Gets chilly up there
Published/Last edited or updated: 19th December, 2016
The name translates as "Boat Mountain" due to its supposed resemblance to a giant Chinese trading junk. One of Thailand’s coldest places, the 1,365-metre-high peak occasionally weathers hail -- do pack a sweater!
While the park is best known for its temperate flowers, it also hosts a share of monkeys, bears and wild boar, barking deer, turtles and snakes. Migratory birds stop here on their ways south from China as winter approaches. Windswept grassland covers part of the mountainside, and Phu Ruea is the source of many small rivers and streams in the surrounding hills.
After passing through the entrance just up the hill from Phu Ruea village and paying a 200 baht fee (for foreigners), visitors climb a steep and narrow road to the main visitor centre. Along with a giant digital thermometer and a display with several types of snakes kept preserved in large jars, a desk with an English-speaking ranger offers good info on the park, including maps and brochures. If you don’t have your own wheels, a songthaew can be hired to take you up to the peak.
The road then gets steeper as it passes numerous viewpoints and granite rock formations, including Hin Tao, which really does look like a giant tortoise. After reaching a second parking area, it’s necessary to take a songthaew or walk the final 500 or so metres up to the peak. Here you’ll find a Buddha image, more rock formations and a pavilion to go with breathtaking views of mist settling between distant mountain slopes and agricultural fields. On clear days, you can make out the Hueang and Mekong rivers.
Many visitors choose only to visit the peak, but another narrow road carries on to two mid-size waterfalls in the west of the park. This area also hosts a smaller visitor centre where you can rent a tent and supplies (150 baht) to stay at a campground set amid an often-foggy pine forest. Basic restaurants and convenience shops with limited hours are available both here and at the main visitor centre.
The vicinity of the main visitor centre is also where you’ll find five large cabins that all sleep at least four people and go for a pricey 2,000 to 3,000 baht per night. Outside park gates, along Route 203 as well as the access road to the park, a dozen small resorts rent rooms and bungalows starting at 500 baht. Wanraya Resort is the largest and closest to the park gates, but you’ll find more basic spots further down the road.
Mainly geared toward domestic tourists, the town has a small market and a handful of restaurants and convenience stores. Just west of Phu Ruea town is Chateau de Loei, a vineyard and farm cultivating macadamia nuts in addition to grapes; the wine is lacklustre but the farm stand is worth a stop. The area also supports countless small hillside farms specialising in potted plants and flowers.
Though indeed picturesque and worth a visit if you have no shortage of time, Phu Ruea will be a challenge for travellers without their own wheels. The park is small enough that it can be visited as a long day trip from Loei town if you’re motorbiking or arranging a taxi for the day. Sugar Guesthouse can provide help with both.
Phu Kradueng National Park is probably a better bet if you have to choose, though Phu Ruea is a good backup if you’re here when Phu Kradueng is closed for the rainy season. The gates are open daily from 8:00 to 17:00.
The gates are located just north of Route 203, which runs directly through Phu Ruea town. Buses between Loei and Phitsanulok and minibuses between Loei and Dan Sai can drop you along the main road, but we saw no taxis of any kind and you would need to walk quite some way uphill to the visitor centre if arriving without transport.
Coordinates (for GPS): 101º20'41.42" E, 17º30'52.03" N
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David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.