Pointing to the sky, Magical Phu Chi FahThe literal translation of Phu Chi Fah is ‘pointing to the sky’, and that is exactly what this viewpoint does. Forming the boarder between Laos and Thailand, Phu Chi Fah is a steep hill on the Thai side but has about a 1km sheer drop on the Laos side. From here you can look out across Laos’ low-lying villages and back over the mountainous North Thailand.
Phu Chi Fah is a place I hadn’t heard of until I read the Chiang Rai Bulletin. I believe it has to be the best kept secret in Thailand. A tiny village sits below the viewpoint that is otherwise surrounded by beautiful Thai mountain-scape. The people were incredibly friendly and happy to engage in pseudo sign language to help us out.
The biggest barrier for us was getting to the small village. The main bus station in Chiang Rai is being re-built and it is currently in a state of total disarray. After a whole lot of sign language and some broken English we found ourselves in front of a lady sitting at a desk on the footpath. After a lot of confusion, we were able to communicate we were after tickets to Phu Chi Fah. She was extremely patient with us and next thing we had a couple of minivan tickets.
We did contemplate hiring a car, however, after a few key issues were raised we decided the minivan option was safest. The road is extremely treacherous, with potholes up to a foot deep. We even saw a 2m tall tree growing out of one in the middle of the road! The driver was excellent, he obviously knows the roads very well and is able to navigate the potholes with little concern. Even he dropped down to first gear and was taking it easy for the last portion of the journey.
ACCOMMODATIONSearching for Phu Chi Fah accommodation online is relatively pointless. If you want to have something pre-booked you will end up in the next town, 45km away. A lot of places are contactable via telephone but I think unless you speak Thai it would be very difficult to try and organise anything. We arrived on a Saturday (from what I understand the weekdays are extremely quiet around there, with Saturday night being the busiest), and found were a guesthouse easily. Unfortunately the guesthouse names are all in Thai so I couldn’t tell you where exactly we stayed. There are also a couple of campgrounds, one at the bottom of the road to the lookout and one about halfway up.
FOODWe ate at the local restaurants along the main road. The only pre-requisite was they had an English translation on the menu. All the food we had was excellent, even the basic noodle and rice dishes were incredible. Full of authentic flavour.
ACTIVITIES & ATTRACTIONSWe made the trip to Phu Chi Fah purely to check out the lookout from the top. It is worth travelling the few hours and negotiating the difficult terrain to see the sunrise. We got up at 3.30am the first morning, planning on walking to the top (it’s about 4km uphill from the township). We found a group of men sitting around a fire opposite the Police Box who told us (again with pseudo sign language) that there was a man giving rides up the hill from 4.30am for 30B per person. They offered us a seat next to the fire where we waited for our ride. The driver dropped us at the top carpark, about 750m from the peak. The walk to the top is a pretty steep climb, make sure you have a torch each and decent shoes (it’s pretty slippery). We picked a cheeky position front and centre and sat back to enjoy the stars for about an hour before first light at about 6am. The sun put on a spectacular show for us (and a couple of hundred others) and we stayed until about 7.30am.
After deciding to walk down, a car pulled over offering us a lift back to town. We jumped in without hesitation and enjoyed the cruise back.
Day two we wandered down and our friends from the previous day weren’t to be found! After waiting until 4.30am, we took off, deciding to walk and hopeful someone would take pity on us and give us a ride. Luckily, we didn’t have to go far until we found a lift. We awaited the suns arrival just below the top, to capture the sun as it rose over Phu Chi Fah point.
While I found the view from the top breathtaking, this lookout gave us a completely different perspective. Another great morning! We cruised back to the bottom, enjoyed a beautiful omelette and coffee, before heading back to Chiang Rai.
PEOPLE & CULTUREThe people here have been fantastic. Throughout Thailand I have found the people to be quite guarded. This little village is yet to become a major tourist hit, which I think makes the people less jaded. It has been really refreshing to be welcomed into a village like friends and we really appreciated all the help people were willing to give us. There is a bit of hill-tribe culture that continues to exist. Young children were playing on the streets dressed in the traditional clothing (which I think may be a show for the tourist) which was really nice to see.
MISHAPSAs anxious as we were about the transfer to and from Chiang Rai, we made it without any issues. While communication was difficult, we didn’t have too many barriers. We were lucky a man who travelled both ways with us spoke English fluently and was able to translate to the driver for us.
WHAT WE LEARNTThe mass tourism throughout the vast majority of Thailand has taken a bit of the authenticity out of many places. The food is less spicy, the people less friendly, and it largely seems for the benefit of European tourists.
BUDGETWe are going well with the budget now, spending 400-500B per night on accommodation, 400-600B per day on food, and small amounts here and there for activities. A lot of things (like Phu Chi Fah) are free, you just have to get yourself there.
PLANHead back to Chiang Rai for a few days before taking the overnight bus to Udon Thani, followed by a bus to Nong Khiaw where we will (hopefully) cross the boarder into Laos.
IF YOU WANT TO TRAVEL TO PHU CHI FAH…• Brush up on your sign language. No one speaks English here (which wasn’t an issue at all for us).
• If you are going to hire a car or scooter a drive yourself, keep in mind the absurd potholes and be wary of people coming the other way who will also be dodging them.
• When we travelled there was only one minivan daily, departing Chiang Rai at 1.30pm (arrived at about 4.30-5pm),
• The minivan departs Phu Chi Fah township (from the carpark by the Police Box) at 9am and most people return the following morning
• If you want to stay 2 nights (which we did) just check with the driver (somehow) that there is a minivan the day you want to return.
• The minivan costs 150B per person each way.
• It is mainly an attraction over winter (November – March) with the peak time mid-December to mid-January (I think this is when most Thai schools are on break). We travelled in the end of November and had no issues finding accommodation.
• It does get cold here overnight and I needed my big winter jacket at Phu Chi Fah in the morning. Keep this in mind if you plan on camping.