Continued from my last post here, Chiang Rai is among the top five most popular provinces where tourists from all over Thailand visit during winter, Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and Loei. The main reason for this is the cold weather, mountains, and fresh air and morning mist that we can’t find in most of other cities in other regions of Thailand.
Mountains are famous destinations where Thai travelers like to visit because they normally have low temperature, they have spaces for camping and offer great view over mountains and the horizon.
My last post is about the unofficial definition of “Phu”. I explained why some mountains, especially in North and Northern Thailand, have their names started with Phu. There are 4 Phu’s that are opened for public to visit in Chiang Rai. Pha Tung is also Phu but since very few local people call it Phu’s, I will just leave Doi Pha Tang of out this post.
Let’s have a look at these 4 Phu’s.
1. Phu Chi Fah
By now there is no introduction required for Phu Chi Fah. This post I will be presenting something different, something not not many people know about Phu Chi Fah. It is its the history.Phu Chi Fah is set in “Doi Pha Mon” mountain range in Thoeng District. It is a home to Chinese Haw (Yunnanese Chinese – who fled to Thailand to seek refuge), the Hmong and Yao hill tribes. These hill tribe are peaceful and friendly and but in the past the majority of them normally grew and sold opium as main source of income.
About thirty or forty years ago, Phu Chi Fah (including Doi Pha Mon mountain range) was considered as one of the two most dangerous places in Chiang Rai, besides the border near Golden Triangle. Local people were prohibited to commute into the area. The reason is there were a lot of attacks on civilians and soldiers by Thai communist activists (TCA) in that mountain range.
During 60s, Doi Pha Mon mountain (and Phu Chi Fah) was declared as a red zone in Chiang Rai because it was the area where TCA and some drug traffickers lived and hid for a few decades. These Thai communist activists were the supporter of Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) who had command center from Laos and lower Northern Thailand such as Pitsanulok and Petchabun province.
In 1967, the first battle between the 2 sides began when the Thai military sent a large troop to eliminate TCA in the area as per direction of the Prime minister to eliminate Communism in Thailand. However, the soldiers who mostly came from other provinces were not familiar with the terrains and couldn’t defeat TCA as expected. Many of TCA members moved to Phu Long Tong, 20 kms from Phu Chi Fah to take control of the a village and setup command camp there which I will explain in the section of Phu Long Tung later on in this post.
With fewer number of members, TCA used Guerrilla warfare technique to fight with the army by hiding in along the mountain range. Sometimes they lived among local villagers to avoid direct battle, but usually ambushed the soldiers when they had chances. Since it was not easy to identify who is who, the Thai army set military bases along the area perimeter to contain TCA. Later it declared Doi Pha Mon as a Red Zone where nobody could go in or out without military check for almost 15 years.
In 80s, with the support from The United States aimed to prevent the “Domino Effect” in SEA, the Thai government heavily attacked on TCA again. However this time it adopted a special government order, encouraging CPT members to defect with very little or no punishment. Some members would even receive rewords such as ownership of land and fund to raise family. Those who were against the order would be killed or sentenced for a long time. Since then the number of CPT started to decrease. The very last groups of CPT supporters became terrorists and lived in the mountainousness areas near Thailand-Laos border. Phu Chi Fah is one of those locations.
The last battle between the Thai military and TCA took place in 1990 on the way to Phu Chi Fah peak. It was an ambush that caused one death of soldiers. After that event, around 1991, TCA had been eliminated almost completely from Chiang Rai.
After TCA was gone, paved roads had been built to villages in the area, electricity was connected and more infrastructures began to be installed. At that time, Phu Chi Fah was already popular among local Chiang Rai travelers. A few Within a year, Tourism Authority of Thailand had opened Fu Chi Fah officially as a tourist destination in Chiang Rai in 1990.
In the same period, the hill tribes in most areas in Chiang Rai already stopped growing opium by the influences of the King Rama 9’s royal project which aimed to find the substituted crops for hill tribes. For example, Doi Mae Salong found tea, while Doi Chaang found coffee as a substitute to opium. And Phu Chi Fah and other mountainous area in in Thoeng district found cabbage and tulip as substitutes.
