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Get Higher than the Clouds on Thailand’s Glorious Phu Chi Fa

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Chiang-Rai-000004Loosely translated from the Thai, Phu Chi Fa means “hill that points to the sky,” and anyone who’s ever visited knows exactly what this means.  It is a grassy promontory atop the highest peak in Chiang Rai province’s Doi Pa Mohn mountain range, and it juts skyward and into the clouds some 1,600 meters above sea level.

Through the clouds, actually, as during the early morning hours when the nighttime starlight fades, visitors to Phu Chi Fa are treated to the sight of dawn’s golden light emerging in the east, the sun slowly rising over a sea of mist beneath them.  It’s not until later when the daylight has burned through this ocean of clouds that the beautiful and verdant valley below is exposed, and Northern Laos, other parts of Northern Thailand, and the meandering Mekong River are visible in the distance.

The 360° views are immaculate and on clear days the combination of the panoramic vistas and the crisp, clean – and in winter, quite cool – mountain air will take your breath away.  And while the natural beauty and serenity of the area is stunning, it is not restricted to the Phu Chi Fa summit.

Chiang-Rai-000213The Phu Chi Fa Forest Park is a protected area surrounding the cliff at lower elevations (from the peak down to about 1,200 meters) that is covered in primary forest featuring a wide variety of lush evergreens, plus several other tree species, and a diverse array of ground-covering plants like ferns, different kinds of moss, and of many types of grass and, due to the cooler climate, lots of colorful flowering shrubs.  The fauna is diverse here too, with many mammals, birds, amphibians, and even fish in their natural habitats.

Like the Chinese proverb informs us, the journey is the reward.  And in the case of Phu Chi Fa, if it’s not the reward then it’s at least a large portion of the pleasure.  Besides trekking through the verdant and abundant forest en route to the peak, there are many other things to enjoy along the way, such as one of the nearby Hmong hill-tribe villages.  There, people flourish by living basic, traditional lives in the mountains far from the rest of the developed world.  Visitors can enjoy the laid-back village life, experience the local culture, and support local artisans by purchasing their handmade arts & crafts.

Chiang-Rai-000562One can also stop at the neighboring Thai-Lao border market where customary Thai and Lao textiles and handicrafts are on offer, or, on certain days each month, visit with Lao tribal people who hike over the mountains into Thailand to set up a market for their goods.

Phu Sang National Park is also part of Doi Pha Mon Mountain Range, and for a real heavenly treat visitors should not miss the single-level, 25-meter high Phu Sang Waterfall.  The amazing thing is that the falling water emanates from a spring above at a temperature of 35°C.  The surroundings are abundant evergreen forest and freshwater swamp forest, and you can view the gentle cascade of hot mineral water as it joins the river below, or look from the top and take in the hot springs from which it originates.  Be sure to pack a bathing suit so you can enjoy a totally unique swimming experience, and even a picnic lunch.

Visitors to Phu Chi Fa can stay overnight at local villages Ban Rom Fa Thong and Ban Rom Fa Thai, and camping is also available very close to summit.  The park does provide for some basic facilities such as restrooms and running water, but bring your own gear for that truly sublime outdoor experience with just the moon and stars, and the early-morning sea of mist, about a 1.8 kilometer hike away from the Phu Chi Fa peak.

So be sure to visit beautiful Phu Chi Fa, and get higher than the clouds!