Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pha Taem National Park Cliff Paintings and Sao Chaliang

Another cool thing we did in Ubon this year was go to a national park in Amphoe Khong Chiam. I'm pretty sure the park was called Pha Taem National Park, but can't be 100% positive as I feigned sleeping in the backseat of the car as we passed through the Park Ranger gate (Entrance fee collection area). Ya see, for a Thai it is about 20-40 baht (around a dollar) to enter the national parks here. For a foreigner it is about 400 baht (nearer to $10 but a still decent chunk of change). Usually we can get in by talking to the rangers and showing them my passport, visas, work permit, etc, but it's a hassle and hit or miss. This time I just let the family do the talking and acted like I was snoozin' away in the back seat!Anyway, one of the coolest places we saw was an area where there were natural stone formations, formed from centuries of erosion. The stone pillars have larger flatter stones resting precariously on top, giving them a mushroom shape. It was fun to run up amongst the sandstone giants, climb, get cut up on the rocks, take pictures, etc. Felt like a kid on a playground.Although I never made it to Arches in Utah before it collapsed, I'm sure I would have thought it was just as cool as Sao Chaliang. Just being under the "stone mushrooms" was exciting. Spooky too, thinking that one day that one piece of sand or rock will erode away that causes the top stone to teeter off it's pedestal and onto someone's head. I climbed to the top of one of the smaller rocks, not a mushroom, and it was pretty sturdy (and sharp!) got a nice little strawberry burn on my leg from it.After Sao Chaliang, we headed off to a cliff that overlooks a forested area and the Mekong river that is a natural border between Laos and Thailand. The cliff attracts tourists for a few different reasons. First of all, this is said to be the most eastern point of Thailand, so during the new year, Thais will come to the cliffs to be the first to see the first sunrise of the new year. There are viewing points set up for this as well as one for viewing the final sunset of the previous year towards the west.

Imagine a cliff, with probably a drop of 50-100 meters or so, and a pretty popular tourist attraction. You would assume there would be measures in place to protect people from falling off of the cliff, you know, a fence or some barrier. At Pha Taem there is no such protection. When we went there were a bunch of families and teenagers there, posing as close to the edge of the cliff as they dared. It just looked like a recipe for tragedy...two kids fooling around, pushing and being cool...a two year old gets away from his mother and curiously toddles his way to the edge and over...or even a simple misstep. The ground there is not flat, it is this eroded stone that is very uneven. Wearing slippahs, I stumbled several times during the day on the uneven surface. Even though Pha Taem doesn't have anything physically keeping people away from the very edge of the cliff, they do have this sign sitting about a meter (three feet!)from the edge...Hmmm? Actual Thai translation, "Danger, keep away"...a little different from "Danger, no poke!" For the life of me, I can't tell where they got this translation from?! Maybe it has something to do with "No pushing" but that is nowhere in the original Thai. Here are Bubbles and me, not poking by the way, getting brave.Anyway, we hiked to the bottom of the cliffs where there is a trail along the base of the cliff that goes about 2 kilometers or so. In areas of the cliff wall there are prehistoric wall paintings showing the way people lived thousands of years ago. There was some debate among our group as to whether or not the paintings were legit...either way, it was interesting to see. I'll have to post a picture of the paintings...I don't have one with me right now...all I have is one of us at the base of the cliffs...

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