Thanks to its rugged terrain and remote location, Phu Hin Rong Kla served as the headquarters of the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) and its People's Liberation Army of Thailand (PLAT) for some 15 years in the late 20th century.
It's been over 30 years since bombs wreaked havoc on the natural environment, and today the area is defined by scenic viewpoints with dramatic history.
Phu Hin Rong Kla was the scene of off-and-on battles throughout the 1970s, ending when the Thai military finally defeated the CPT in November of 1982. The victory owed heavily to cooperation from the local Hmong population and students who had joined the Communists following the Thammasat University massacre in 1976, but abandoned them when an amnesty was declared in '82.
In 1984, 307 square km were declared a national park, a distinction that perhaps stems as much from the area's notorious history as its natural beauty. The mountainous terrain reaches up to 1,800 metres at its highest point, with several viewpoints perched atop breezy cliffs. The park's eastern and southern portions reach into Loei and Phetchabun provinces.
At the visitor centre, a small museum showcases artefacts from the Communist era, including medical instruments, Chinese anatomy charts and paintings of Mao Tse Tung and Joseph Stalin that would have provided inspiration to the CPT. Some of the captions are in English.
Near the museum is a pleasant 3.5 km trail leading to the old CPT headquarters, an air raid shelter and the Flag Pole Cliff where the Communists' red flag once flew. Close to the cliff is the park's natural highlight: Lan Hin Pum, a nodulated stone hill that slopes gradually down and looks like the surface of another planet. The CPT once brought wounded soldiers here to seek relief from the cool air.
Another location in the park houses what's left of the Communist military school. Originally, the school was comprised of about 30 wooden buildings, but the air here is quite damp and the houses are slowly rotting away. A 300-metre-hike brings you to a small waterfall and water wheel that was built by engineering students from Bangkok who defected to the Communists in the mid ‘70s.
Several other small waterfalls are found in the park, some only a few hundred metres off the main road, while others require a more strenuous four to five km hike through the forest. Along with an impressive array of flowering plants, much of the wildlife that fled during the battles has returned, including monkeys, Asiatic black bears and supposedly a tiger or two.
A variety of overnight accommodation is available near the visitor centre, ranging from 800 to 2,400 baht and sleeping from three to 15 people; check the park's website for more info. Simple outdoor restaurants serve Thai food near the visitor centre and bungalows. Entry to the park is 200 baht for foreigners.
How to get there
The Park is a 120-km drive east of Phitsanulok city. If travelling with your own wheels, follow Highway 12 before turning left on to Route 2013, towards Nakhon Thai, at the 68 km marker. From here, signs point the way right (east) down a side road into the park, well before you reach Nakhon Thai. The road from Phitsanulok is mostly flat, but the last 10 km are very steep. You can also take one of the local buses that run from Phitsanulok to Nakhon Thai, then catch one of the four songthaews that run to Phu Hin Rong Khla between 8:00 and 15:30 for the remaining hour-long trip to the park, though this would require some backtracking and might be more effort than it's worth.
By David Luekens.
Last updated on 19th December, 2016.