Sam Phan Bok – The Grand Canyon of Thailand

Thailand is home to many of nature’s wonders from its world-class beaches to more of the curious formations that attracted many travelers throughout the country.

One of the famous spots is Thailand’s very own Grand Canyon.

Sam Phan Bok

The Sam Phan Bok is a canyon by the Mekong River. It earned the name of being the Grand Canyon of Thailand because it has a form of resemblance to the ones in Arizona, USA.

Although both landforms are different from each other, the rock formations are kind of similar.

A lot of visitors who come here don’t realize that this place can be divided into two distinct landforms.

Some only see the magnificent rocks cliffs that they call the Grand Canyon, but another part of Sam Phan Bok is the naturally-formed rock basins.

One of the things that might come into your mind when you visit this place is that the whole rock landscape looks like it was carved out by an ice cream scoop.

Sam Phan Bok literally means “3,000 shallow lakes” and this stretches up to 30 square kilometers.

The landscape slowly transitions from the grassy embankments, powdery sands, to the shallow river, and eventually, you’ll start to see the rock basins with various sizes sometimes filled with clear water.

Most of it is stunning shades of grey but as you go on, you’ll see them transform into orange and jet black.

This place is definitely pulled out of a sci-fi filming set. You’ll even feel that you’re on a different planet or standing on the craters of the moon.

The only thing that will remind you that you’re still on Earth is an occasional fisherman who would set out their nets to catch fish.

Creation of Sam Phan Bok

No one really knows how and when Sam Phan Bok was created but this curious landscape sparked variations of local myth.

One legend says that a child who lived in the Khong River wanted to dig a water channel so he can create another waterway.

Then he left his dog to guard the digging site until the child didn’t come back and the dog turned into stone.

Another legend is that there’s a greedy king who was digging for treasure. After making thousands and thousands of holes, he finally found a pile of gold.

He was convinced that there are a lot more nearby, so he left the dog to guard the hole while he carried his gold away to his palace.

For some reason, the king didn’t come back, and the dog waited at the same spot until he turned into stone.

Sure enough, one of the big formations in Sam Phan Bok looks like the head of a dog.

Other formations resemble the head of Mickey Mouse, hearts, or a vase that you could give it a rub to bring you good luck.

But the creation of this natural formation can be credited to nature itself. It’s believed that this natural phenomenon is caused by the rushing water from the Mekong River.

The swirling rapids sweep stone, gravel, sand, and other debris to scrub and erode the sandstone bar which in turn created more than 3,000 holes of various shapes and sizes.

Things to do in Sam Phan Bok

Sam Phan Bok is a playground for those who love nature and photography. In this site, you won’t run out of things to look at and admire.

You could catch a tour guide that the locals offer in Sam Phan Bok. They will take you to along the banks where the most beautiful formations are located.

Although you can explore this site on your own, joining a tour means getting yourself a ride on a wooden longtail boat that the locals use to travel along the Mekong River when the water level is too low.

On that angle, you’ll see the 90-degree rock walls of Sam Phan Bok which likened this site to the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

There’s no entrance or nature fee to visit Sam Phan Bok. A boat tour will cost you around 500 Baht for a 30-minute trip and the songthaew driver will be your guide for no extra charge.

They might speak little or no English at all but they will lead you to the most interesting rock formations in Sam Phan Bok.

When to visit Sam Phan Bok

Because the Grand Canyon itself is under the Mekong River, you can only visit Sam Phan Bok during drought. If not, the river rises and covers the entire area.

If you’re planning to visit this site, you should do it anytime between November and April when the river starts to evaporate and dry out in the heat.

While a day trip is great, you should at least try to go to Sam Phan Bok at sunrise or sunset where the water and rocks reflect the light from the sun, and you could see it change colors.

Plus, it’s really hot midday so to avoid exhaustion from the heat, go here when the sun is not fully up or it’s starting to go down.

How to go to Sam Phan Bok

Sam Phan Bok is located in Ban Phong Pao, Ubon Ratchathani about nine hours away from the Suvarnabhumi Airport, There are different ways to go to Sam Phan Bok depending on your time and budget.

The easiest way to go here is to fly. You can catch a flight from Suvarnabhumi to Ubon which will cost you a minimum of 880 Baht.

Then take a metered taxi to Sam Phan Bok which is around 1,509 Baht. The whole trip will take around three hours.

If you want to do a bit of travel exploration, then going by the trains is another way to go to Sam Phan Bok.

It will take you roughly about 12 hours to do so make sure it fits in your schedule. From Suvarnabhumi Airport, take the train to Makkasan City Air Terminal which will take you about 22 minutes.

Then change train to Phetchaburi and alight at Hua Lamphong. Change your train again and board the one that goes to Ubon Ratchathani which will take you about eight hours.

Once you’ve reached Ubon, take a metered taxi straight to Sam Phan Bok. The whole trip will cost you around 3,225 Baht.

Going by bus is definitely your cheapest option but it will take a bit of traveling and switching buses if you’re coming from Suvarnabhumi Airport.

The trip will take you around 15 hours and will cost you 1,249 Baht. From the airport, go straight to Bangkok Mochit Bus Terminal either by bus or train. Then get a ride to Pho Sai, Ubon Ratchathani.

The terminal has three daily trips to Ubon so make sure to check their schedule. The bus ride will take about 13 hours. Once you’ve reached Pho Sai, take a taxi to Sam Phan Bok.

Things to bring to Sam Phan Bok

The first thing that you should keep in mind is that you’ll visit Sam Phan Bok during the drought season so expect it to be incredibly hot especially if you’re not used to Southeast Asian weather.

Here is a small list to keep your Sam Phan Bok exploration as comfortable as possible:

  • Sunscreen. Unless you want to get sunburnt, don’t skip on your sunscreen even if you’re visiting the site at sunrise or sunset. Do so especially when you’re visiting Sam Phan Bok at midday.
  • Water. Don’t forget to bring your reusable bottle filled with water. You don’t want to experience a heatstroke or a bad case of dehydration on your trip so make sure that you stay well-hydrated. Don’t leave your water bottles behind and litter plastic around the area. It’s always a good practice to leave nothing behind when you’re visiting any tourist sites.
  • Comfortable clothing. You should wear comfortable clothing when visiting Sam Phan Bok. It’s not really necessary to wear anything special for the climate but cotton or linen will keep the sweat away. Try to wear rubber shoes, sneakers, or any footwear with straps so you can comfortably climb the canyon or go around the rocks.

Now that you know all about Sam Phan Bok and its wonders that are likened to the Grand Canyon, this place will be a great destination if ever you have the time to go to Thailand.

To see the wonderful rock formations is truly worth the long ride to Sam Phan Bok.

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