Although Thailand is not the best destination for trekking enthusiasts, it does have dozens of National Parks and mountains worth trekking for one or several days. But they are little known. The only exception is, perhaps, the northern region of Thailand, where many travelers trek through jungles visiting villages of tribal ethnic groups. But the rest of the forests and mountains of Thailand are not usually included on most travelers’s routes.
One of the most popular outdoors experiences among Thais, and yet little known among foreigners, is climbing Mount Phu Kradueng. In over 10 years living in Thailand, on many occasions I had been told by Thai friends about Phu Kradueng National Park. And finally I decided it was already time to go and conquer it.
Phu Kradueng, the most famous plateau in Thailand
Phu Kradueng is located within the national park that bears the same name, and it is a plateau rather than a mountain crowned by a peak. It is a 60 km2 plateau with an average height of 1,250 meters above sea level, and a maximum height of 1,316 m. Certainly not an impressive height, but take into account that it starts rising from an altitude of only 285 meters, so the cumulative elevation gain is about 1000 meters. Not bad.
This plateau is located in the province of Loei, bordering Laos, and its top offers spectacular views of the surrounding region. Its sunrises and sunsets are just epic, and very popular with Thais.
Climb and spend one or several nights at the top
Normally the locals spend one, two or several nights at the top, since up there it is possible to sleep in bungalows and tents. The camping tents are offered and set up by the park staff, and they also rent mats, bags and even pillows. Of course you can also bring your own tent if you have one.
At the top, there are several restaurants, bathrooms, showers and even a bike rental service. Everything one could need. The park is very well run and organized.
Since the highest level is not a peak but a large plateau of over 60 km2, reaching the top is not the end of the trip. Once at the top there’s still plenty to explore, either on foot or by bike, including cliffs with panoramic views, forest trails, waterfalls and even a beautiful Buddha statue.
ℹ️ Phu Kradueng Quick Facts:
• Average height: 1,250 meters.
• Maximum height: 1,316 meters.
• Elevation gain: 965 meters (starts at 285 m.).
• Minimum trekking length: 9 km.
• Admission: 400 THB for foreigners (200 THB for children). 40 THB for Thais (20 THB for children).
• Opening months: From October 1 to May 31.
• Average temperature at the top: 15ºC (minimum 7ºC – maximum 20ºC)
• Facilities at the top: Bungalows, shops, restaurants, showers, toilets and bike rental.
• Climb difficulty: Medium – Low. Being minimally fit is enough.
Our experience climbing Phu Kradueng
Together with my friend Álvaro, we took the car in Bangkok on a Wednesday morning and drove for 500 plus kms until we reached Loei province, where Mount Phu Kradueng is located. We slept one night in a nearby hotel, and in the next morning, around 7 a.m., we began to climb with the sun rising behind us.
Is a guide required to follow the path?
From minute one we were surprised about how easy it is to follow the path. No one uses a guide, because there is absolutely no need for one. But if your lugagge is too heavy for you to carry, a porter may come handy!
The porters, your climbing buddies
The path starts out quite steep. Between the base and the top there are 5 resting stops, with restaurants and small shops. On the way up, you’ll see porters carrying heavy stuff hanging from a bamboo pole on their shoulders. In fact, during the trek you’ll come across porters whose calf muscles would make Brazilian soccer player Roberto Carlos envious. They carry up to 85 kgs each. They are in charge of supplying the shops, restaurants and the park rangers with everything they need: water, food, gas, etc. They even offer themselves to carry your backpack for a small fee.
To the top: 5 km and 900 meters of elevation gain
Once you pass the first section of the climb, which is quite steep, things calm down and the climb relaxes until reaching the last stretch before the top, where the terrain becomes again very steep. Then you start to enjoy beautiful panoramic views. We were lucky to see a spectacular sea of clouds while climbing this last stretch.
The truth is that the climb is quite demanding, although it is suitable for almost all audiences. It will take longer or shorter depending on how fit you are, but if you want to, you can go up. It took us 2:15 to get to the top. Once there, and after taking a picture with the signboard that shows you reached the top, we still had to walk an extra 4 kms (40 minutes) to reach the camping area. But this part is totally flat. So in total we walked for 2: 55h from the base of the mountain to the camping area.
🏕️ Renting the tent and the sleeping bag
We went during a holiday, and this is the reason why we found a lot of people in the park. If you can go during the week, all the better. Anyway, better on a holiday than not going at all.
The tent is booked and paid for at the beginning of the trek, at the Visitor Center located at the base of the mountain. Once you arrive at the camping area you only need to show the booking receipt, and if you want you can also rent a mat, sleeping bag and/or pillow on the spot.
Tent rental prices
• Tent: 220 THB
• Sleeping bag: 30 THB
• Mat: 20 THB
• Pillow: 10 THB
• Small blanket: 30 THB
• Large blanket: 50 THB
• Bungalows: from 900 THB to 3600 THB (can be booked online)
Exploring the Plateau: an optional extra 20 km of hiking!
