Pu Chi Fa Forest Park - ภูชี้ฟ้า - Chiang Rai Province, Thailand
It's 6:00 in the morning, and I'm already dead tired. We've been hiking steadily uphill for an hour already, and my legs are burning from the steep climb. The predawn air is cool, but I'm soaked with sweat. This had better be worth it, I grumble to myself.
A park ranger, smartly dress in his official uniform, zips up to us on his motorbike. "Exercising?" he laughs.
"No", I tell him, "we wanted to see the sunrise"
"Just one kilo!" he urges us on, then speeds off.
Finally, we arrive at the parking lot of the Pu Chi Fa Forest Park, where the road ends and the steep, muddy, final kilometer heads directly up the mountain, past a small hill tribe market. We purchase water and hot coffee, resting for just a moment, then continue on our way.
When we finally arrive at the top of Pu Chi Fa, the "Mountain that Points to the Sky", we are exhausted from the climb, drenched in sweat, and I'm feeling more than a little grumpy. All of that is gone, however, when I see the view before me.
Pu Chi Fa is a famously beautiful mountain on Thailand's remote far northern border with Laos in Chiang Rai Province. It's not so easy to get there, especially without a car, but it can be done. Making the trek on foot, though doable, is not advised! Visitors, mostly Thai but a few foreigners, arrive early in the morning in the cooler months from October to February to witness the sunrise over the famous Sea of Fog.
Getting to Pu Chi Fa
Many visitors stay in Chiang Rai and wake up hours before the dawn to drive a rented motorbike (dangerous!) up the dark, winding mountain roads. Another, better option is to join one of the sunrise package tours departing each morning from 4:30am (ask your hotel or guesthouse for details).
If you want to go on your own, however, you can have a great experience by sleeping at one of the tiny guesthouses up on the mountain. It's a little harder to do the trip by yourself, but the rewards are worth it! Buses from Chiang Rai Bus Terminal are irregular, and often don't run at all. Instead, go to the bus terminal (near the Night Bazaar) and board a bus or minibus for Thoeng District Bus Terminal. From there, barter with a waiting songtaew for transport up and down the mountain. It will take 1-1.5 hours to get from Chiang Rai to Thoeng, and another hour or so from Thoeng to Pu Chi Fah.
Getting to the Peak
It's certainly possible to hike from the village to the peak, but expect a grueling, steep ascent along a dangerously dark and curving mountain road. Don't do what we did!
Instead, you can make arrangements with your guesthouse to take you to the forest park (usually meet around 5:30 am) or take a public pickup (30-50 baht). The drive only takes around 10 minutes, but the hike can take 1-1.5 hours. You'll want to leave early in order to make it to the peak by sunrise.
Note that the last leg (about 1km) is inaccessible by car. You'll have to hike up the steep, muddy trail on foot in the dark. Be careful! The final path is slippery. There's a small market at the parking area where you can buy water, coffee, cheap souvenirs, and snacks.
Along the trail, hill tribe (Hmong) children sing to hikers for tips.
When to Go
The best time to visit is during the cooler dry season from October to February. During the winter months, the sea of fog is at its most impressive, and temperatures at the mountain can get downright chilly!
Where to Stay
There are a number of tiny guesthouses at Ban Rom Fa Thai Village just outside Pu Chi Fa Forest Park. Most are simple private rooms without aircon (but it's cool on the mountain, so you hardly need it) but with incredible views. These guesthouses generally don't have websites, so you might need to ask around when you get to the top of the mountain. The songtaew drivers usually have a few recommendations (500-700 baht per night).
There are also small campsites that can be rented for 200-400 baht per night. Bring your own tent!
There area only a few small shops with bottled water and simple things like chips, instant coffee, and instant noodles.
Most guesthouses have small family-run restaurants attatched, many of which offering amazing views of the valley below.
- Bus from Chiang Rai to Thoeng- 100 baht
- Songtaew up the mountain including return the next day - 800 baht (this can be done more cheaply during peak season when you can share a songtaew with other travelers)
- Guesthouse at the village on the mountain (600 baht)
- Food/drink - 200-400 baht