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

Bagan, Burma

Bagan, Laos
Bagan, Laos
Bagan, Laos
Bagan, Laos

Also sometimes spelt Pagan, the Bagan plain contains a collection of more than 4,000 ancient temples and is an impressive sight, even if you’re not particularly interested in old buildings or have already feeling ‘templed out’. One of Myanmar’s most significant historical sites, the best time to visit Bagan is around sunrise or sunset.

Although the collection of pagodas and temples at Bagan is still very impressive, their number once totaled around 13,000, and they were built in the years between 1044-1287 before finally being abandoned when Kublai Khan invaded the area from China and people literally ran to the hills.

Although the detailed carvings on each pagoda and temple make them all special in their own way, the most highly revered temple is considered to be Ananda, which was built by King Kyan-zit-tha in 1091. The main feature of the temple is the four large Buddhas, which represent the first four holy men to have achieved enlightenment.

Another great temple to visit is the Thatbyinnyu Temple, which is Bagan’s highest point and provides spectacular views of the entire area, while the Shwegugyi Temple was built in 1311 and is decorated with especially attractive carvings. Also worth looking out for is the Gawdawpalin Temple, which despite some damage during the 1975 earthquake is still very impressive.

There are quite a few decent places to stay in Bagan as well as restaurants, markets and surrounding beauty, making this a great place to spend a day or two while you explore slowly. While you’re here, check out Bagan’s interesting museum and lacquerware workshops.

For a fresh perspective and excellent views, take a hot air balloon ride over the Bagan Plain at sunset. This is a truly memorable experience and provides the opportunity to take some fantastic photographs.

Bagan is situated on the banks of the Ayerwaddy River, and sunset cruise on the river is a relaxing experience, while you can also be driven around the area in a horse cart or hire a bicycle and peddle around.