Loei of the Mountains
Loei province is one of the less populated areas of Thailand, with a good part of it consisting of jungle covered mountains.
It has more than it’s fair share of unspoiled national parks, with forests full of wildlife including elephants, wild boar, gibbons, deer, bears, and occasionally, tigers and Asian leopards too.
If you really want to get away from it all then head to the forests of Loei. It’s another world.
Some of the places we talk about here are fine for anyone to visit, while others are really only for the fit and active among you.
So, please be sensible in choosing where to go and always obey the park rangers. They know these places far better than any visitors.
(The word Phu which you’ll see in this article means ‘mountain’)
Getting there: Loei province (depending on where you go, weather etc) is a 7-9 hour drive from Bangkok.
Both Nok Air and Air Asia have daily flights to Loei city airport from Bangkok’s Don Muang airport.
Phu Kradueng National Park
Phu Kradueng is Loei’s best know and oldest National Park, becoming the country’s 2nd one in 1962 and covering 348sq km.
The highest point is 1316 meters above sea level at Khok Moei offering wonderful views across the jungle covered mountain ranges, as well as some stunning sunsets.
Phu Kradueng can get popular, mostly with Thai visitors, during holidays and some weekends but at other times it’s pretty quiet. Not so many foreigners make it here.
Don’t expect a relaxing time. If you want to see the mountain top views it can be a long tiring hike through the jungle, and for safety, you must have park rangers with you. Wild elephants are not people friendly!
And despite the fact that Thailand has a reputation as a hot country, Loei in winter can get quite chilly with average temperatures of about 15c, and colder on the mountains. So be prepared!
During the monsoon season from June to September the park is closed, as heavy rains make trekking very risky. There is some danger from sudden landslips and flash water runoffs during rainstorms.
Getting there: From Chaiyaphum town or Nakhon Rachasima (Korat) city follow Highway 201 north. The Highway takes you to the park entrance.
There are virtually no roads in the park. Trekking on foot or on rented mountain bikes is about your only option. Distances over rough terrain are challenging.
Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park
We’re cheating here as this park is mostly in the adjoining province of Petchabun, but a decent chunk also lies in Loei, so we’ve included it as it’s recent history is a bit unusual.
Covering about 307sq km, the park’s rugged terrain and strategic location made it an ideal place for guerrilla warfare.
It became a stronghold of the insurgent Communist Party of Thailand during the Vietnam era war.
The insurgents were eventually defeated in 1982 by political settlements, after many years of fruitless clashes with the Thai military.
The remains of their camps and hideouts are one of the main attractions of the park, including a parade ground, an underground hospital, and a school on the top of the mountain peak.
It’s common for the 1796 meter high mountain top to be covered in mist at various times of the year, which was good camouflage for the rebels.
The other main attractions are the stunning views across the surrounding countryside, a couple of impressive waterfalls, the frequent mists, and an unusual rock formation known as Lan Hin Tek, close to the park HQ.
This park has fairly easy access with roads running up to the park HQ.
Getting there: Highway 12 from Petchabun city, or Highway 21 from Khon Kaen City, both connect with Highway 2331 which leads into the park.
Suan Sai National Park
Just about the smallest National Park at only 114sq km it’s main interest is to bird watchers as there are an unusually large variety of species that call Suan Soi their home.
Hilly rather than mountainous, the highest spot is about 1400 meters, and the park boundary is right on the border with Laos.
On that border there is a pretty all year round waterfall at Tat Huang, about 15km from the main ranger station.
The hike to the top of Phu Kham, the highest spot in the park, is about 5km long. The first km is quite difficult but gets easier after that. You’ll be rewarded with some great views!
It may be small but its an attractive park with numerous hiking trails, but hikers have to pay a fee and have park rangers with them. There is a slight risk of encountering poachers.
There are also some easier trails you can walk yourself but you should notify a ranger of your planned route.
The visitors center is a couple of hundred meters from the ranger station after coming through the main checkpoint.
There is a basic restaurant and several small campgrounds close by. One unique feature is the possibility of getting a hot shower!
Getting there: You’ll need to organise your own transport.
From Loei town follow Highway 203, passing Dan Sai, turn right onto Highway 2113 at Km 82 and follow that road for another 50 km. It is signposted.
