Stalking the Elusive Beauty of Phu Chi Fa

Phu Chi Fa is a mountain peak, near Chiang Rai, Thailand, in the far north of the country, on the border with Laos. Definitely not a very well traveled place by foreigners, although it is becoming a rather popular “selfie spot” for Thai’s on holiday. We decided to check it out on New Years Day 2017. Most people travel to one of several local villages (where there are loads of hostels and campsites, etc) the day before, and then wake up early and head up the mountain for sunrise. As we had no reservations for a place to stay, we opted to wake up at 2am and drive from our hotel in Chiang Rai directly to the mountain. Had we actually looked closely at a map and realized we would be driving directly across a mountain range in pitch dark, we might have made another choice. But it was an adventure! 16% grade switchbacks in a little tiny 1.2l engine car where you can’t see anything beyond the barely adequate headlight swaths…at least there was no risk of falling asleep which is usually my problem with long drives.

phu chi fa

Phu Chi Fa archway in the local town

At last, we arrive in one of several local towns where they have a big archway welcoming people to Phu Chi Fa (or Phu Chee Pha). These local towns are perched on the steep side of the mountain with terraced bungalows and campsites dotting the landscape everywhere. We arrived at 4:30am and the parking lot was already half full. A line of pick-up trucks were waiting to shuttle people up the 2km more to the “basecamp” staging area. Standing in the back of the pickup, it really felt like it might tip over as it cut back and forth on the steep steep switchback road winding up the mountain. Passing the empty trucks coming back down was harrowing. Basecamp had a horde of local kids running around selling flashlights, hot coffee, and ramen noodle cups. I tend to like “proper” coffee, but that little paper cup of Nescafe instant coffee really hit the spot that morning!

Next we start the trek up to the top of the mountain. There are stairs cut into the dirt with bamboo runners edging them out. It is a steep but not too long 1/2km to the top. Lots of people start off at a fast pace and then have to stop and rest…huffing and puffing like racehorses. Slow and steady wins the race in this case.

Its cold, foggy, misty, and starting to rain…

We arrived on top to an absolutely huge crowd of people with already staked out spots to sit and wait for the sunrise. It was rather cold up top, with foggy mist rolling through, and even a bit of light rain. The only reason you could see the fog was because there were hundreds of people flashing flashlights around, peering into the mist.

Eventually, after perhaps an hour or so of waiting in the dark, it began to lighten and we saw the grand view. Fog filled valleys and green GREEN mountaintops of Laos. The sunrise is what people come to see…unfortunately, it was a cloudy day and we never saw the sun at all.

Quick side selfie with the sign (too lazy to wait in line for a proper photo)

Have to capture the moment somehow…we were just too impatient to wait in line like everyone else for our turn at the sign.

Did I mention that it is rather popular?

Oh, and if you didn’t believe me about all the people…(I have never seen so many selfie sticks!)

beautious

Playing around with the new “bokah” (blurred background) mode…

Killing time, playing with the iPhone 7’s new Portrait/Bokah (background blur) mode…

Beautiful Phu Chi Fa, view of fog filled valleys in Laos from Thailand

At last, our best shot of the view. Fog, green, misty, and beautiful. However, no sunshine and definitely not quite as beautiful as some Phu Chi Fa pictures that I have seen. So just to show what it can look like, here are two pictures taken by other people on “good” days…

Someone else’s wonderful picture on a clear day

Another someone else’s wonderful picture on a clear day

natural beauty kanchanaburi

A bridge, elephants, temples, and green: beautiful Kanchanaburi Province

Only a few hours from Bangkok is Kanchanaburi Province. Green and lush this time of year. Mountains and lots of water. The famous bridge over the river Kwai (actually pronounced kwae by locals) is a popular sight. Lots of other things to do and see.

Melaka, Malaysia

Melaka, MalaysiaThe city of Melaka is a great place to pause for a while on the trip through Central Malaysia, and this traditional city is often referred to as the ‘soul of the nation’, as many people see it as summing up exactly what Malaysia is all about. Of course, there are a large number of large and impressive mosques here, while visiting the vibrant local market places is the perfect way to gain an insight into local life as well as doing a spot of shopping along the way.

Melaka is famed for its rich and varied cuisine, and excellent restaurants can be found all over the city. Taking a cooking class here is also a good way to find out what Melaka is all about while gaining a skill that you can use to impress friends and family members with when you get back home.

While the city can be rather busy during the daytime, it is surrounding by intense natural beauty, and sun worshippers will want to spend time soaking up the sun on Melaka’s pristine sandy beaches. There are also large forests and parks to explore here, which are simply teeming with a diverse range of flora and fauna.

