Thailand's North-East

BEUNG KAN / A HONG

Global Mark : 13.44

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Parks Culture Minor. Market Relax Fiesta 

Cost

AVER.
4 5 1 4 2 2 5 2 4 12.89

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
1 100% (1) 100% (1) 100% (1) 14 14.00


Description :
  A relaxed but expanding city or an hideaway village, both by the Mekong

Comments : Both are great places to break your journey between That Phanom and Nong Khai

What to do ? 
- In Beung Khan : Walk the relaxed streets by the Mekong or the busy streets by the market / Visit a few temples / Taste snacks / Shop / Meet Lao people at the market (Tuesday & Friday morning)
- In A Hong : Not much to do but relax and enjoy the view over Laos / If too much temptation and dry season, cross the river on foot / Go round the huge rocks of the temple / Say "hello, I am..." to the monks / Say "hi, my name is..." to the kids / Walk the tiny village / In the evening, sit by the Mekong and enjoy the great sky show / Listen to the forest
- In the surroundings : Hitch your way around / Spot the reflection of temples in small lakes / Walk a peaceful flower garden full of butterflies / Climb wooden stairs inside a forest & caves / Walk round a massive sandstone on narrow wooden paths high above the ground / Smell the bats / Admire a breathtaking panorama / Walk the path again, in reverse direction for reverse perspectives / Test the water of 4 different waterfalls / Explore : there are treasures to be discovered ! 

What you may not like ? 
- In Beung Kan : The lack of attractions in town / The lack of cheap accommodations / The not so impressive section of the Mekong
- In A Hong : Not being completely out of civilization : you can hear the traffic further on the main road, motorbikes are cruising the village street and some local come to enjoy the sunset with pick-up truck / Being caught in Laos without visa (crossing the river is of course illegal for westerners) / The flies, ants & mosquitoes / Getting clouds over your sunset
- In the surroundings : The lack of public transport / Sweating too much on the way up / The insects at the upper section / Finding some waterfall dry 

How long ? How long are peace or exploration worth ?


Where to stay ? 

- In Beung Kan : A few places around town. Among those :

  • Mekong GH (042 491341), 202 Chansin Rd, opposite the river / English Owner / Rooms w. HW shower & local TV 250, w. AC 350 / Future internet cafe / Go there for the clean comfortable rooms and the tips & conversation of the owner / What you may not like : the cost per square meter
  • Samamit Hotel (491078), 343 Prasatchai Rd / Sgl 120 or 140 w. TV, Dbl w. TV 190 / Go there for the cheapest price in town & the acceptable rooms / What you may not like : not getting attached shower for those prices & the lack of charm

- In A Hong : One GH only but fortunately a good one with large bungalows well isolated in luxuriant vegetation :

  • Hideaway GH, hidden in the forest between the temple & the village / Rooms w. fan 60, bungalow w. shower 100(1), 150(2) / Mosquito nets / Dutch owner w. Thai lady / Go there as this is the only place around ! / What you may not like : the bad noise isolation of the cheaper rooms

- In the surroundings : no GH nor Hotels at Siwilai and a regulations sigh at Wat Phu Tok reads "For travelers or tourists not to stay here overnight". Does that mean it is compulsory to spend the night there ?


Where to eat ? 
- In Beung Kan : at the night market
- In A Hong : At the GH, reasonably priced, tasty & well served or at a few basic places in the village or by the temple


An holly Rock adventure ? 

Wat Phu Tok ("The lonely hill"), a very original temple by any standard as built on the cliff of a huge sandstone, is located 50km south-east of Beung Kan. From there (B10 from A Hong), board a bus to the village of Siwilai (28km, B10) then switch to a songthaew for the remaining 20km (B15). Hitching your way is off course possible and it is actually recommended in order not to waste too much time waiting for a bus to leave or a songthaew to fill up... Indeed, except if you have your own transport, count on nearly a full day to reach, visit & come back. 

After a 20mn songthaew ride from A Hong, I reached the intersection of Road 212 with Road 222 heading toward Siwilai. Patience for this section looked to be optional : nearly all the drivers stopped at my signal ! This was fortunate as I had to ride three different pick-up before reaching the small town. Even so, it did not take me more than 40mn to complete this section. 

