If you’d have told us that we would be on top of a mountain in Thailand, armed with gloves, hats and about six layers of clothing, we’d probably have thought you were crazy. Because Thailand is always sunny and warm, right? Well, not quite! We got up at 5:00 AM to see Thailand’s most beautiful sunrise in a sea of mist and mountains. It was cold, pitch dark, and incredibly early, but a stunning site awaited us. Read on, and we’ll tell you all about it.
The road to Phu Chi Fah
Before we go into that early morning atop the 1,600 meters high Phu Chi Fah Mountain, we’d like to tell you a bit about the journey there, which was amazing!
The road upwards (Road 1155 and 4029 – from Chiang Khong to Phu Chi Fah) winds past an absurdly beautiful array of vibrant green landscapes.
A landscape of high peaks and mysterious temples, shrouded in mist. A monk, popping up from the tall grass. Small mountain villages with children, waving at us. Locals were picking strawberries along the road. And then – just before starting the ascent – the sight of the mighty Mekong River, streaming along the Lao border.
Truly one of the most beautiful routes we traveled in Thailand, so far!
The climb up
Okay, back to the morning or rather, the night, of the sunrise – our alarms went off at 5:00 AM.
Though it was pitch dark and we were still very sleepy, we managed to put on as many layers of clothing as we could. We also brought our woolen hats and gloves that we’d bought the day before. Now, all we needed was a flashlight, and we were ready to go!
It was about 11 degrees in our guesthouse. Brrr!
We got on our motorbikes, passed the Park Entrance and reached the parking lot within five minutes. The starry night sky was still visible above us.
Mariska quickly managed to buy a cup of coffee before starting our 760 meters climb up a muddy and slippery path, which was OK, as the exercise warmed us.
Soon the darkness made way for the beginning of dawn, and we started to see the contours of the Phu Chi Fah Mountain. And to our great surprise, we weren’t alone.
Dozens of Thai tourists had gotten up even earlier and were armed to the teeth with woolen sweaters, winter jackets, and selfie sticks.
We reached the top well before 6:00 AM, which we highly recommend to anyone who wants to visit Phu Chi Fah. Although the sun rises only after 6:30 AM, the change of light is wonderful to see.
A 360-degree view of mountains in a sea of fog. The sun shining its first rays on us. The flashy cameras of the Thai. Happy little birds fluttering about in the sky. The dew drops slowly changing color in the high grass. It was as if the mountain was slowly coming alive.
It was an absolute privilege to be able to see this…
Luckily, we had a full hour to look around, take pictures with our cheerful hats we bought in town and enjoy the moment. But then a curtain of fog hid the beautiful view.
We waited for another hour, but alas, it was there to stay.
It was already 8:30 AM, and we hadn’t had breakfast yet. Hungry, but satisfied with what we had just witnessed, we started our climb down the mountain.
Once back at the parking lot, we were able to buy a full box of strawberries and two cups of tea, which hit the spot. What a fantastic start to the day!
In hindsight, taking some food and drinks with us on our climb of the Phu Chi Fah might have been wise.
Getting to Phu Chi Fah
The Phu Chi Fah Forest Park is located in the northeast of the Chiang Rai province, on the border with Laos. The Phu Chi Fah village is a little under 100 kilometers east of the center of Chiang Rai.
As described above, you can travel to Phu Chi Fah on your own by rental car or with a private driver. Driving a motorbike is also an option, but only if you’re an advanced driver.
From the center of Chiang Rai first drive to Chiang Khong and from there to Phu Chi Fah via Road 1155 and 4029. The road is well maintained, and from Chiang Khong onwards, Phu Chi Fah is signposted. Make sure you take your time and leave in the morning, right after breakfast.
You can also travel by minivan to Phu Chi Fah. There is one that departs daily at 1:00 PM from Bus Terminal 1 in Chiang Rai. Make sure you buy tickets at the bus station at least an hour in advance. They’re 150 baht per person, and the journey takes over three hours.
You’ll be dropped off in the town of Phu Chi Fah where the lodges, guesthouses, shops, and restaurants are. The bus back to Chiang Rai leaves the next morning at 09:00 in the morning. Tickets are also 150 baht per person.
Sleeping in Phu Chi Fah
The best place for accommodations is in the village of Phu Chi Fah. We weren’t able to find any accommodations online, so we took our chances and headed straight for the village.
There are dozens of small guesthouses, and we feel pretty confident in saying that there will always be a room available in one of them. We arrived in the afternoon and were still able to look around extensively. The accommodations don’t have any English names and can’t be found on the internet.
Count on paying 500 to 1,500 baht for a very basic bungalow in the village. Prices are even higher on weekends. Early in the morning, around five o’clock, songtaews (shared taxis) and minivans leave from the guesthouse to the parking lot of Phu Chi Fah Forest Park, where the climb starts.
In the village, you will find several local restaurants where you can order a Thai meal in the morning and evening, and shops where you can buy water, snacks, gloves, and hats – if you need them.
Best time to travel to Phu Chi Fah
From November to March – the cool season – you’ll have the best chance of an unforgettable sunrise.
Please note that the temperatures on the mountain and in the village can easily go below 10 degrees Celsius. Warm clothing, socks, and closed shoes are a must when visiting Phu Chi Fah.
Map of the Phu Chi Fah area
A side note
Unfortunately, there’s one final side note. It’s about something that we hadn’t read about on the internet or travel guides, but would like to mention nonetheless.
Besides all the enthusiastic (Thai) tourists there are also children on the mountain. They’re dressed in odd costumes and dance to music for money, something we were very uncomfortable with. It was cold, very early and these children were already performing a show. Some Thai didn’t pay attention to it, others were taking pictures, and others gave them some money.
“Shouldn’t they be in school, playing or, better yet, sleeping?! “, we thought.
It’s probably not all as black and white as it might seem to outsiders like us. We decided not to pay any attention to it, and on the way back we bought some strawberries from the locals and cups of tea and coffee to support the local economy.