Introducing Phu Phrabat Historical Park
Steeped in local legend and peppered with bizarre rock formations daubed with ancient cave paintings, Phu Phrabat Historical Park (0 4225 1350; admission 30B; 8.30am-4.30pm) is one of the region’s highlights, offering great views from the crags of the Phu Phrabat escarpment and plenty of mythical intrigue. For Isan residents, this is an important place of pilgrimage. For visitors, the side-by-side progression from rock art to Buddhist stupa represents a localised evolution of thought and aesthetics.
The formations are a collection of balanced rocks, spires, whale-sized boulders and caves (more like grottoes or rocky overhangs) with several shrines and wats built in and around them. Prehistoric paintings in several grottoes feature wild animals, humans and cryptic symbols. There are also some small but sophisticated rock carvings of Buddha images dating back to when the Mon and, later, Khmer ruled this area. A climb beyond the rock formations to Pha Sa Dej at the edge of the escarpment ends with dramatic views of the valley below and the mountains of Laos beyond. A well-marked web of trails trail meanders past these sites and you can see all of them in about an hour.
Near the entrance to the area is the largest temple in the historical park Wat Phra That Phra Phutthabaht Bua Bok, with its namesake Lao-style chedi covering a Buddha footprint. It also has some odd temple buildings in the general mood of those in the park.
Most of the bizarre rock formations to be found here are featured in an enchanting local legend about a king (Phaya Kong Phan), his stunningly beautiful daughter (Nang Usua), a hermit (the Rishi Chantra) and a love-struck prince from another kingdom (Tao Baros). The most striking rock formation, Hoh Nang-Usa, an overturned boot-shaped outcrop with a shrine built into it, is said to be the tower where the beautiful princess was forced to live by her overprotective father. Many of these rock formations are signposted with names in Thai and English alluding to the legend, but, unless you’re familiar with it, they’ll make little sense. There’s a short version in the museum, but if you’re staying at the Mut Mee Garden Guest House in Nong Khai, you can read the whole tale.
The park has three simple dormitories (per person 150B) if you want to spend some time here, but they’re geared more towards groups of Thai students. Ask at the office if you want to pitch a tent.
Last updated: Feb 17, 2009
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