Though not commercially successful, the area of Doi Pha Mon is now one of the largest tulip production in Chinag Rai. Tulip from here is displayed in the Chiang Rai Flower Festival during Dec-Jan in Chiang Rai every year.
In 1998, the Department of Forestry officially announced 990 acres of Doi Pha Mon including Phu Chi Fah as Phu Chee Fah Forest Park (In Thai meaning, a forest park is similar to national park with a few differences such as no facility, no authority personnel in the area, and no entrance check point).
Nowadays, Phu Chi Fah is a safe place and it is a perfect spot for camping and for taking photos. At the peak, you can see the sunrise coming out from the top of the mountain with the sea fog. With the incredibly beautiful scenery, the cool weather and beautiful local flowers, it attract thousands of visitors each day.
The best time to visit this place is during winter – mid of October to end of Feb. However, if you can, try to avoid date from 20 Dec to 10 Jan (even though they are the best date to visit) because it is the most crowded period that you will only see area with full of people.
There are 2 buses from Chiang Rai city center to Phu Chi Fah Market daily, leave the station at 09.00 hours and 13.00 hours. During winter (normally from 30 September to end of Feb), there are 2 vans from Chiang Rai bus station – leave 07.00 hours and 12.30 hours. You can rent a motorbike from Chiang Rai city center and enjoy scenery along the way.
There plenty of restaurants there but only 2 have delicious meals and very popular among Thai travelers – Pha Sook Restaurant and Baan Din restaurant. Both restaurants are owned Thai-Yunannese families who lived here for more than 40 years. Both restaurants are located on the road side with beautiful view of mountains below. When you’re there, don’t miss Chinese steamed bun with spicy sauce and stewed pork leg on rice with soup. Both restaurants serve almost the same menus and equally delicious.
2. Phu Chi Dao
Phu Chi Dao may not be familiar by most people because it was just opened and promoted by Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) in 2016 only. It is located only only 8 kms away from Phu Chi Fah and it has the similar nature and surroundings as Phu Chi Fah.
Some people say Phu Chi Dao is even more beautiful and more peaceful than Phu Chi Fah but it is a lot harder to reach. There is no shop, hotel or any facilities there. This is why in the past not many people liked to go there.On the peak, the trail is very steep and and narrow (about 2 meters wide) which make it very dangerous to walk. The authority has built temporary wooden fences to prevent people from falling down. You will enjoy a 360-degree panoramic view without trees to obscure the vision, and in a clear day you can see Phu Chi Fah quite easily.
Phu Chi Dao is about 200 meters higher than Phu Chi Fah. The highlight of Phu Chi Dao are the view of the sea fog and beautiful sunrise, the view of the mountain range look far and wide and the view of Mekong river from the distance.
In the morning, you can see mist covering valley and surrounding areas below. It gives the feeling of standing on the cloud in the sky. This is why local people call it Phu Chi Dao which means “mountain pointing the stars“.
There is no shop, no water, restaurant or any facility in the area. So, you have to bring all you need yourself. You may need medicine, mosquito and insect repellent. Also you need strong boots because there are a lot of leech during the beginning of winter.
Since the way up is steep and rough, cars can’t reach Phu Chi Dao. A motorbike is doable but requires riding skill. Many groups of travelers arrive here with mountain motorbikes. The easiest way is to ride on a four-wheel drive. The distance from the main road to Phu Chi Dao is 3 kms. When reach the parking area, you will need to continue on foot for another few hundred meters to reach the peak.
In case, you arrive here without any vehicle, there are local 4WD trucks available in a small village located right on the way up to the the peak. The village is called “Ban Rom Po Nguen”. The fare of the 500 Baht for whole ride as long as it’s under 5 people. If there are more than 5 people, the cost is 100 Baht per person with maximum of 10 people. So if you find somebody to ride with, it is cheaper.
After reaching the base, you have to continue walking through the jungle in small steep walk way to the peak. It’s about 400 meters from the base where the trucks are parked. There was a small area in Phu Chi Doa for camping but the authority found that it was too dangerous for camping and now camping is prohibited there. You can only setup camping on the way to the peak only. You can hire a tent from shops or hotel on the way which cost about 450-500 baht per night.
