Sam Phan Bok is a curious natural wonder located in Thailand’s eastern Ubon Ratchathani province, close to the borders with Laos and Cambodia. It is best visited in the dry season when the water level of the river is at its lowest; when the water level is high you will not be able to see what makes this area so special and unusual. The best months to visit are between November and April.
Sam Phan Bok translates as “3,000 holes”. It is often marketed as the Grand Canyon of Thailand – although it is, of course, nowhere near as big as the real Grand Canyon in the US!
It is a natural phenomenon where hundreds and thousands of holes have been worn away in the ground’s surface by the water of the mighty Mekong River. During the dry season you can walk along the dry edges of the river and see this awesome sight. Some holes are small and some are huge, some are dry and others are filled with water – you can clamber down into some of the large dry holes and have a picture taken where you look so tiny in the gaping opening!
Some holes are said to resemble things too – a favourite is the combination of holes that looks like Mickey Mouse’s head! Look out for a heart shape and various creatures and animals. It is a pitted and rocky landscape, with numerous interesting features.
Trucks wait to drive people down onto the sandy and rocky surface, although it is also possible to walk by yourself. Make sure that you take plenty of water if you are planning to explore as it is a really large area and it can get very hot! Whilst there are places to buy refreshments up near the car parking area, once you go down onto the river bed there are no facilities.
You can also take a boat trip along the Mekong, taking in the sides of the yarning canyon, admiring the usual scenery, and watching local fishermen at work. You’ll probably also spot lots of rods and nets left in the water by hopeful fishermen. There are also sections of rapids.
You can visit a lunar-esque area nearby where the volcanic rocks from many many moons ago stretch out into the distance next to the water. Look out for the rocks that have unusual features – there is one that resembles an open crocodile’s mouth and another that has a raised part that looks just like a flower vase!
It is possible to get to Sam Phan Bok using public transport. The town of Khong Chiam is a popular base; it has lots of accommodation options and well as a good selection of places to eat and drink. Minivans run to Sam Phan Bok from Khong Chiam. If you vhave your own transportation and plan to visit independently it is well sign-posted.
Despite being one of Thailand’s most impressive natural destinations, the remote location means that it sees relatively few foreign visitors. It really is a great place to visit if you are in the Isan region of Thailand.
/// Written by Sarah-Jane Williams, Thailand