One of the most compelling and interesting destinations in the region to the east east of Nong Khai is the hilltop meditation retreat of Wat Phu Thok. Wat Phu Thok resides near the foot of two massive sandstone outcrops on a plain 35 km to the southeast of Muang Bueng Kan in Nong Khai province. Wat Phu Thok accommodates for fifty or so monks, which live in scattered huts on perches high above breathtaking cliffs on the sandstone mountains. Wat Phu Thok has been turned into a a quite Meditation retreat, famous with locals and foreigners alike.
While driving from Bueng Kan towards Wat Phu Thok, the two sandstone outcrops comes into ones sight long before one gets there. Its impressive red sandstone wall, surrounded by green vegetation and lush forests on the narrow Khorat plateau is most astonishing. While getting closer to the rock, the white lines on its wall across the whole mountain reveal themselves as wooden walkways, constructed in seven connected levels, which represent the seven different stages of enlightenment in the Buddhist belief.
The beautiful garden at the base is reflected in a small lake and houses a marble chedi, which commemorates Phra Ahjan Juen, the founder of Wat Phu Thok. He founded the temple in 1968 and died in a plane crash ten years later on the way to Bangkok.
By following long, sometimes slippery, wooden staircases takes you to the third level. Here the visitor is presented with a choice of two routes which will finally lead to the top. One – the left way is more interesting – as it leads around the rock to the fifth and most important level of the Wat Phu Thok complex, where temple's main Buddha statue is housed in the Sala Yai in a dimly lit small cavern.
The artificial ledges, which are built into the rock and across the northeastern face are not for the fainthearted, as crossing these bridges gives the feeling of walking into the air...But they will lead you finally to the dramatic northwestern end of the level five. Here a deep crevice can be crossed by using a wooden bridge which was constructed by monks to connect to the open-sided Buddha viharn.
This spot allows for most stunning views over a broad sweep of the Isaan countryside and across to the second, uninhabited sandstone outcrop. The flat top of the hill forms the seventh level, where you can wander through overgrown paths and thick forest. Make sure, that you remember where your entrance/exit to the seventh level was, as it is easy to lose the orientation on the dense jungle covered hill top - or one could say to find enlightenment will searching the way back...
The visit with my family to Wat Phu Thok was amongst the best experiences and day trips I ever did.
A great, easy and pleasant journey.