The surreal rock structures of Phu Phra Bat haunt the jungle. This mountainous area of Thailand near both Nong Khai and Udon Thani has hundreds of eroded sandstone columns, many supporting precariously poised cap stones. The park’s pathways wind through the jungle to the historically important rock formations, taking visitors to the places of legend. Literally.
Phu Phra Bat (also spelled Phu Phrabat) is the setting for the legend of princess Nang Usa. Like many a beautiful princess, her tale involves a possessive father who locked her away. A bold prince managed to rescue her from the stone towers of Phu Phra Bat but according to legend, things didn’t really turn out great for Nang Usa.
Even though the legend of Nang Usa didn’t end happily ever after, we completely enjoyed visiting Phu Phra Bat park.
If you’ve read this far, we bet you’ll like the nature and bizarre landscape of Phu Phra Bat too.
Before visiting Phu Phra Bat find out what to expect, what to bring, and how to best spend your time. This post covers all that, plus how to get from Nong Khai to Phu Phra Bat by bus.
Read to the end for information about the rock formations, and of course, the full tale of Nang Usa. Enjoy.
Where is Phu Phra Bat?
Phu Phra Bat Historical Park is close to both Nong Khai and Udon Thani, and you can do it as a day trip (if you spend the night before in Nong Khai that is). The distance from Nong Khai to Phu Phra Bat is approximately 65 km; it’s about 80 km from Udon Thani.
Using a mix of public transport and tuk-tuk, it will take about 2 hours to reach the park. More on that in the ‘getting to Phu Phra Bat’ section below.
When You Arrive at the Park
Phu Phra Bat is well-maintained and has reasonable facilities. It may be in the middle of nowhere but seems well funded, so it’s clean and comfortable.
At the entrance (next to the parking lot) is the Phu Phra Bat Information Center where you can pick up an English map of the park. The park map is free and you’ll want to get it, as the park is a maze of pathways. Don’t forget to sign the guest book.
Inside the Information Center, signs in Thai and English explain the history of each particular rock formation. There’s also information about the trees and flowers you’ll find in the park. Unless you’re into geology and botany the thoroughness of the info gets pretty brain-numbing.
Once you’re done with the Info Center buy your ticket from the booth up the trail, and then present it to the kiosk just a little further along. Here, they hole-punch the ticket and you’re good to go.
Entry into Phu Phra Bat Historical Park is 100 Baht for foreigners.
Expect to spend at least 2 to 3 hours at the park if you want to see everything. We are reasonably fit and it took us 3 full hours to hike the whole place (but we did stop to take lots of photos, so keep that in mind).
Next to the parking lot, before you enter the park, is a minimart-type shop that is your last chance to buy water. We’d recommend carrying at least a liter with you if the day is hot.
Near the minimart and behind the Info Center are some civilized toilet facilities. There are NO toilets facilities in the park itself. If you need to go while hiking you’ll have to bush it. Baw pben nyang.
How are the Phu Phra Bat Hiking Trails?
The hiking in Phu Phra Bat isn’t strenuous, thanks to the maintained pathways and easy elevation gain – you only need moderate fitness. Throughout the park are wooden picnic structures where you can take a break in the shade. There are also plenty of wooden waste baskets. We were happy to see that Phu Phra Bat had zero litter.
The trails themselves were marked in Thai and English, and most steep spots had steps cut out or wooden stairways built. Where the rocks were wet and smooth, signs warned “beware of slippery”, and they weren’t kidding. The combo of water and algae on some of the rocks made them slick.
Prioritizing Your Time at Phu Phra Bat
If you’re tight on time, go to the best areas first. You’ll see (marked in red) on our map below where we’ve designated the best area, the 2nd best area, the nice look off, and the lame area.
The money of Phu Phra Bat is the ‘Best Area’ and the ‘Nice Look Off’.
The ‘Best Area’ has the highest concentration of rock formations, and they’re the ones most closely tied the Nang Usa legend. Here there are many Buddha images carved in and around the rocks.