At Siwilai, two songthaews were waiting for passengers (B15) but, on a week day, it was obvious that they would wait a long long time. I therefore decided to apply the same techniques as before : keep moving and stop any vehicle passing by. It made wonder : I had not walked more than 50 meters than a motorbike driver offered me the ride. Was it really for free ? I am not sure he understood my question but I decided to trust his "yes" anyway. And indeed, after 30mn on the road, he did not ask for anything. 

The next 3 hours were enchanting as I discovered what is certainly one of the most original & striking temple of Thailand. Not that the Buddha figures are less kitschy than usual (in fact they are few & ugly) but because of the setting itself : wooden stairs and pathways around a massive sandstone covered with luxuriant vegetation. There was supposed to be 7 "floors" (it took 5 years to complete them) but I discovered only three after sweating a bit on the stairs : stage 5 with its big praying hall & unbalancing rock (Buddhaviharn), amazing stage 6 with its narrow pathway going all around the rock & offering a striking panorama and stage 7, the summit, with its jungle secrets. The latest is a bit difficult to access & visit as nature is left untouched : you need to grasp roots to climb and at the top, fray your way on the narrow path. 

Of course, my visit would have been better had the batteries of my camera not decided to go on definite vacations. I suppose this will be just another incentive to go back there one day : immortalize on film that great experience !

As I expected, going back was slightly more difficult : not too many vehicles around... An old lady generously offered me a ride but the car she had ordered was suffering engine deficiency. So I walked the village and its nice surroundings for 20 minutes, until a pick up showed up and stopped. 

From Siwilai, things went differently. It was not that a few pick-up did not stop. They all did not stop ! Fortunately, a bus showed up half an hour later. So I paid B10 and traveled in comfort (yes, compared to the bed of a pick up, it was !). One guy however did not appreciate this bus too much : the old motorbike driver who bumped into our back bumper after a too sudden brake. Thanks to his helmet, he was groggy but survived. 

Except for the incident, the same scenario took place in Beung Kan : after trying unsuccessfully to hitch my way from the main road, I boarded a bus (last one at 6pm) and traveled in luxury (ok, this time, I exaggerate a bit) for the 22km. 

 << Discover two aspects of this great sight


Refreshing waterfalls ? I did not splash personally but there are at least 4 waterfalls on he east of Wat Phu Tok. Chet Si, the nearest but still around 10km away, is accessible from the temple via Ban Don Siat. Tum Tun is the nearest from Road 212 and is considered the nicest but you will need to charter a boat from the village (10mn, B100). Crocodiles were reported swimming in the upper pool...

 
Leaving the area ?
Fan Buses ply the route Nong Khai - Nakhon Pathom during the day. It cost B90 for the whole journey (7 hours), B65 from NP to Beung Kan (4 hours), B70 to A Hong (4.5) and B40 from A Hong to Nong Khai (2.5 hours). A few buses to further away destinations (Bangkok for example) are also available from Beung Kan. 

Backpacker's Tips : Ralf S, Australia (June 03)
 The Hideaway GH has changed the owner, it is now run by two Thai ladies, the new name is Ahong Guesthouse, they have 2 bungalows for 150 Baht each 
Fan-Bus Ahong to Ahong 80 Baht / Ahong to Nong Khai 50 Baht 
Wat Phu Tok: is open daily 10h - 16h
Fan-bus Beung Khan to Siwilai is 12 Baht


The trip to Nong Khai : SSS / L&R / B45 / 2 hrs / Fan Bus
Another slow ride to let the passengers sleep peacefully and plenty of stops along the way to let more people join the club. The scenery was also not too disturbing with no Mekong in sight.
At half way, the driver however decided that we had all slept enough and changed gears... This gave me the opportunity to inform them one more time that I was wishing to get off at Wat Keo Kou, 4km before Nong Khai.
As we approached the city, I however suspected that they would not follow my request too much as probably having forgotten or misunderstood it. So I got up and strategically waited by the driver until reaching the dropping point. A good idea.

See also the trip from Nakhon Phanom