Local legend explains that the city of Melaka was founded by Parameswara, who is believed to have been related to a Hindi prince and possibly even Alexander the Great. The story goes that Parameswara was hunting and stopped to rest near the Malacca River. He was standing next to an Indian gooseberry tree known as a melaka when one of his hunting dogs was startled by a mouse deer and fell into the river. Parameswara took this incident as an auspicious sign and decided to build the capital of his new kingdom where he stood, naming it after the tree under which he had been resting.

Visitors will want to spend at least three days exploring Melaka, as there are numerous unmissable attractions to discover here. The city can also be used as a convenient base to explore a whole host of surrounding attractions, while this is the perfect place to arrange for tour guides, change money and make use of endless other amenities.

Northern Malaysia

Northern Malaysia
Northern Malaysia

For many visitors, northern Malaysia will provide their first glimpses of the country as they arrive by train in Butterworth station from Thailand, perhaps on their way to the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Although the jungles of eastern Malaysia beckon, it is worth taking the time to explore this interesting region. Malaysia is a real melting pot of cultures and this is especially apparent in the regions large and bustling cities. Wander through the streets of Alor Setar and you will notice an interesting blend of Malay, Chinese and Indian styles, with a hint of British Colonial style thrown into the mix for good measure.

This is also evident in the picturesque island of Penang, where each ethnic group has its own area situated alongside the other. Loud Bollywood music and the rich smells of curry drifts from shop fronts in the Indian section, while a few streets away the roads are strung with colourful Chinese lanterns and a number of large Chinese temples sit at the side of the street.

Northern Malaysia is a good place to fall in love with the culture and history of Malaysia before heading to other regions to discover its natural beauty. However, there are also a number of pretty beaches to soak up the sun in northern Malaysia such as the modest stretch of sand on Penang and the popular beach resort of Langkawi, which is referred to as the land where one’s dreams come true.

Labuan, Malaysia

Labuan, MalaysiaThe serene island of Labuan may not be the liveliest place in Malaysia, but for those who crave peace and quiet surrounded by natural beauty this is a great place to relax for a day or two.

Most visitors to Labuan simply stake out a place on the sand and lay back to catch the sun’s rays. However, there are plenty of things to see and do for those who can be bothered to tear themselves away from the golden sand and cool, clear waters.

Labuan Bird Park is located towards the island’s northern tip. Here you will discover a colourful collection of our feathered friends as you wander through the tunnels that connect the large aviaries. Another popular attraction is the Labuan Marine Park, where visitors are encouraged to take aboat tour to see the picturesque deserted islands known as Pulau Kuraman, Pulau Rusukan Kecil and Pulau Rusukan Besar.

The Labuan Museum is a good place to find out about the island’s interesting history and culture. Full of artifacts and colourful displays, the museum attempts to bring Labuan’s history to life. A great way to explore Labuan is to hire a bicycle and simple cycle around, pausing to take in the spectacular views of the South China Sea.

Returning to the beach, Labuan is a great place for those who enjoy water sports. Diving is popular as there are a number of wreck sites to explore and some stunning coral. Many people come to Labuan to enjoy the world class deep sea fishing opportunities, while swimming and snorkelling are always rewarding.

Evenings are pleasant on Labuan. Stroll along the shore as the sun sets and enjoy fresh barbecued fish, perhaps washed down with a beer or two.

Getting to Labuan is relatively easy as there are regular ferries from Brunei, Kota Kinabalu, Limbang, Spitang and Lawas. There are also daily flights from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, making this the perfect place to retreat from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

Kubah National Park, Malaysia

Kubah National Park, Malaysia
Kubah National Park, Malaysia

Situated just on the outskirts of Kuching, Kubah National Park is the perfect daytrip destinations and not to be missed by nature lovers. The park covers an area of 22 square kilometres and is covered by pretty sandstone hills and lush forests.

A number of well-worn walking trails led the way through Kubah National Park, and visitors who follow these will be able to reach stunning natural features such as caves and sparkling waterfalls, while the rainforest is full of plants such as colourful orchids. The trails that lead the way through the park are easy to navigate for those who like to explore independently, while visitors who want to learn more about the park can hire a guide for a small fee.

One of the most enchanting natural features here is Gunug Serapi, which is the highest mountain in this part of the world. Visitors can follow a trail that leads to the very summit of this mighty mountain, which offers simply stunning views of the entire park from is lofty vantage point. Walking through the rainforest can be rather humid at times, and it is also possible to follow the Waterfall Trail to a sparkling cascade of water where visitors are invited to take a dip to cool off.

Follow the Ulu Rayu Trail to the Matang Wildlife Centre. This area of the park features a number of pretty rock pools and waterfalls as well as animals such as crocodiles and hornbills. This is the perfect spot for a picnic, and visitors can also make use of the barbecue pits located at Matang Wildlife Centre.