If you don’t mind a climb, the ‘Nice Look Off’ is worthwhile for the sweeping view. There is a shaded picnic area and, if you had the forethought to pack snacks, this is a nice place to rest and eat.
The ‘2nd Best Area’ has rock formations amid dense jungle. The warped jungle trees strangling the rocks is a highlight of this area. You may enjoy that some of the rocks here have ancient cave paintings (if that’s your thing).
The ‘Lame Area’, is the longest path in Phu Phra Bat historical park, and had the least number of formations. Unlike the other areas there isn’t much shade and the structures are the least impressive. Especially the “underground cave”, which is basically a crack in the ground. If you’ve finished the rest of the park and you’re jonesing for more outdoor exercise, do this loop. Otherwise, skip it.
Buddha Footprint Indentation: As you leave the park, drive up the road outside the security gate, and you’ll find a temple with Buddha’s footprint. Since it isn’t in the main part of the park, and because we were pretty exhausted, we skipped this site.
What to Bring to Phu Phra Bat Park
- Sturdy-ish footwear (we wore sport sandals and did okay). Flip-flops could work, but it would not be the safest idea
- Lots of water
- A picnic lunch or snacks
- Sunblock, sunglasses, and a hat
- Bug spray (it wasn’t that buggy, but Phu Phra Bat is in a malaria zone)
- Umbrella if it looks rainy
Getting to Phu Phra Bat from Nong Khai by Bus
We took the bus from Nong Khai to Phu Phra Bat, and it was simple. Here’s how:
To reach Phu Phra Bat from Nong Khai, we recommending catching the 7:00 AM bus from the Nong Khai bus station, to the town of Ban Phu. Ask around at the bus station for ‘Ban Phu’ and ‘Phu Phra Bat’ and you should find someone to point out which bus to take.
The bus wasn’t a bus, or an air-conditioned minivan – it was a “songthaew”, or a share-taxi pickup truck. Not the most cushioned transportation, but it works.
It cost 55 Baht/person to get to Ban Phu from Nong Khai, we paid at the bus station and got a receipt in return.
Note: There weren’t any sellers open at the time we got to the bus station at 7 AM, so don’t plan on picking up breakfast there.
It took 1 hour to get to the first stop – the town of Thabo. Don’t get off here. After another ½ hour we arrived in Ban Phu. From here, we bargained with one of the many tuk-tuk drivers waiting at the bus stop to take us from Ban Phu to Phu Phra Bat, and back. He offered 500 Baht, we countered with 400 Baht, and that settled it.
The tuk-tuk drivers didn’t speak much English and kept saying “one-way” but with hand gestures (and such) we figured out they actually meant a 2-way trip.
The tuk-tuk took about another ½ hour to get to the park (which is about 10 km from Ban Phu). Phu Phra Bat is near the top of a mountain, and with 2 passengers plus a driver the tuk-tuk didn’t have the power to make it all the way to the top.
We hopped off and walked the last 200 m while the driver pushed his tuk-tuk up to the parking lot (we assume). Before heading off, we confirmed with our driver we’d take 3 hours in the park before returning to Ban Phu.
To get back to Nong Khai from Ban Phu, we caught a songthaew (truck bus) headed to Nong Khai.
We caught it at the same place in Ban Phu we got off in the morning. It stopped in the town of Thabo again, then at the Friendship Bridge bus station, and then the main bus station in Nong Khai. Easy peasy.
Wrap Up and Further Resources
Round trip from Nong Khai to Phu Phra Bat by bus and back, took us from 7:00 AM till 2:00 PM (that’d be 7 hours). We were in the city for the weekend on a visa run from Lao, and the day trip to the park on Saturday was the highlight of our mini-vacation.
Here’s a suggestion if you plan to visit the park. Read about the rock formations of Phu Phra Bat at Travel Fish, and get the full story on Nang Usa from the website of this popular Nong Khai guesthouse.
For those staying overnight in Nong Khai near the river, the monks collect alms along the river pathway in the morning. If you get up at sunrise you can watch the monk procession, catch a tuk-tuk to the bus station, and then get on the 7:00 AM bus to Phu Phra Bat.
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