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Phu Phrabat Historical Park/Thailand

Introducing Phu Phrabat Historical Park

Steeped in mythical intrigue and peppered with bizarre rock formations, Phu Phrabat is one of Isan's highlights. Sometime around the turn of the millennium, during the Dvaravati era, local people built Hindu and Buddhist shrines alongside the many spires, whale-sized boulders and improbably balanced rocks here. But prehistoric paintings on several rock overhangs, best seen at side-by-side Tham Woau and Thom Khon, show this was probably regarded as a holy site at least 1500 years earlier. A climb beyond these rock formations to Pha Sa Dej, at the edge of the escarpment, ends with dramatic views of the farms and forest beyond. A web of trails meanders past all these sites and you can see them in a leisurely two hours, but it's worth spending several more. A remoter northern loop is lovely, but not well marked so it's easy to get lost.

Many of the rock formations feature in a fairy tale about a king (Phaya Kong Phan), his stunningly beautiful daughter (Nang U-sa), a hermit (Ruesi Chanta) and a love-struck prince (Tao Baros) from another kingdom. The most striking rock formation, Hor Nang U-sa, 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, a short version of which can be read in the museum. If you're staying at the Mut Mee Garden Guesthouse in Nong Khai, you can read the entire tale.

Near the entrance is Wat 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.

There are campsites and three lovely bungalows with rock-hard mattresses.