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What Are “Phu’s”, What Do They Look Like and Does Chiang Rai Have One?

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When you visit Thailand, you might have heard or read name of some popular places, and may already notice there two popular words – “Doi” and “Phu”. Doi is easy to understand. It means mountains for example Doi Mae Salong, Doi Inthanon, and Doi Luang Chiang Dao.

Phu (pronounced as ‘pooh’) is another popular word for example, Phu Chi Fah, Phu Phu Kradueng (in Loei) and Phu Tub Berk (in Petchabun) and Phu Lung Ka (in Phayao).

Have you ever wondered why some mountains in Thailand are called “Doi” and some are called “Phu”?

In modern Thai dictionary, the explanation of the meaning of “Phu” is quite limited as it just a short name of “Phu Khao” which means mountain. It is also believed that Phu come from the word Phu Pha which means a rocky mountain cliff where you can see vast area below. So Phu seems to be a little bit of both mountain and cliff.

Old Thai people say that Phu was originally from Laos and it means mountain. Later it was widely used in Northern and North Eastern Thailand to describe mountains with flat area on the top. So in local North and Northern Thailand language, it means mountains with large visible flat areas on the top. Mostly they have a cliff in one of the sides.

As a Thai person, I know that generally Mountain,  Doi and Phu are basically the same things. It is just a matter of what was called first and become common to call.


This is Phu Tub Berk in Petchabun. Another Phu can be seen on the right.

Some popular Phu’s in Thailand

There are hundreds of Phu’s in Thailand and most of them are in North Eastern. I will present a few of the famous ones in Northern Thailand.

Loei province is the province with the highest number of Phu with at least 15 well-known Phus and about another  30 little known. So far Phu Kradueng in Loei is probably the most popular Phu in Thailand.

The latest statistic I could find is year 2010 from the Department of Natural Parks, there were 914,837 people visit Phu Kradueng in 2010. Because of its popularity and the impact to natural surroundings, the authority recently limits only 5,000 travelers to enter Phu Kradueng per day.

Phu Kradueng in Loie province


Phu Tub Berk in Phetchabun has become more and more popular past 10 years and seems to catch up with Phu Kradueng. However, the major problem with Phu Tub Berk recently is that it belong to a national park but some resort owners started to build new resort inside the prohibited area for over 10 years. Since most of those resorts owned by local politicians, nobody wanted to have trouble with these people by reporting it to the authority. Another reason is local authority probably profited from these resorts too.

Only 10 years the natural surrounding in Phu Tub Berk has been destroy and the green areas had been turned into concrete buildings for resorts. A few years ago this issue has been raised and put into court process, and the supreme court ruled that those who setup resorts in the national park must move out and return the land to the authority.

No owner moved resorts out until Jan 2017 when the authority torn down about 50 resorts in the area and take the lands from those resort owners. With all these scandals, Phu Tub Berk is still has one of the most beautiful morning views.

Stunning view of sea of fog in Phu Tub Berk [image: chanomkid]

Phu Tab Berk

Not far from Chiang Rai, Phu Lang Ka is a mountain with 1,700 meters of elevation in a remote area of Pong District, Payao province. This spectacular area  is perched on the side of a mountain that looks down into a valley with with several huge limestone outcrops in the valley, which is the same type as Krabi and Vang Vieng (in Loas).

The highlight of the Phu Lang Ka is “Islands of fog”, some body call it “Sea of fog” in the valleys in the early morning and sunset. Most of mountain in Thailand offers magnificent view of sunrise, but only few has equally beautiful sunset view. Phu Lang Ka has beautiful views in both sunrise and sunset.

Phu Lang Ka has only the one accommodation available – Phu Lang Ka Resort. The resort offers very basic but has a very beautiful view overlooking the valley.

View from Phu Lan Ka resort in Phu Lang Ka in Phayao province


Phu Hin Rong Kla is another famous tourist destination in lower Northern Thailand region. Located 130 kms afrom city center of Pitsanulok province, Phu Hin Rong Kla one a few unspoilt mountains in Thailand because it was under protection of the Thai military in past 50 years.

This area was a red zone during 60s and 80s as it was formerly an important base for the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT). CPT used this area as a strategic location to fight with the military due to this mountainous areas are great for defenses. The battle the military and CPT lasted for 15 years and hundreds of people had died here.

Unusual rock formations seen in Phu Hin Rong Kla, in Pitsanulok province

Pha Chu Thong in Phu Hin Rong Kla where the Communist Party’s red victory flag was situated (replaced by flag of Thailand) [image: LineManRx]

The mountain view itself is beautiful but not that spectacular – just another average mountain view. Things that lead travelers here are the unusual rock formations, which is not seen in other locations in Thailand, history or the mountain. Since Phu Hin Rong Kla is in a natural park and protected by the military, both man-made and natural attractions are preserved in the same condition.

Here visitors are able to see the communism political school, meeting halls and the administration building, museum that exhibits weapons and medical instruments used by the Communist Party members in intact condition. These kind of things are prohibited and must be destroyed in rest of areas in Thailand.

In addition, the area in Phu Hin Rong Kla has many different terrains and interesting spots including waterfalls, lush forests, bird seeing spots, and plateau of rocks near the peak with the highest point in the park at 1,600 meters above sea level.


Phu’s in Chiang Rai

In Chiang Rai, Phu Chi Fah is places where Thai tourists like to visit during winter the most because it has very low temperature, some spaces for camping and great view of the horizon seen from the peak of the cliff.  Besides Phu Chi Fah, there are another 3 Phu’s and are opened for public in Chiang Rai, which are Phu Chi Dao, Phu Chi Duen and Phu Long Tung.

And I will write the detain about these Phu’s in next post.


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