Once we were settled in, we intended to rent a mountain bike to visit the famous Lom Sak cliff. They have quite a few and very well cared for. Unfortunately all bicycles were already booked, so we had no choice but to keep walking!
From the camping area you can visit several waterfalls and cliffs. The most popular route is the one that leads up to Lom Sak cliff. There are actually two paths leading to the cliff, so it is a good idea to use one to get there and the other for returning. One of them goes across the forest and can only be used until 3:00 p.m., since later it is dangerous due to the presence of wild elephants (they usually sleep in the morning and wake up around mid afternoon).
It is 10 km from the camping area to Lom Sak cliff, a distance that we covered in 2:20 hours stopping at Tham Sor Nuo waterfall. Along the way you come across a little Buddha statue.
📸 The most famous photo of Phu Kradueng: Lom Sak cliff
Lom Sak is a very famous cliff, highly recommended to watch the sunsets. If you visit by bike it definitely makes sense to stay until sunset… but not if you are walking, since you will still have to walk for another 2 hours in complete darkness on the way back.
When we reached Lom Sak we took off our boots, since after walking for 20 kms of our feet were asking for a break, and we had a coffee. There are several food and coffee stalls nearby.
After a well-deserved rest we took the mandatory photo posing on the famous rock that protrudes above the void an hangs over Lom Sak cliff. This is the most popular photo op in the park, that virtually everyone takes.
We did not wait for sunset there, since we still had another 2h walk ahead. This time we walked on the path that runs along the cliff, offering different panoramic views under the sunset. A wonderful excursion.
🚿 Cold water bucket showers
The showers inside the bungalows have hot water, but the shared ones, for those who sleep in tents, do not. When we visited the showers were out of order, and we had no choice but shower with cold water using a bucket, at a temperature of about 13-15ºC.
🍜 Mu Kratha dinner, a well-deserved little luxury
After the cold shower we needed a hot meal, and we went straight to the restaurant area, where a delicious Mu Kratha dinner awaited us. It was somewhat expensive by Thai standards, 550 THB for two people, but it felt just like heaven.
Mu Kratha is a typical food from the ‘cold’ areas of Thailand, some kind of do-it-yourself BBQ where you both fry and boil. Every table is provided with a small Thai gas barbecue, and a round cooking device that resembles an orange squeezer. It has a central ‘dome’ where you fry the meat (pork in this case), and a surrounding cavity where you pour broth and boil the vegetables and mushrooms. The pork meat is dipped in the nam chim suki sauce.
Climbing down the mountain
On the next day, after spending a very cold night by Thai standards (10ºC), and sleeping quite badly because of the uneven terrain under our tent, we went to see the sunrise and climbed down the mountain. At 4:30 a.m. we were already on our feet, and we weren’t the only ones: Thais love to get up early, and even more if there is a nearby viewpoint to enjoy the sunrise!
Including the distance we walked until reaching the cliff from where we watched sunrise, we walked a total of 12 km on the way back. The steepest stretches took longer on the descent than when we were climbing up on the previous day. In part it was because we were careful not to slip, and in part because there were quite a few people climbing down. In total we spent about 3-4h, although we took it easy.
Summary: 42 km in just over 24 hours
When we reached the base, our legs felt already quite heavy. We had walked more than 42 km in just over 24 hours. Rest, coffee and drive back to Bangkok. We had 500 km ahead of us until the capital of Thailand, but we were really happy to have enjoyed such a great experience. Our Thai friends had told us many times about it. And now it is us who recommend it to everyone. Highly, highly recommended!
ℹ️ Tips for climbing Phu Kradueng
- Try to go during the week, on weekends and holidays there are many people.
- Rent two mats, you will sleep more comfortably.
- Be prepared for cool temperatures down to 7ºC.
- Bring a power bank with you. There are no electricity sockets at the top.
- Also carry a headlamp type flashlight.
- Bring a good pair of mountain shoes, with a good grip.
- Bring at least 1 or 1.5 liters of water for climbing up.
- Take cash, water is sold for 30/40 THB at the top.
- Don’t forget your towel and toiletry bag, but take as little as possible.
- The lighter you go, the better you’ll climb.
- Bring energy bars, bananas or various light snacks.
- Don’t forget your hat, sunscreen and sunglasses. The sun is quite hot and you can get easily sunburned.
🚗 How to get to Phu Kradueng?
Car is the best option, either from Bangkok (7h) or by renting one at Loei Airport (1h). The National Park has a parking area for free.
If you can’t drive, you can always take a bus from Loei Town to Phu Kradueng Town (it bears the same name as the park). Once in town you can hire a van or tuk-tuk to the entrance of the park itself.