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Driving to Phu Chi Fa Mountain

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Joanna Horanin

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Last updated at 25/07/2024, 10:30

Hi, I'm Joanna, the author of The Blond Travels. In the worlds of Thailand and Portugal, I feel like a fish in water - and it's no coincidence! I've been exploring Thailand for over a decade, and I've settled in Portugal for 6 years now. My mission is to support Dreamers - just like you - in discovering these fascinating countries and helping those in love with them find their own place on Earth, preferably for good! Let's uncover these unique corners of the world together.

Phu Chi Fa Mountain is probably a place you’ve never heard of. It’s an amazing, beautiful spot in the North of Thailand, which is quite popular among the locals. Do you want to see it, too? Driving to Phu Chi Fa Mountain will be a great experience and an adventure! 

We rented a car in Thailand! I thought it was a very bad idea at first. How can you drive a car here? It’s hard to drive a scooter in this traffic… But M. was determined and we decided to give it a try.

But this post is not about driving a car in Thailand per se (although, it would be a good subject). This post is about driving to Phu Chi Fa – a mountain on the border with Lao, a place where not many visitors get to. 

Phu Chi Fa Mountain – Explanation 

Phu Chi Fa is a mountain area in the northern Thailand, which is located around 2 hours drive from Chiang Rai. It offers amazing views over the nearby mountains and many come here to witness beautiful sunrises. It is especially popular during the hot season as it is cooler there and the air is usually a little fresher (although not the freshest due to the farmers burning crops). 

The region is rich in different species of flora and fauna. There are also a number of tribes living in the mountains. 

Driving to Phu Chi Fa Mountain – My experience 

I visited Phu Chi Fa in 2014. I’m glad that I wrote this post as it was one of the best trips I have done from Chiang Mai. Here is how it went. 

Getting there 

After visiting the White Temple and the Black House in Chiang Rai, we set off to the Phu Chi Fa Forest Park. Someone had said it was incredible, the GPS said it was only 2 hours drive from Chiang Rai, and my friends said it was going to be an adventure. And adventure it was. Mostly because only M, who was our driver, could read a map. I was sitting in the passenger seat, clenching to my phone and praying that the remaining 20% of the battery I had left will last until we reach the destination. My friends’ phones were in the same situation. The GPS worked slowly, confusing us all.

I really tried to navigate… I really did.

“Oh turn here!!!”, I shouted out.

“Where? Here?”, asked M., hitting the breaks.

“Hmmmm… Maybe not… I don’t know!” I looked at the phone and then at my other 2 friends, sitting at the back. They were sleeping. Men are useless sometimes, you know.

“Jesus! Joanna!”, that was the first time I saw M. frustrated. She pulled the phone out of my hand.

I looked around. We were in the middle of nowhere. It was a late afternoon, and looking at the map we weren’t even half way there.

M. decided to drive and look at the map at the same time. Thanks to that she hit another car’s mirror, but except that she did really well.

Finally, after a great deal of getting lost we got to a mountain road. And you know how the mountain roads are… They usually go up, they are twisty, bendy and dangerous. Our poor Toyota barely managed to drive. The further we went, the more dangerous the roads were. Sometimes it seemed like the car would fall over.

It got dark fast. We saw lights in the distance and were sure that we finally got to a place, where we could stay overnight. But, when we got there, it turned out to be a tiny village with no facilities. We went further. There were more lights… We started considering sleeping in the car, or asking someone to take us for a night… But finally we reached a place, on a side of a mountains, which could accommodate us in one bungalow for 1000 Baht.

The sunrise on Phu Chi Fa Mountain 

Someone said that watching the sunrise from the mountain top would be incredible, the GPS said it was only 5 min drive, my friends said it would be amazing. So, we decided to celebrate the fact we got there in one piece with a bottle of Hong Thong (for those, who don’t know – Hong Thong is a really cheap Thai whiskey. 200 Baht for a big bottle).

Thanks to that bottle the 5 am wake up call was painful, the drive seemed like the longest one in the world, the trek from the parking lot took my breath away (and not because of the views) and I began thinking like it was a bad idea to go all the way up to the mountain. But we got there!

Phu Chi Fa mountain see from the distance at sunrise
The road leading to the top of the mountain wasn’t that difficult.
Phu Chi Fa mountain top see from the distance at sunrise
The edge of the mountain looked amazing from the distance.

