The rural Chaiyaphum area in northeast Thailand boasts rolling green hills, cool air, and some of Thailand’s finest natural beauty. Despite this, few foreign tourists make it here due to the region’s remoteness and difficulty of reaching, but if you’ve got your own wheels (or aren’t afraid to spend a little cash to do something different), Pa Hin Ngam National Park is worth the trip.
The park’s hauntingly distinct rock formations draw visitors year-round, but it becomes an especially popular place among locals when the pink blossoms of dok kra jiao (Siamese tulips) blanket the park’s hillsides from June to August. The flowers were fully in bloom during our recent visit, and we enjoyed a picturesque landscape that reminded me a little of that poppy flower field where Dorothy and her crew fall under the spell of hallucinations in the Wizard of Oz.
While it’s possible to walk around the park as much as you like, most choose to first hop on one of the park-provided, open-air trams that shuttle visitors from the welcome centre to where most of the trails begin near the top of the mountain. I generally prefer to rely on my own two legs rather than shuttle buses whenever possible, but after cruising the park with a group of cheerful locals while listening to the goofy yet enjoyable melodies of northeastern Thai country music that blared over the shuttle speakers, I quickly found myself swept up in the fun-loving atmosphere of Isaan folk enjoying their day off.
Once at the top, we set out on a mountain path that snakes through dense forest and around rock formations that look to have been deliberately scattered throughout the woods by giants. At a few points along the trail, the forest cleared just enough to catch a glimpse of the expansive green valley below.
The path then emerged onto a walkway raised over lush green hillsides with pink dok kra jiao hovering gracefully over the grasses. Resembling lotuses and tulips, these pink blossoms are considered by Thais to be among the most beautiful flowers in a country filled with endless varieties that include more than 1,000 types of orchids alone.
Further down the hill, we strayed off the main path to soak up the scenery at a pond rimmed by breathtaking pink-green hillside. The sun emerged from behind a cloud. Sporadic streams of water trickled over rocks. The flowers shimmered ever so slightly in a gentle breeze.
We then made our way towards the western part of the park to check out a cluster of the large, oddly shaped rock formations after which the park is named (pa hin ngam translates to “forest of beautiful stones”). Geologically speaking, wind and sand has thinned the bases of the rocks over time causing a “lollypop effect” with thin bases and fat tops, but a local legend tells how the stones are embodiments of angry terrestrial spirits jutting forth from the ground. Even while being climbed upon by crowds of weekending locals eager for a photo-op, the rock formations are indeed impressive.
Pa Hin Ngam National Park is located in the southwest corner of Chaiyaphum province, near the borders of Lopburi, Petchabun, and Nakhon Ratchasima provinces. It’s less than a two-hour drive from Chaiyaphum town, and just over two hours from Nakhon Ratchasima, Pak Chong or Lopburi. The park is deep in a rural area well away from any bus routes, so private transport is needed (you could rent a motorbike, car, or car/driver from any of the larger destinations mentioned above).
From Chaiyaphum, head west on route 225, then hang a left onto route 2354 in the village of Nong Bua Rawe and follow signs to the park from there. It can get uncomfortably crowded on Saturdays and Sundays when the dok kra jiao are in bloom from June to August, but on weekdays the crowds thin considerably. There are a few resorts near the park, and tents may be rented for use at a small campground near the welcome centre. Admission is 100 baht per person.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 23rd September, 2014.