Phu Phrabat or Phra Bat historical park about 1 1/2 hours from us has been on my list of places to visit since I first read about it in a Trip Advisor list of things to see in Udon Thani province. You will find directions on how to get there from Udon Thani at the end of this post.
We currently have a friend visiting us from Chiang Mai who is a historical site junkie and when he suggested we spent the day at Phu Phrabat I was keen to go along. A couple of reasons. Firstly it sounded like an interesting place to visit and secondly because I want to explore and write about as many of the attractions of Isaan as I can such as our trip to Phu Folium park HERE and Ubol Ratana Lake HERE.
Many people dismiss this part of Thailand as lacking in anything to see or do and I would like to think that the problem is more a lack of people exploring and promoting the sights rather than the them just not existing in this part of the country. Time will tell.
My ulterior motive is that I have several visitors dropping in to stay with us this year and I would like to offer them a list of quality attractions rather than tell them just to bring a supply of good books!
Phu Phra Bat historical park in Udon Thani province in the North East of Thailand is a forested hill with natural rock formations shaped as caves with large rocky overhangs. The caves were used by ancient man as shelter and as temples where Buddha images were enshrined.
What makes this site unique, is that it contains traces of several different civilizations and cultures spanning thousands of years. The hill contains traces of prehistoric man, the Dvaravati period and Khmer presence.
The sandstone rock on top of the hill has been cut out during many centuries by glacier movement, wind and rain. Some of the rock formations provide natural shelter, others were carved into by man thousands of years ago creating cave like structures. Many of the rock formations harbour ancient Buddha images and served as ancient wats (Buddhist temples).*
There are a couple of ways to get to the park and from Si Bun Ruang, our home town, the shortest is to drive to Nong Bua Lamphu, turn left onto the 210 heading toward Loei and then right at the signpost to Phu Phrabat around 15 minutes later. The park is well signposted in both Thai and English and the drive very pleasant in itself passing through a few small towns and Moo Baans and some scenic farming country before rising into some low hills.
Arriving at the park gates you will be asked to part with 100 THB for each farang and 20 THB for any Thais, a fairly common dual pricing structure. Presenting a Thai driver’s licence doesn’t get you a discount this time. For this you are given an excellent pamphlet and map in good English. A short distance after the gates you will see a sign for the car park on your right.
We arrived around lunch time so this little eating place set in the trees was our first stop.
Just the drive and a lunch here in itself would make for great day out….but wait there’s more. After recovering from the trip come out of the restaurant and head left to the park entrance. You’ll see these choices signposted:
The large information centre on the left is closed maybe because there wasn’t enough information to fill it! Instead you will be greeted by a guide to the right of the front entrance who speaks excellent English, knows that Canberra is the capital of Australia, and can give you a few choices for your walk around the park.
The three walking circuits offered taking 45 minutes, one hour or two hours. I would add 50% onto these times. You can take the time limited tourist option, hire a golf cart for 100 THB to carry you to the main attraction area, take a few photos to show you’d been there and get back almost before you left.
We chose the one hour route, which seemed to cover most of the rock formations. The start to the walk is very impressive:
I had done some research on this attraction and the photos I had seen left me with the impression that it was a rather barren place without much greenery so I was surprised to find us walking through forest like this:
You have to remember that it is the cool dry season here and many of the trees are deciduous so nothing like as green or lush as it will be in the wet season April onwards.
The first rock outcrop you come to gives you a taste of what the park is famous for:
If you want to read about the legend that relate to some of these formations then I have included it at the end of this post. These excellent information boards are hidden away at each rock formation. Sometimes you have to look for them.
Prehistoric Rock Paintings – Thousands of years ago, prehistoric man wandered around in this area. They left behind rock paintings made in red color depicting various animals and people. As the sandstone is fairly easy to carve, rooms were cut out some of the rocks to create shelters.
During the early days of Buddhism, the rock formations were used by travelling monks, providing them with shelter. A number of very old Buddha images placed in the caves shows the caves were used as ancient temples.
Back to the car park there is a little known aspect to the park. If you head roughly behind the toilets you will find hidden over a small hill three small guesthouses that can be rented overnight.
You can rent one of these places for 300 THB a night or around A$11.00! Make sure you have privacy and quiet and rent all three 🙂
This is the terrace in front of the house. Hire a tent to place here for that larger group for 50 THB or bring your own and rent the space for 20 THB. Now that’s value!
I can recommend Phu Phrabat historical park. It is well worth a visit if out Udon Thani way. Easier with your own transport but there are tours there so check it out. Another step to proving Isaan isn’t as boring as some say it is. Yay.
Getting there from Udon Thani
The park is 67 km from Udon Thani. Drive along Highway No. 2 (Udon Thani – Nong Khai), and turn left at Km. 13 onto Highway No. 2021. Head towards Amphoe Ban Phue for 42 km, turn right and go continue another 500 meters. Drive straight along Highway No. 2348 for another 12 km and turn right for approximately 2 km before reaching the park.
The original names of the ancient structures at Phu Phrabat are unknown, but local people named them after the content of their folklore called “the Legend of Nang U-sa and Tao Baros”.
According to this legend, Nang U-sa, a foster daughter of Tao Kong Phan who ruled the Kingdom of Phan (now Phu Phrabat), fell in love with Tao Baros, a son of the ruler of Pako City.
The couple secretly lived together in Hoh Nang U-sa (U-sa’s chamber). When Tao Kong Phan knew the truth, he challenged Tao Baros to compete with him to build a temple in one day. Instead, Tao Kong Phan lost and kept his promise to kill the loser, which was himself.
Thereafter, Nang U-sa followed Tao Baros to his kingdom where she was bullied by his former wives. With sorrow, she returned to Phu Phrabat and finally died. Tao Baros followed her to Phan and died from sadness.**
Thanks for reading.
* Renown Travel – website HERE
** You can read an excellent and detailed account of Phu Phrabat HERE