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The magic of Pha Taem, north of Khong Chiam

To give you an idea of its location, the park lies 20 kilometres north of Khong Chiam. The sandstone plateau that has made the park famous extends for over 200 metres and looks out over both the Mekong River and Laos. Erosion has led to the formation of mushroom-shaped rock formations here. The waterfalls have … stop! Its time to get on your bike and follow me: the magic lies directly east.

How can one describe Pha Taem in mere words?

Get ready to enjoy this place: your trip to Thailand is just beginning … 

To begin with, you're impressed. In front of you, down below, the forest extends right to the very banks of the Mekong River. And in the river, you can pick out several little sand-coloured islets standing out from the water's surface. You raise your eyes, and there before you stand the hills of Laos, endless, lushly vegetated, and presenting a variety of shade and colour that simply has no equal.

Your curiosity now aroused, you decide to head down. You follow the steep path, and after a few minutes of ascents and descents, you finally arrive at the foot of the sandstone cliffs. Standing there, open-mouthed in astonishment, you begin to make out the details of the 2000-year-old plus rock paintings. You first recognise simple geometric shapes, then human hands, mammals, tortoises, and finally, people. Your heart beats a little faster. Could it be that Pha Taem is going to surprise you?

You continue along the path, stopping to observe the odd lizard, camouflaged, stock still, and pretending not to notice you. The vegetation grows incredibly lush and thick here, and flowing by is the eternal Mekong, relentlessly pursuing its course. Then finally the abundant flora gives way to a forest of strange stones. Erosion has slowly and patiently worked away at these rocks, its irresistible force gradually forming them into tall, strange mushroom shapes. Dispersed across the plateau, they stand locked in an eternal battle with the winds..

Pha Taem

And further to the north, the water too is busy playing its part. Waterfalls crash down through the vegetation, cutting natural pools into the rock in places. Dropping ten metres down into a pool located in a light-bathed hollow, the wild and unique waterfall of Sang Chan will soothe and refresh your skin after the burning sun of Isan. Might Pha Taem have even more to offer?

Confidently, you venture on towards the turns and meanders of the nourishing river. A peacefully sitting fisherman offers you a smile. And in the distance, in the watercolour dusk, a bare-chested old man casts his net from his colourful boat. You believe you can make out the lines of his face. And there are monks here too, making the most of the sunset before heading back, you imagine, to the temple of Wat Tham Patiham. Then, fearing the night may be open you before you know it, and despite the fact that wild, untamed Pha Taem has not yet revealed all its secrets to you, you turn your back on this idyllic riverside scene.

As you've no doubt gathered, exploring Thailand's Khong Chiam and surrounding region is not something that can be done in a day. Keen hikers are likely to want to stay on in Isan for a while, whereas those of a more contemplative bent will no doubt be tempted spend some time exploring the banks of the Mekong.  

Sébastien Cuzol
16 contributions
Updated 6 March 2018
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