti to oyster omelettes. As for the quality of the food, all we can say is: everything we ate, was delicious. Price wise, the food was cheaper than in Nong Khai.
With Buddhism being the main religion in Isaan (99% of the population), it’s no wonder that the region is teeming with architecturally complex temples.
In Bueng Kan, Wat Pho Chai Nimit offers travelers the chance to see a different side of temple life. At first glance, its surroundings aren’t as stunning as other temples in the region, but the happiness blooming from within the monks here, is infectious.
The atmosphere at Wat Pho Chai Nimit is truly charming – it’s the first temple that we’ve ever encountered where young monks began playing after their chores were done.
To balance out the energy and childhood essence of the young monks, Wat Pho Chai Nimit is nestled in a village amongst unperturbed natural surroundings. And the relative silence of nature, softens the warm-hearted laughter of the monks.
All things considered, Wat Pho Chai Nimit is an ideal place to spend your evening in Bueng Kan. After touring the temple grounds, you’ll get the chance to watch the colors of a beautiful sunset reflect off the calm waters of the Mekong.
Alternatively, Wat Ahong Silawas also offers amazing sunsets with a more neutral atmosphere than Wat Pho Chai Nimit. It’s also a slightly closer drive from Bueng Kan town (~21 km away).
Wat Ahong Silawas is famous for being right next to the Navel of the Mekong, an area that’s believed to be the deepest section of the lower Mekong basin (196 m). During certain times of the year, the current in this area forms a slow whirlpool and the locals have a legend that characterizes this place as the home of the Naga (a serpent-like semi-divine creature).
Where To Stay: 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.
When To Visit: Bueng Kan attractions are open and worth visiting year-round, except the rainy months of August and September – parts of Bueng Kan’s road networks can become impassable due to flooding. It’s also worth noting that in March and April, you can expect hazy skies due to Isaan’s burning season (all of our pics were taken in late March).
Tip #1: Given how spread out the attractions in Bueng Kan are, its challenging to explore without a vehicle. If you don’t have a vehicle, it’s best to hire a driver or rent a car in Nong Khai, Udon Thani, or Loei – consider making Bueng Kan apart of a longer road trip.
Tip #2: During cold season (October – January), there are several waterfalls to visit (which were unfortunately dried up during our visit). Tat Wimanthip in Pho Mak Khaeng subdistrict, Bueng Khong Long District is considered to be one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Isaan.
Tip #3: Bueng Kan is also home to the Naga Cave hike at Phu Langka National Park. It’s a popular attraction and is currently booked out a year in advance.
Tip #4: When visiting Wat Phu Tok or the other temples mentioned in this article, please dress appropriately – wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants. .