“The sixth level is the most spectacular… and most scary.”
A few people told me as we passed each other, and I started climbing the rickety wooden stairs and ladders up the red rock mountain of Phu Thok (ภูทอก), Thailand’s most adventurous (dangerous?) temple.
Welcome to Bueng Kan province, far in the northeastern Isan region of Thailand. It’s one of the lesser visited provinces in Thailand, and you will love it if you enjoy peace, never ending space, nature, and off the beaten path attractions.
Without a doubt, Wat Phu Tok (วัดภูทอก) is one of the most unique, thrilling, and scary temples I’ve visited in Thailand, and it’s so incredible. Here’s a quick guide about how you can visit and what to expect.
Wat Phu Tok, Bueng Kan, Thailand
Wat Jetiyakhiri is the official name of the temple, although the more commonly used name is Wat Phu Tok (วัดภูทอก), Phu Tok being the local Isan name for the mountain and Wat meaning temple.
What struck me immediately is how it’s in the middle of nowhere, and all of a sudden, there’s an amazing rock mountain formation. It reminded quite a bit of a smaller version of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka.
It’s 359 meters high, and the mountain name literally means “lonely mountain,” – you’ll figure out why as soon as you get there!
Really quick history
Just a really quick history that you should know to give this temple more meaning before you visit.
The mountain, because of its rugged terrain and remote location has always been an area of wildlife – specifically dangerous snakes. This also makes it an attractive place for meditation. Peaceful, nature, remote, and an element of danger which one must overcome.
Monk Luang Pu Juan founded the temple and began to build wooden staircases, ladders, and walkways throughout the mountain, connecting a variety of shrines and places of mediation. Eventually the monks constructed seven levels, to correlate to the seven stages of Buddhist meditation.
Unfortunately, Luang Pu Juan passed away in an airplane accident. But Wat Phu Tok is maintained and remains a majestic sight.
If you’re in Bueng Kan city, the drive to Wat Phu Tok takes about 30 minutes.
There’s a big temple at the bottom, as well as a big lake, and huge park area. There’s plenty of parking.
You can’t miss the entrance of the trail and the wooden staircases – just start walking towards the mountain. The main trail enters a gate, and then pretty quickly changes to wooden plank staircases.
The stairs start off pretty easy.
Then, they start getting steeper, almost to the point where they turn into a ladder.
And although the wooden planks are sometimes on an angle, and bow when you step down, the actual construction feels pretty safe and secure.
The first few levels, there’s not really too much to see. I think I glanced at some shrines, but it’s best to keep on going up.
On the 5th level of Wat Phu Tok is where you’ll really start seeing lots of temples, shrines, and halls. You can walk around this level, and most of the trail is on ground, not cliff walkways.
I believe the largest ordination hall is located here on the 5th level of the mountain.
Along with the 6th level, probably the highlight for me visiting Wat Phu Tok was this small rock temple on the side of the main mountain.
To get there just follow the path, and all of a sudden you’ll find yourself walking on an elevated rock walkway connected to a small wooden bridge to the unique temple at the end of the mountain.
It’s just a little detour from the main circumference trail, but well worth it.
Another flight of wooden stairs up, and you’ll arrive to the famous sixth level.
I would say that about half of the circumference of the 6th level is made of wooden plank walkways, anchored into the side of the rock cliff, and the other half is on ground.
Of course, you’ll want to walk your way around to the wooden plank section, which is without a doubt the highlight of visiting. So cool, thrilling, and a little bit terrifying.
Overall, just like the staircases, the wooden walkways felt pretty stable and well maintained. I’m usually afraid of heights, but I was ok doing this.
However, that being said, do keep your eyes on the trail, one slip could be fatal!
You’ll see the impressive view of the Mekong River basin below, and the green trees of Bueng Kan – the view is spectacular. You can walk all the way around the 6th level, and the views in every direction and the breeze is fantastic.
Finally the seventh level! And I had read that the seventh level is known for venomous snakes, so they say go up at your own risk.
I went up just out of curiosity and really quickly. There’s no wooden walkways or shrines to see at the top, but it’s just the top of the mountain, and if you go up in the correct spot, you’ll have more great views. But really I think the 6th level is the most unique and what you come to see.
If you have a few minutes, watch the full video experience of visiting Wat Phu Tok. You can get a better sense of the amazing cliff hanging wooden walkways.
Again, one of the most amazing and adventurous temples I’ve ever been to in Thailand. An amazing experience.
Quick tips if you’re planning to visit:
- Takes about 2 hours – I took about 2 hours going at a medium pace, but stopping to take lots of photos and videos along the way. Give yourself 2 hours to enjoy it.
- Wear appropriate clothing – even though it’s a hike, it’s a temple, wear pants and sleeved shirts, shoes are also best for the hike
- Plenty of parking if you drive yourself there, or you can get a taxi or tuk tuk from Bueng Kan
- Be careful for yourself – there’s no real guidelines or precautions
Have a great trip to Bueng Kan and enjoy Wat Phu Tok!