One of the comfortable ways to get to Phu Chi Dao is to stay in a hotel somewhere near Phu Chi Fah, and after enjoy Phu Chi Fah, you can arrange a pickup service from the village to Phu Chi Doa. From this area, the pick up will cost about 100 Baht per person only.
Since Phu Chi Dao is less crowded than Phu Chi Fah and Doi Pha Tang, it is great for those who want to find new places, who seek a romantic and quiet atmosphere and who want to get close to real nature. I think it is likely to be more crowded in next few years.
3. Phu Chi Duen
At the time of writing, Phu Chi Duen is the newest tourist destination in Chiang Rai. It was officially opened to the public by department forestry and Tourism Authority Thailand on Dec 4, 2016. Phu Chi Duen is also located in Doi Fah Mon mountain rage, exactly in the middle point between Phu Chi Fah and Doi Pha Tang.
Phu Chi Duen is the second highest among all peak in Doi Pha Mon mountain range with the elevation of 1,743 meters above the sea level, just behind Doi Pha Tung, whereas it’s 1,628 meters and 1,688 meters for Phu Chi Fah and Phu Chi Dao, respectively. It is just under on hour’s trek from Phu Chi Dao, but from Phu Chi Fah, you need to ride a vehicle because it is far and the trail is very rough.
To get to Phu Chi Duen is similar to the way to get to Phu Chi Dao. You need a 4WD or a powerful motorbike to get to the parking area near the peak. There is a truck service in “Ban Rom Pha Luang” village and the fare is the same as Phu Chi Dao – 500 Baht for the whole ride and if more than 5 people, it’s 100 Baht per person. It’s about 2.8 kms from the to the park area, then you need to hike for another 300 meters to the peak.
Since the road to Phu Chi Duen is more dangerous other peaks, it’s not recommended to ride your own vehicle to the peak because the road is very narrow and steep. It’s better to take truck service from drivers from the village because they are familiar with the route. If you you arrive by a vehicle, you park your vehicle in a village called Ban Rom Pha Luang. Then take truck service there.
Phu Chi Duen is pretty much similar to Phu Chi Dao in many aspects such as terrain, surroundings and views. On the peak, you will enjoy a 360-degree panoramic view without trees to obscure the vision. Phu Chi Duen has a wide flat area near the top which the department of Forestry open for public for camping. The area is very quiet and very less crowded but there is toilet and a couple of drink stalls near the camping area.
On the peak, there is a point where we can see the border between Thailand and Lao PDR with a long mountain range in the background. You can see Phu Chi Fai from here as well.
4. Phu Long Tung
Phu Long Tung (pronounced as something like pooh long tongue) is one of the least known mountain destinations in Chiang Rai. Even it has a long story since 1982 when the King Rama IV visited this mountain, most local people these days haven’t heard about it. TAT tried to promote it since 2012 but had to stop the campaign to focus on Phu Chi Dao and Phu Chi Duen. So far Phu Long Tung hasn’t been popular yet. Since it’s not popular and not many tourists there, this the reason why you should visit it.
History of Phu Long Tung
Long Tung is the name of a Mong hill tribe village, set in Doi Pha Mon mountain range, 20 kms from Phu Chi Fah. The official name of this mountain is “Doi Paya Pipak” but not many people call this official name as it is too hard to pronounce. Most people like to call its original as “Phu Long Tung”.
In 1966-67, the insurgency of communism by Thai communist activists (TCA) spread all over Northern and North Eastern Thailand and it caused the first battle between the Thai army and TCA in Doi Pha Mon. After the battle, many of TCA members fled to this Long Tung village and took control over the village, while some retreated to other parts of the mountains such as Phu Chi Fah and remote areas near the border.
In Long Tung village TCA members force innocent villagers to be part of its members and set up TCA command camp. It was the biggest TCA base in Chiang Rai. Many villagers denied TCA to join and got killed, some were willing to participate hopping to have more income from opium trade organized by the members of TCA. Also a number of hill tribe villagers got killed by soldiers by misunderstanding.
Since it was not easy to tell between members of TCA and villagers, the armies set military based throughout the area to contain people in the area, and declared Doi Pha Mon as a Red Zone where nobody could go in and out without military check for almost 15 years.
