H.R.H. Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana Rajakanya talks about her impression of a place in Northeastern province from her travel experience when she chose Sam Phan Bok in Ubon Ratchathani province as a location for Sirivannavari Spring/Summer 2019 collection’s fashion shoot with an aim to promote this natural wonder and show this hidden gem to the world.
Photos courtesy of H.R.H. Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana Rajakanya
At first, I didn’t know about Sam Phan Bok, but I heard about it from stylists who went to Ubon Ratchathani province. The royal nanny and one of royal pages grew up in that area and I saw some of its photos. When I knew that there would be a fashion shoot, I immediately thought of it as I wanted a location that most Thais and foreigners never had never seen before or had no idea that it’s in Thailand. So, I searched for more information about this place and found out that many tourists said that it’s really beautiful. Therefore, it fits perfectly with the concept of spaceship and unknown world as the location boasts a spellbinding scenery of river, light and colour that earned it the nickname “Grand Canyon of Thailand”. It also has many holes in the ground which make it look like Mars.
After searching for more information about it on the internet, I found out that there were some photographers and those working in fashion and advertising who went there for shooting but there were not many of them. As such, I decided to send a team to survey the location and I finally chose it for our fashion shoot. Despite all the obstacles, the finished work made me realize that I made the right choice. Many people asked me why I chose Sam Phan Bok as a location as it’s so hot there, but they respected my decision.
For the preparation, I did some research about Sam Phan Bok to see if it is the dry season or high tide and how to get there. We chose the suitable time, but it was so hot and dry. It took us a long time to get to the place which is quite far from the airport. We divided the work into three days.
The working team comprised of three teams. The first team was responsible for short films. The second took care of packshots. The third group was a fashion team. We had to work against time and rarely took a break. We would like to thank Ubon Ratchathani province for the support and local people who brought us food and took us to see the place. It turned out that our cars could reach only the entrance, so we had to walk along the seemingly endless rocky and sandy ground.
The weather was hot and dry and there was no wind at all. When we arrived at the location, we set up the white tent for dress changing and make up. The weather was so hot that everyone had to keep water and umbrella with them all the time. Fortunately, the light was beautiful throughout the day, particularly in the evening when the sunlight made spectacular reflections in pastel pink. The water that came up turned the holes in the ground into basins which are called “Bok” by the locals.
For the shooting, due to the limited time, we divided the work into three phases. Before the shoot, we sent our assistant to the location to get a rough idea what the place is like. We followed suggestions from officers not to where shoes at the location. After that, we had to prepare the location as much as possible by marking the points where we would like to work.
On the first day, we started with jewellery packshots which took around four to six hours. The light was so beautiful. We used silver, gold and glass reflectors which perfectly captured the natural light. We didn’t decorate anything. We used rocks as natural background and tried not to change anything. More importantly, we didn’t destroy the nature and we brought all the garbage from the location after the shoot. For example, there was a skeleton prop that we used for the shoot, and we brought it back with us and made sure not to leave anything behind.
On the second day, we used many locations. For the fashion shoot, we used big balloons and steel skeleton prop made from cuttable foam to convey the idea of my imaginary world. Apart from that, all rocks, stones, holes and basins were all natural. The natural light there was orange, but the rocks had turned into pastel, cream and khaki which was simply amazing. Particularly in the evening, the light became even more beautiful. After that, we took packshots and short films. I brought my camera with me everywhere.
In terms of planning, I had to listen to the local people as well as our team. We had to check the time and the light. At the same time, we had to inform our team including models so they would know what to expect and I would take good care of them. On the shooting day, I wore natural fabric, silk, skirt, straw hat and glasses. I brought my Leica camera, which I used to take with me to Africa, to the location.
On the first day, I wore a Bermuda T-Shirt and sneakers. In the afternoon, I went to take photos with my Leica camera which worked perfectly well in Africa, but it didn’t work here as it was too hot! When I came back, I had to clean it as it was covered with dust. “God has given us a natural camera … that is our eyes”. After looking around for a while, I told photographers and models to move to the corners that I selected. After the photos that we took and the ones taken by drone came out, I showed them to foreigners, and they couldn’t believe their eyes that this place is in Thailand. There were corners and curves from water erosion as well as holes and basins created by nature.
I’m not sure if this place has been thoroughly explored. As far as I know, in the past, it was surveyed by the French navy who left a water level measurement mark, but I didn’t see it as I was too tired to walk that far.
If I have to describe Sam Phan Bok in three phrases, they would be “hot, very hot, and extremely hot”. However, it’s definitely worth a visit as the works that came out were simply splendid. I made good use of everything, every corner, every poster and backdrop. I took many spare shots for post-production. Although we were tired and had to take many days to get rest, we were all very happy with the outcome.
My travel tips for those who want to follow my footsteps to Sam Phan Bok, you should make a good plan as it can be very hot and there is a flooding season. I suggest you go there at sunset. The weather is milder; still hot, but not boiling hot. There are rocks, basins, holes and some of them are in unique shape, such as Micky Mouse and Poodle.
I recommend you should bring good shoes for comfort when walking on sandy ground and climbing rocks. The sand at Sam Phan Bok is not pink like that in Petra, Jordan, but it has a unique colour that you have to see with your own eyes once in your life.
Sam Phan Bok
Sam Phan Bok is the big rock reef in the Mekhong River. It is a group of sandstones formed by thousands of years of water erosion and has become a 10-meter-wide channel with a height of 3-7 meters. There are numerous Boks (basins) scattered around the area, which is located on the banks of Mekong river on the border of Thailand and Laos, stretching from Ban Phong Pao to Ban Pak Kalang, Pho Sai district, for the length of 5 kilometers covering an area of over 30 square kilometers. There are more than 3,000 basins or Bok (“Bok” means “basins” in northeastern dialect). Some of them are as big as swimming pool while some are small.
Location: Sam Phan Bok is located in the Mekhong River in the area of Ban Phong Pao, Pho Sai district, Ubon Ratchathani province.
Best time to go
In the dry season when the tide is low, roughly from December to May. The water level of Mekhong River varies each year, so it is recommended to check prior to the trip. Sam Phan Bok is best visited between 6-9 a.m. and 3-5.30 p.m. when the air is cool, During these times you can also enjoy the spectacular views of sunrise or sunset.