It was day four in our intended eight-day scootering adventure around the Isaan region of Thailand, in which only one day of riding had actually taken place. My travel buddy, Ian, and I made it to Bueng Kan without dying or being pulled over by Thai police, or killing one another out of stress. Things were looking up.
(Warning: ridiculous amounts of photographs ahead).
A teeny-weeny village on the Mekong, Bueng Kan was supposed to be a brief stopover on the way down towards Nakhom Phanom and Ubon Ratchathani. However, considering we were finally forced to admit we wouldn’t have time to reach that far south, and our visit to a nearby wat and wildlife reserve would take longer than expected, we opted to spend two nights instead of one.
Well, Bueng Kan was cute, and it had a beach by the river where kids and dogs were playing and stuff — but I just have to tell you about Wat Phu Tok.
Oh, man…I’d travel to the Isaan region alone to experience this landmark. In the middle of nowhere, we had to drive our scooters out of town for an hour to get there. (We initially missed the turn-off and drove twenty kilometres in the wrong direction because, in traditional Southeast Asian fashion, signposting was nearly non-existent).
When we arrived, we were confused. We could see the giant rock with rickety staircases all over it, but not how to get to it. We walked around for ten minutes like lost lambs until we were beckoned into a shady area by some locals, who fed us rice and curry and ice cream and fried bananas and showed us the entrance. I was surprised they didn’t request payment, though Ian mentioned that, as this area was monastery and monk territory, to offer money would likely be insulting. We doled out plenty of smiles and wais instead. This seemed to suffice.
Now wandering successfully in the right direction, we located the first set of many wooden, unnervingly flimsy-looking stairs and began to climb. The jaw-dropping views started to present themselves: an apparently endless, smoky horizon of green trees, peppered with the odd rooftop or spire. The paths wound around the rock, past meditation huts and strategic piles of stones, and continued to climb higher.
Finally, we came upon the two million-dollar spots: a larger hut overlooking scenery seemingly plucked straight out of The Lost World, and a rock face with no fences and a totally uninterrupted bird’s-eye view over Isaan.
Wat Phu Tok reminded me a lot of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka, except there was no $30 entrance fee and almost no people to speak of. Seriously — there were a couple of devout Thais and a cluster of monks, but otherwise, we had the rock all to ourselves. I could have stayed up there for hours, just mentally bottling the silence and pondering life.
What a spectacular day — and the scooter ride home in the late afternoon sun just capped it all off.
If you’re ever in the Isaan region, make a point of getting out here. Seriously — it’s worth it. But, really, the entire region is worth it, with its delightfully chirpy locals who laugh at your appalling Thai but still help you anyway, roast chicken stalls and abundance of sticky rice, scattering of near-empty villages, and the Mekong. Aah, the Mekong.
Thank you, Thailand — for being you.