Guide to Sam Phan Bok

The Grand Canyon in Arizona has stood through time as one of the most iconic marvels of the world – but just the thought of hopping on a 22-hour flight to the US is toe-curling. Unbeknownst to most tourists though, is Sam Phan Bok; an otherworldly hidden gem that’s right here in Thailand.

Rivalling its distant American cousin, Sam Phan Bok is an expansive rock reef in Ubon Ratchathani that’ll leave your mouths agape in awe.

Geological wonder in the Mekong River

Sam Phan Bok
Image credit: DSC Image via @thailandaro

The name ‘Sam Phan Bok’ translates to ‘3,000 shallow lakes’ in the Isan language spoken in northeastern Thailand, and it’s clear why.

Sam Phan Bok
Image credit: @adaras

One look at the place and you’ll be transported to an almost moon-like planet, with what seem to be a thousand craters all around you. These holes were actually formed over a million years ago from the river’s rapids.

Sam Phan Bok
Take a walk around to spot interestingly-shaped holes like these double hearts
Image credit: @payuboom

Sam Phan Bok hidden mickey
And this perfect Hidden Mickey!
Image credit: @oleever_oza

One peculiar rock to look out for the dog-shaped cliff. Legend has it that a long time ago, a city ruler discovered gold treasure beneath the rapids. A dog was left to guard the hole, but the ruler, consumed by greed, decided to take the gold and leave through another hole.

As such, the poor dog was left waiting until it passed away. Other tales recount a dog turning into stone while protecting the area 

Sam Phan Bok dog head
Do you see the dog’s head?
Image credit: @banky405_photo

When here, don’t leave as soon as the sun sets. With such a vast area untouched by commercial buildings, it’s the perfect set-up for some stargazing action come nighttime.

Sam Phan Bok at night
Image credit: @photogolfphy

Getting to Sam Phan Bok

Sam Phan Bok
Image credit: @a_ananzz

The reefs are located in the Pho Sai district of Ubon Ratchathani, which is considered one of the four major cities in Thailand’s northeastern Isan region. 

A visit here will have you filling up your itinerary with lots to do such as temple hopping, so no need to worry about going out of your way just to pop by Sam Phan Bok for a day.

Sam Phan Bok
Use the unique formations and play around with angles to get cool shots like this
Image credit: @oranginizer

One can hitch a ride to Sam Phan Bok on a local pick-up, with prices starting at ~฿20. Taxi rides are the more comfortable option (from ~฿1,500) and can be taken from Pho Sai bus station.

Those really looking for an adventure can get here via a long-tailed boat along the Mekong River, which starts from ~฿500 (prices may vary depending on ride time). The best time to visit would be during dry season from December to May, where the rocks aren’t covered with water.

Though Thailand sees seasoned travellers all the time, it’s refreshing to discover new places to visit – even ones that have been around for centuries.

Also read:

Sam Phan Bok
Address: Lao Ngam, Pho Sai District, Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Co-ordinates: 15°47’46.4″N 105°23’43.6″E
Google Maps

Cover images adapted from (L-R): @oranginizer, @adaras, @photogolfphy

Enjoying The Smart Local Thailand? Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more stories like this.