It is impossible to see everything that Kubah National Park offers in one day. Luckily, it is possible to sleep over in one of the self-catering forest lodges and a hostel. There is also plenty of comfortable accommodation in nearby Kuching, and this is a good option for those who don’t fancy fending for themselves.

Battambang, Cambodia

Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, Cambodia

The second largest city in Cambodia, Battambang makes the idea base to explore the surrounding attractions. Situated to the northwest of Cambodia, Battambang is full of interesting buildings left over from the French colonial era and has a pleasantly relaxed feeling that entices many travellers to extend their stay for a day or two.

Battambang takes its name from the legend of an ancient Khmer king, who is said to have calmed the city’s rebellions with his battambang staff. As you wander through the city streets you will see a statue representing this event as well as a number of interesting statues depicting mythical animals and religious characters.

There is plenty to see and do in Battambang. Start by climbing the hill of Phnom Sampeu to enjoy spectacular views of the city and explore the hill’s caves, stupas and monastery. Near the hill is Wat Banan, which is dubbed a mini Angkor Wat and contains a large Buddhist shrine. Just to the west of the city, Wat Ek Phnom has also been constructed in Angkorian style, while Wat Baydamran is home to hundreds of fruit bats.

Situated 70 kilometers north of the city of Battambang in northeastern Cambodia, Bantaey Chhmar is a pretty temple complex built by Jayavarman VII as a tribute to the death of his son Indravarman and four generals in battle. Dating back to the 9th century, this is a great place to explore on a day trip. A mighty battle took place on this site in 1177 when it was invaded by the Cham people. Those interested in the areas unusual history can find the story engraved on the stone ways that surround Bantaey Chhmar. The complex has been overgrown by forest, giving it a mystical quality and it features large Avalokiteshvara faces which are reminiscent of the Bayon temple near Siem Reap.

Head out of Battambang to discover the ancient wooden houses of Watkor, which is a very pretty village. Other nearby villages worth exploring include Kompong Seyma, and Ksach Puoy. These villages offer a real insight into traditional Khmer life and you will still find people engrossed in skills such as weaving and basket making.

An interesting way to explore this area is by riding the bamboo train known as the norry. The Wat Poveal Museums is a good place to learn more about the Khmer arts, while just 44 kilometres from the city is Pich Chenda, a very pretty nature and wildlife preserve.

Walk along the bank of the Sangker River in the evening and you will discover a large number of small food stalls selling traditional Khmer food and also delicious French bread. This is a great place to get a cheap meal and perhaps wash it down with a beer or two.

A great way to travel to Battambang is by boat from Siem Reap. This scenic journey takes you slowly through the countryside, past floating villages and fishermen along narrow canals and waterways.

Bokor National Park, Cambodia

Bokor National Park, Cambodia
Bokor National Park, Cambodia
Bokor National Park, Cambodia

One of the most enchanting destinations in the whole of Cambodia, Bokor National Park is a great place to explore. A large number of well-worn trails lead through the jungle here, and those who book a guided tour will have the chance to spy a wide range of wildlife including tigers and elephants, while swimming in the cool, clear water provided by the park’s waterfalls is the perfect way to cool down.
One of the best things about Bokor National Park, which was established in 1993, is that it is possible to travel here on a daytrip from the popular destinations of Kampot and Sihanoukville. The park covers an area of just over 1,500 square kilometres and is officially known as Preah Monivong National Park. This area of protected land is covered with dense forest and is particularly popular with birdwatchers, who come for the chance to spot a wide variety of our fine feathered friends.

In addition to birds such as the green peafowl, hornbills and the rare chestnut-headed partridge, the park is also home to animals such as red muntjac deer, sun bears, leopards and the pretty pileated gibbon. Other highlights of the park include the French hill station, an enchanting jungle church and the simply stunning Popokvil Falls.

As with most areas of Cambodia that are located outside of towns and cities, it is best to hire a guide when exploring Bokor National Park, as there is a chance that unexploded landmines could be hidden beneath the overgrowth. Local guides know the area well as will be able to ensure that their charges stick to areas that have been thoroughly swept for landmines.

Nothing can compete with the magic of spending the night in Bokor National Park and waking at dawn to the sound of the birds in the trees and the call of other animals as they awaken. Located within the park is the Bokor Palace Hotel, which offers clean and comfortable rooms as well as amenities such as a good restaurant and casino. However, rooms here tend to be a little pricy, and those who are on a tight budget may prefer to spend the night in the Ranger’s Station instead.

Narathiwat, Thailand

Narathiwat, Thailand
Narathiwat, Thailand
Narathiwat, Thailand
Narathiwat, Thailand

Situated on the banks of the Bang Nara River, this friendly province can be found approximately 1,149 kilometres south of Bangkok near the Malaysian border. Malaysia can be reached from Narathiwat though a ninety-minute bus trip, and this is a good place to rest for a day or two before making the crossing.

