A paradise for cool season adventurers

Phu Hin Rong Kla national park, which straddles the boundaries of Phitsanulok, Phetchabun and Loei provinces, offers pleasant walks and sweeping views from its sheer cliffs


With the arrival of the cool season and the passing of the rains, adventurous types in Thailand are poring over maps in search of interesting destinations to explore.

National parks scattered all over the country offer a restful environment in which to recuperate from the stress of making a living in the city. Some of these are well-known, such as Khao Yai, Erawan and Doi Inthanon, attracting busloads of visitors each day. Others are less-accessible and therefore less-known, though equally intriguing.

An example of the latter group is Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park, which straddles the boundaries of Phitsanulok, Phetchabun and Loei provinces in the North. A former stronghold of communist rebels, the picturesque mountain plateau has pleasant walks and sweeping views from its sheer cliffs.


Phu Hin Rong Kla nature reserve park thailand

As little as 50 years ago, the mountain was virtually uninhabited, covered in dense forest and far from any roads. Then groups of Hmong hill tribe people arrived, clearing areas of forest to plant opium. When the local authorities learned of this, arrests of Hmong farmers began, causing considerable animosity between the highland and lowland dwellers.

By the mid-1960s, the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) also had a strong presence in the area, supported by their Laotian brothers across the border. The CPT sprang to the defence of the Hmong farmers and established a base at the top of Phu Hin Rong Kla. This was a time of growth for the CPT, as students and farmers alike saw in it a preferable alternative to the military that controlled the country.

In the early 1970s, the government stepped up its campaign to eradicate the communist threat, but despite the deployment of the army, air force, national guard and civilian units, the stronghold atop Phu Hin Rong Kla proved impenetrable.

Caves and overhanging rocks offered protection from air raids, and the few access routes to the mountain peak were heavily defended. After the October 1976 massacre at Thammasat University, thousands of people, including doctors, teachers and artists, fled to Phu Hin Rong Kla to take up arms against the government.

But by the early 1980s, the tables had turned. The communists supplies of weapons and ammunition were dwindling, and the government offered an amnesty to all who laid down their arms. Most of them did so, and the mountain was taken without a fight.

In 1983 an access road was built and on July 25, 1984, Phu Hin Rong Kla was officially established as Thailands 48th national park. The area had suffered badly during the years of conflict and much of the forest cover had been stripped, but surveyors deemed it of sufficient natural and historical significance to put it under Forestry Department protection.

The park covers 307 square kilo metres with elevations ranging from 300 to 1,800 metres. As such it has three distinct forest types - dry deciduous, hill evergreen and pine. The principal rock is Korat sandstone, which at the summit has been carved by wind and rain into curious bubble formations that are the parks most distinctive attraction.

Though the park is believed to contain tigers, bears and deer in this wilder reaches, visitors are unlikely to see much more than squirrels, birds and butterflies on the plateau.


Phu Hin Rong Kla

Despite the size of the park, most visitors limit themselves to a short stroll of a few kilometres on the flat summit, which takes in the most striking historical and natural features. The small car park gets quite crowded at weekends and people are constantly coming and going over the circular route.

The path leads first to what is termed, rather unromantically, the multiple use area. It is a wide, open space of undulating rocks where meetings and festivals were once held during the occupancy of the communists.

The formal headquarters of the CPT, built in 1977, stand in a secluded grove where dainty wildflowers flourish. The peaceful atmosphere makes it difficult to believe this was once a hotbed of unrest, but a crude jail in a corner of the area shows that the rebels had their own rebels to contend with.

Not only is the site of the headquarters protected by sheer cliffs, massive boulders and towering trees, but it is also near several strange-shaped rocks that jut outward, offering ideal protection for many people from air attack. A single anti-aircraft gun stands printing at the empty skies, and many passers-by are tempted to grasp its controls and fire down an imaginary enemy - no doubt a result of playing to many video or computer games.

Though there is little earth on the plateau, every nook and cranny in the sandstone gives a foothold to many different types of mosses, lichens, ferns and ground orchids.



Phu Hin Rong Kla sky Thailand

From the headquarters, the path winds its way to Flagstone Cliff, where the red and yellow communist banner has been replaced by the Thai flag, fluttering above a sweeping view of rice fields way below. The path looks curiously regular in parts and seems almost landscaped with circular stones, but on closer inspection it proves to be the effect of erosion on the soft sandstone.

Flagstone Cliff is a classic spot for a snap shot with its view across forever, but not the place to ask your friends to step back a pace or two to squeeze into the frame, since the ledge overhangs a drop of hundreds of metres.
The curious rock bubbles at Lan Hin Poom

A path follows close to the cliff edge through a wonderland of ferns, twisted trees and enormous rocks teetering on the edge. After a few hundred metres, the path arrives to Lan Hin Poom, where wind and rain have weathered the sandstone into a regular pattern of molehill-sized mounds about 30 centimetres high. The mounds make convenient seats for visitors to again enjoy the expansive view.

During the communist era, this was a favourite spot for patients of the Community Hospital to convalesce, due to its constant cool breeze. The route back passes beautiful ground orchids and ferns, as well as an overgrown cemetery containing the bodies of fallen communists.

Other nearby reminders of the mountains former occupants are the Political and Military School and water wheel. The school sprang up when numbers mushroomed after the student uprising in October 1976, and new arrivals were given crash courses in ideology and rifle practice.

At that time a weekly newspaper entitled Independence was printed here, engineers designed equipment for the hospital and constructed the water wheel for pounding and winnowing rice, while musicians ar ranged concerts to boost morale.
Dried-out fern

Being an area of rugged terrain, there are plenty of waterfalls in the park, though paths leading down and up to them can be steep and slippery. Not far from the site of the school a track leads down to Rom Klao and Paradon waterfalls, each surrounded by lush plant life. The most beautiful but least accessible fall is Man Daeng, which involves a walk of seven kilometres on an unmarked trail; potential visitors should ask at park headquarters for directions.

There are several bungalows of varying sizes and a campsite at park headquarters, and one of he great attractions of he park is sitting round a campfire on a chilly evening when the temperatures can fall below 10 degrees Celsius.

Several food stalls compete for visitors custom. Route 2331 traverses the park from the Nam Sai entrance in the north, climbing nine kilometres to the headquarters and visitor centre, then continuing over the plateau to the southern entrance at Tab Burg, where there is yet another spectacular view, this time of massive rock outcrops rising from the plains of Phetchabun.

Travel tips




Phu Hin Rong Kla flowers Thailand

Getting There: Phu Hin Rong Kla lies about 430 kilometres north of Bangkok. Take Route 11 to Phitsanulok, then Route 12 east toward Khon Kaen. At km 68 turn left onto Route 2013, going to Nakhon Thai. After 24 kilo metres the park is signposted on Route 2331.

By public transport, buses connect Phitsanulok with Nakhon Thai, from where occasional songthaews leave for the park.

Reservations: On a normal weekday, reservations are not necessary, but weekends and national holidays get booked well in advance. For rates and reservations, contact:

National Parks Division,
Royal Forestry Department,
Phahol Yothin Road, Bang Khen,
Bangkok 10900
Tel 579-0529 or 579-4842, fax 579 1154

or:

Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park,
P.O. Box 3,
Amphoe Nakhon Thai,
Phitsanulok
Tel (055) 389002