In 1981, with the aid from The United States and direction from the Thailand Prime Minister to suppress communism in the country before it became communism country, the 473rd Infantry Regiment marched into mountains in Chiang Rai including Phu Long Tung (also in Phu Chi Fah at the same time) to take control the areas by force, while offering a special government order, encouraging members of CPA and TCA to defect with very little or no punishment.
TCA base in Phu Long Tung was destroyed and defeated. Many of its members had been captured, and who agreed to cooperate were released, while some had been sentenced for many years. TCA in Phu Long Tung was eliminated in 1981, however, there were a few groups of TCA were still active in other areas such as Phu Chi Fah but with very minor impact to local people until they had been dissolved completely in early 90s.
According to the words of local people, Thai soldiers that time were relatively bad at combat in mountains. In many occasions since the first battle, anti-communist Kuomintang (KMT) of the 93rd Division, the same troop who fled from China to Doi Mae Salong several years earlier, came to help Thai solders fight against TCA by the invitation the Thailand prime minister.
The novel victory by KMT was in Doi Pha Tang, where Thai solders was initially defeated by TCA but KMT arrive and fought back until TCA was defeat. Besides Chiang Rai, KMT also join the Thai army in the battles in Khao Ko (Petchabun Province) and Khao Ya (Pitsanulok Province). After communist in Thailand has been suppressed, troop from KMT put down their arms, gave up growing opium and take up farming instead. KMT including their families received Thai nationality as the recognition of their service.
The battles in Phu Long Tung over 15 years had caused the loss of hundreds of lives of soldiers, TCA members and villagers (informal number speaks up to thousands). This cause unfriendly relationship among local people, hill tribe villagers and soldiers in the area.
In 1982, the King Rama 9 knew that a lot of people lost their live in here and the relation among people who lived here was worst. So he visited Phu Long Tung built a small statue as a tribute to those who lost their lives here as encouragement for people to live together peacefully.
Phu Long Tung today
After the battle ended, Phu Long Tung becomes a peaceful area where local people and hill tribe villagers live together peacefully. TAT started to promote it a few years back but still hadn’t been popular. One of the main reason for this is there are a few peak in Phu Long Tung, but no mountain peak where people can stand and do camping like Phu Chi Fah or Phu Chi Dao. Majority of Thai travelers like stand on the peak to view and take photos of mountain cover by mist in the morning.
Another reason is Phu Long Tung is close to and on the way to Phu Chi Fah (20 kms), so most people don’t want to waste time here. They tend to directly go to Phu Chi Fah which is more attractive.
Phu Long Tung have a good view of surrounding mountains. You can see areas of 4 districts (Phaya Mengarai, Thoeng, Weing Khaen and Khun Tan district) from one of the peaks. The peaks are not as high as other Phu’s. The elevation here is mostly with the elevation of 900-1,300 meters from the sea level, but it does give stunning view from the top.
The highest peak here is called Doi Khun Huai Chedi with the elevation of 1,218 meters. It is where a temple Khun Huai Chedi is located (It is interesting that Thai people really like to build temples on the top of mountains). There is a viewpoint overlooking the wide view of mountain and forest down below. In a clear day, you can also see Phu from here as well. There is a very tiny museum with a collection of pictures of the events that took place on Doi Pha Mon, Doi Yao and Phu Long Tung, as well as historical photographs of His Majesty the King Rama 9 at the time of his visit 35 years ago.
In Phu Long Tung there is a natural pond where Mong hill tribe believe where a dragon lived hundreds of years ago. It is probably the highest natural pond in Thailand which has the elevation of 1,100 – 1,200 meters. In fact Long Tung means dragon in Chinese. Since Mong hill tribe villagers were from China and have lived here more than a hundred year ago, they called this place as Long Tung until today.
Phu Long Tung is covered by mixed evergreen forest. Most part of it had been deforested for farming many years ago but there are still small portions are still intact. The authority declares announced this mountain as a national park to prevent further deforestation. In a quiet day, you might see small wild animals in the areas such as wild boar, hedgehog, weasels, squirrel and flying squirrel and wild rabbit.
Phu Long Tung looks like a regular mountain but it has beautiful scenery along the road. It’s really good for a road trip during weekend. On the top you will enjoy great views of mountains. If you come from Chiang Rai to to Phu Chi Fah, Phu Long Tung is one location that you should stop by.
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