It was cold and misty. It started to brighten up. We stood on the top of Phu Chi Fa and looked around. At the bottom there was forest, stretching as far as an eye could see. Because of the mist we didn’t have much hope to see the sun rising, but we waited.

Phu Chi Fa mountain range see from the phu chi fa mountain
At first it was very misty and cold.

We chatted and laughed and almost forgot why we had got up at the crack of dawn… I turned around at one point, just in time…

“Oh!”, I exclaimed, “Here it comes!”

“What?”, asked Marion.

“The Sun!”

shadow of a woman sitting on the phu chi fa mountain at sunrise
When the sun started rising, it was magical.

I must say, I have seen some sunrises in my life, but that one I can count as one of the most spectacular I have seen so far.

phu chi fa mountain range with the sun shining in the distance
At first the sun looked like a little dot.

Phu Chi Fa Mountain – Useful Information 

If you would like to visit the Phu Chi Fa Park and the nearby area, here is some useful information for you. 

How to get to Phu Chi Fa Mountain? 

Phu Chi Fa is not a well known place and not is frequently visited by tourists. However, there are a number of ways you can get there. 

The map of Phu Chi Fa. 

Driving to Phu Chi Fa 

You can easily rent a car in Chiang Mai. There are quite a few rental places at the airport. Some of them offer to deliver the car to your hotel, which is very convenient. Use Rentalcars to book your car in Chiang Mai, or Chiang Rai. 

To make it easier for you, here are some directions. 

Phu Chi Fa Park is around 2.5 – 3 hours drive from Chiang Rai (at least that’s what the Wikitravel says. Bear in mind, that it took us 4 hours to get there.) Directions from Chiang Rai: Leave the city southbound on Route 1 (Phahonyothin Road).

Take the turn off for Road 1020 which will lead you south and then east. 1020 eventually splits in a rural town – with a left turnoff continuing as the 1020 and ‘straight on’ becoming the 1021. Follow the 1021 – you will begin to see signs for Phu Chi Fa and will take a left turnoff for the 1155 before reaching the town of Ngao.

This road passes through some incredible scenery but you will need to keep an eye on signs at junctions – eventually you will come to a checkpoint, keep right. A little further you will reach a T junction – take a right, following the signs for Phu Chi Fa Forest Park. From now it is a direct road and you will see signs for the amenities – parking, camping, information, and the ‘viewpoint’, i.e. the peak.

Buses to Phu Chi Fa 

Another way is to take a bus. In order for you to do it, you need to get to Chiang Rai first. Next, go to the bus station and find a stand that sells tickets to Phu Chi Fa. There are a couple of buses going there every day.

Where to stay in Phu Chi Fa? 

There is plenty of accommodation in Phu Chi Fa and you don’t really need to book in advance. However, if you would like to do it anyway, here are some recommendations:

Where to eat in Phu Chi Fa? 

There is a number of small street bars in the area, so don’t worry, you won’t be hungry. 
At the time of my visit, the local restaurants didn’t have any English menus, so bear that in mind. Learn a couple of names of dishes in Thai and you’ll be fine. 

How to see the sunrise in Phu Chi Fa? 

First, check when the sunrise is and then calculate how long it will take you to get there. It takes around 30 minutes to walk briskly from the parking lot to the view point. Try to be on the hill at least 10-15 minutes before the sunrise. 

If you’re driving, it won’t be very difficult to find the view point. Just ask at your hotel and they will point you at the right direction. If you don’t have your own transport, you can book a taxi at your hotel. 

Things to bring with you

  • Warm clothes – during the day the temperatures are quite high. During the hot season it might be as hot as 30 degrees. However, during the night it is cold and you should take long pants and a jumper with you. It is also cold on the mountain and waiting for a sunrise won’t be enjoyable if you’re wearing shorts and a tank top. 
  • Good shoes – trekking to the mountain in the dark is not advisable in flip flops! 
  • Water and a snack – for the sunrise. I always go hungry and thirsty if I get up super early in the morning. 
  • GPS – charge your phone, make sure you have data. It’s also a good idea to download a map on your phone, so you don’t have to rely on the internet when looking for the correct route. 
  • Alcohol and snacks for the evening – it’s of course optional, but if you would like to have a drink in the evening, it’s best to have something with you. Shops and bars close early in the mountains. 
a woman with a camera standing on an edge of a mountain in thailand
This photo was taken by my friend Adam.

Do you have any questions? Would you like to share your experiences or your point of view? Don’t be shy! Leave a comment!

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