Photo: Interesting snacking.

Things to see and do

Around 30km of Rong Khlua Market and a kilometre west of the Cambodia border off Highway 3446

Originally dedicated the Hindu god Shiva, the ancient sandstone sanctuary of Prasat Sadok Kok Thom stands as the most noticeable evidence that the area around modern Aranyaprathet was once an outpost of the Khmer empire based at Angkor.

Over the course of the last several decades, the Thai Fine Arts Department oversaw a restoration (essentially a rebuild) that was completed in 2018. Upon the original laterite base, workers used freshly cut chunks of sandstone along with ancient fragments from the original site to reconstruct the towering central prang. The inner sanctum is now empty, but it’s thought to have once held a sacred lingum, a phallic symbol representing Shiva.

Shady and atmospheric. Photo taken in or around Aranyaprathet, Thailand by David Luekens.

Shady and atmospheric. Photo: David Luekens

Other parts of the complex were also rebuilt and it’s easy to tell the new from the old. The result is that the sanctuary looks astonishing from afar but disappointing at close range, at least when compared to many other ruins scattered around Cambodia and Thailand.

With only bits of original detail including images of nagas and Shiva on his peacock Vahana, you’ll find no full lintels of the types adorning Phanom Rung or Banteay Chhmar, for example.

Photogenic. Photo taken in or around Aranyaprathet, Thailand by David Luekens.

Photogenic. Photo: David Luekens

Yet the 11th-century sanctuary partly makes up for the lack of detail by way of its haunting surrounds. A dramatic lead-up takes you on a long laterite walkway draped in branches until the ruins come into view. You then ascend through a gopura before treading a second walkway rimmed by smooth pillars that have stood the test of time. Only then do you the reach the main sanctuary buttressed by galleries and what’s left of two libraries.

Elsewhere on the grounds you’ll find the remains of ancient walls and a rectangular reservoir that explains the site’s name, meaning “Large Temple Beside a Reservoir”. Apart from some locals fishing in the water, few others were around when we visited.

Echoes of Phimai. Photo taken in or around Aranyaprathet, Thailand by David Luekens.

Echoes of Phimai. Photo: David Luekens

With the restoration complete, however, local officials have begun promoting the site to Thai tourists, adding structures for souvenir and food shops beside the car park. Don’t be surprised to find busloads of Thais here in the future.

More information
Prasat Sadok Kok Thom (also spelt Sdok Khok Thom among other ways) is located roughly 30km north of Rong Khlua Market and a kilometre west of the Cambodia border off Highway 3446. From Aranyaprathet, head towards the border and turn north along the front side of Rong Khlua Market, and from there it’s a straight shot. This road runs very close to the border so don’t be surprised if you hit a Thai military checkpoint. If wanting to avoid that, try taking Highway 348 and then turning right on 3018.

Sa Kaeo province, Thailand
T: (037) 556 500

Nestled in a remote, mountainous region near the Cambodia border in eastern Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province, Pang Sida National Park is less accessible than Khao Yai to the west, but also far less touristy.

Show up on a weekday and there’s a good chance you’ll be sharing the park’s 594 square kilometres only with its many species of wildlife. If arriving between May and September, you’ll also get to frolic with the thousands of butterflies that emerge from the forest during wet season.

What the world looked like before roads, cities and twinkies. Photo taken in or around Aranyaprathet, Thailand by David Luekens.

What the world looked like before roads, cities and twinkies. Photo: David Luekens

We visited Pang Sida as a day trip from Bangkok (the park is a four-hour drive from the city), and apart from a handful of local teenagers out for a picnic, we didn’t see any other visitors on a weekday. Our first stop was Pang Sida Waterfall, located off a short trail less than a kilometre past the park’s visitor centre. Several small sets of falls flow over short drops before you reach the largest tier, where water cascades over a 10-metre slope into a pool that’s suitable for a dip.

We then discovered dozens of butterflies on the smooth rocky surfaces near Pang Sida falls, where they gather to drink from the puddles. Butterflies in bright orange and white, and black and blue, joined several varieties of moths, including groups of small, vibrant yellow ones and larger white ones with intricate brown patterns adorning their wings.

Don’t forget your swim suit. Photo taken in or around Aranyaprathet, Thailand by David Luekens.

Don’t forget your swim suit. Photo: David Luekens

Further up the road we entered the “official” butterfly zone, where puddles of sugar water lure them by the hundreds. A few info boards with names and pictures of the more than 400 types of butterflies found in the park are posted near a concrete sculpture of a butterfly that looks more like a killer mosquito out of some ill-conceived horror flick.

We drove further north to a gated checkpoint that gives way to a red-dirt road. The region beyond this gate is so remote that visitors are required to fill out a form before entering. Once on the road we drove up and down steep hills through jungle so thick that we could hardly see a few metres into the foliage. In this area we were told to watch out for wild elephants, though we didn’t see any.

We did spot a brown eagle that shot out suddenly in front of us over the road, showing off an impressive wingspan. It eluded our camera before disappearing over the old-growth treetops within seconds. At a remote (and deserted) camping area halfway up the road, however, a handful of macaques were more photogenic.

Into the jungle. Photo taken in or around Aranyaprathet, Thailand by David Luekens.

Into the jungle. Photo: David Luekens

After 25 kilometres of winding through the jungle we emerged at a viewpoint where the vast green mountains of Thap Lan National Park to the north are visible. The only sounds were the buzzing of dragonfly wings and leaves rustling in the breeze. Here we took advantage of one of the picnic tables and enjoyed the sticky rice and grilled chicken we’d brought along.

Pang Sida Waterfall is more refreshing and tranquil than dramatic, but we’ve heard about some larger falls reached by one- to two-day treks elsewhere in the park. Khwae Makha Waterfall, for example, features several tiers with water plunging from from 70 metres above a pool surrounded by dense jungle. If wanting to explore these and the other falls found deep in the jungle, it’s necessary to stop by the visitor centre and arrange for a ranger to accompany you. This could be a challenge, depending on language barriers and whether or not a ranger feels like making the trek.

The campground is been overrun by monkeys! Photo taken in or around Aranyaprathet, Thailand by David Luekens.

The campground is been overrun by monkeys! Photo: David Luekens

We found Pang Sida to be an impressive, almost untouched mass of jungle that’s worthwhile especially for those willing to slow down and look for wildlife. Compared to Khao Yai, for example, it has few specific attractions, but the atmosphere is serene and free of tour buses. Those looking to settle into the nature will find basic bungalows starting at 600 baht per night, and tents rented for 225 baht. There’s also a small restaurant in this same area, near the visitor centre. The park draws few foreign visitors so don’t expect much English to be spoken by officials.

More information
The visitor centre and Pang Sida Waterfall are located a short distance off Highway 3462, just north of the village of Tha Yaek and around 30 km northeast of the provincial capital of Sa Kaeo. We were told told that public minibuses may run from Sa Kaeo to the park during butterfly season, but we've not verified this. The park can also be hit from the border crossing town of Aranyaprathet, 60 km to the southeast.

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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Aranyaprathet? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Thailand.

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