75 percent of this beautiful province consists of jungles and mountains, and there is a lot for the nature lover to explore. There are also pretty beaches on which to top up your tan and magnificent temples to discover.

The name Narathiwat literally means “the residence of good people” in the Thai language, and visitors will soon find that the area lives up to its name as hospitality is as warm as the weather. The city of Narathiwat has preserved its traditional culture and authenticity and has a feel of village-like tranquillity. The residents of Narathiwat are mainly farmers and fishermen and the majority are Muslim.

If you love nature, a visit to Hala-Bala Wildlife Reserve should be top of the list. Established in 1996, the reserve covers the Sankala Khiri mountain range, Hala forest and Bala forest and is a good place to see a large selection of wildlife. Lucky visitors have the chance to see hornbills, gibbons, the large Thut frogs, and rhinoceroses.

Another area of great natural beauty is the Sirindhorn Peat Swamp Forest Nature Reserve, and you can combine a visit with a trip to the Khao Kong Buddhist Park, which is situated about 9 kilometres from town. Here you will find Wat Khao Kong and the golden Phra Phuttha Thaksin Ming Mongkhon Buddha image sitting in the lotus position atop a mountain. And the park offers spectacular views over the province.

Other interesting temples to explore include Wat Chon Thara Singhe, Wat Choeng Khao, the Old Central Mosque and Taloh-manoh Mosque, while Thaksin Ratchaniwet Palace is situated on Tanyongmat Mountain, and contains throne halls decorated with an assortment of trees.

Back to nature; don’t miss the stunning Ao Manao Park, which features a 4 kilometre sandy bay lined with pine forest to explore when you tire of soaking up the sun. Other beaches include Hat Narathat, Kubu Beach-Ban Khlong Tan and the small, peaceful island of Ko Yao.

Visitors arriving during one of the area’s lively festivals are treated to displays of traditional song and dance, combined with much laughter.

The Narathiwat Products Fair showcases the highlights of the province, such as special arts and crafts.

The Kolae-Long Boat Races are held on Bang Nara River opposite Sala Prachakhom (community pavilion). This is an annual event held when the Royal Family is in residence at Thaksin Ratchaniwet Palace.

Krachut Sedge Day is held around the same time as the boat races in order to promote hemp products. Activities include an exhibition on production from the preparation of raw materials that are the Krachut sedge trees that grow in peat swamp forests or waterlogged areas of the province, to weaving the sedge into beautiful mats or transforming it into other unusual products such as hats, handbags, letter holders, food covers, and lamp shades. There are also Krachut contests and stalls selling Krachut sedge products.

Pattaya, Thailand

Pattaya, Thailand
Pattaya, Thailand
Pattaya, Thailand
Pattaya, Thailand

Located about 170 kilometres southeast of Bangkok, Pattaya makes a good destination for a weekend break, although with so many entertainment options to choose from, many people tend to stay in the small seaside city for several days. Pattaya means the ‘south-west monsoon wind’ in the Thai language and ranks as one of the most successful beach resorts in the world, with more than 5 million visitors each year.

Pattaya is probably best known for its night life. For the curious, this is a good place to see a “Tiffany Show”, where stunningly attractive transsexuals dress in incredibly elaborate costumes and perform gracefully choreographed song and dance numbers on stage. There are also a wide range of go-go bars and discotheques to explore on Walking Street, which is the center of Pattaya’s nightlife.

By day, Pattaya offers a large number of intriguing diversions that are hard to find in most other parts of Thailand. A great entertainment option is the Million Years Stone Park and Pattaya Crocodile Farm, whilst visitors can ride the mighty beasts at the Elephant Village. The world class aquarium at Underwater World Pattaya has beautiful displays of local sea life and you can see scale replicas of Thailand’s key attractions in Mini Siam. Also popular with visitors to Pattaya is Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, and the sign for this can clearly be seen for the beach front.

Pattaya is a great place to let off some steam, and the go cart course and shooting range and good places to do just that, whilst the many spas and massage parlours offer a different way to unwind.

But Pattaya isn’t all neon lights and lipstick, there are also some very beautiful nature spots waiting to be discovered. Pattaya Beach is situated alongside the city centre and is a popular spot for jet-skis and speed boats. Just south of the city is the pretty stretch of sand known as Jomtien Beach, which is much quieter than Pattaya Beach and a good place to chill out for a few hours.

Another great day trip is the large and interesting Sri Racha Tiger Zoo, which features several hundred tigers and thousands of alligators. The tiger zoo offers the opportunity to view and interact with animals in exciting new ways, such as cuddling tiger cubs and helping hatch baby crocodiles from their eggs.

If you need a break from the beach, pay a visit to the Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden, which is located 15 kilometers east of Pattaya and has lively cultural shows.

It is absolutely impossible to be bored in Pattaya, and no matter what you are looking for you are sure to find it here.