Phu Ruea National Park
The park is centred around Phu Ruea mountain (“Boat mountain”), a popular, scenic peak in the north of Loei province bordering on Laos.
The peak of Phu Ruea is about 1365 meters high, while the park covers about 121sq km.
From the mountain top you get incredible views across the Mekong and Hueng rivers and into Laos.
It’s a popular destination for folks from Bangkok, Chiangmai, and other cities on weekends and holidays, when they enjoy the crisp, cool air and fabulous sunrises from breathtaking viewpoints.
A beautiful waterfall drops over 30 meters at Huai Pai, and is just one of several in the park.
Apart from abundant bird species and other small wildlife, you’ll enjoy the varieties of orchid and rhododendron that are native to the area.
Other peaks include Phu Sun at 1035 meters and Pu Ku at 1000 meters. Temperatures in the winter at high altitudes can drop to freezing point.
The park is also home to one of the few High Altitude Agricultural Research Centers in the country.
One added attraction on the park’s edge is the unusual Chateau de Loei Winery, a huge vineyard with modern wine-making facilities.
(The vineyard offers tours, wine tasting, and some accommodation. Their website is only in Thai.)
Getting there: The Park is 60 km west of Loei town on Highway 203.
Phu Luang rises to 1575 meters in the southern most part of Loei. It’s surrounded by the 897sq km Phu Luang Wildlife Sanctuary, much of which is just as wild and rugged as any of the National Parks.
The sanctuary is set 1400 meters high on a plateau surrounding the mountain peak.
The video makes it pretty clear how tough and how risky it can be venturing into the jungle, and not just at Phu Luang.
Having said that, the rewards can be outstanding when you come across a waterfall like Tard Loei Nga in the depths of the forest.
The Phu Luang Nature Study Route is a 5km walk suitable for most people from the ranger station through hundreds of varieties of year round blooming flowers.
It brings you to a set of 120 million year old dinosaur footprints discovered a few years ago on a rock formation.
Don’t expect to see lots of wild animals in the sanctuary; there are plenty there but they usually have the good sense to avoid contact with humans.
The road leading up to the ranger station is a little rough, and there have been a couple of reports of drivers having confrontations with elephants.
Wild elephants are dangerous animals. It’s not safe to approach them, or any other wild animal. This is their home, not yours.
Getting there: From Loei town go east along Highway 21. The park is signposted.
Phu Pha Man National Park
Partly in Khon Kaen province and partly in Loei, this 350sq km park is mostly known for one main reason – bats.
Movements in the area’s mountainous terrain has resulted in the formation of numerous caves.
Klang Khao cave is especially known for the huge flight of bats out of the cave at dusk every day, which create an incredible flying formation averaging 10 km long.
Several other caves, including Tham Phra cave, have some very fascinating stalagmite and stalactite formations, while the Lai Thaeng cave has a number of rock paintings believed to be about 2,000 years old.
Other spots well worth seeing are the park’s highest waterfall, Tat Yai, which drops 80 meters, and Tat Rong waterfall which drops about 70 metres.
One of the natural landmarks in the park is the towering black cliff known as Pha Nok Khao, which looks like a huge owl.
It towers over the Phong river offering some nice vistas.
Getting there: From Loei city go south on Highway 201 past Phu Kradeung. It is well signposted. From Khon Kaen follow Highway 12.
Loei’s Mount Fuji
Phu Ho is often described as Loei’s Mount Fuji because of it’s distinctive shape.
This photo (courtesy of TAT) of Phu Ho was taken from a popular viewpoint on the Phu Pa Po mountain across the valley.
A sign at the viewpoint in Thai reads “Mount Fuji Loei”, and that’s how most people seem to refer to it.
A 60 baht ride on an unusual means of transport takes you up to the various viewpoints.
These contraptions are converted tractors where you sit up front or back in a makeshift seating area.
It’s a slow but fun way to get up to see the stunning vistas across Loei’s mountains from four viewpoints.
This video is all in Thai but gives a perfect feel for what you can see in and around Phu Pa Po, and what it’s like getting to the top.
Getting there: From Loei town head south on Highway 201 then turn right onto Highway 3029.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our look at Loei of the Mountains. Hopefully you’ll take time to visit this enchanting place when ever you are in Thailand.
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