Phu Suan Sai & Phu Soi Dao NPs

05 Mar 2020 15:45 - 05 Mar 2020 15:49 #5441 by wvwv
Replied by wvwv on topic Phu Suan Sai & Phu Soi Dao NPs
I did Phu Soi Dao recently.

This mountain is the 4th (or 5th depending on your source) highest in Thailand at 2120m. The trek is unusual in that it is only open in the rainy season and start of the dry season. It officially closes sometime in February I think however this year (and I did not know this until afterwards) it closed January 15th due to possibility of fires...

To get to Phu Soi Dao it's a long drive from Nan or any other airport you fly into. About halfway I drove past an accident where 3 people had just died, I saw one being pulled from the car and there was little urgency so I guess that person was already dead, it was dark but I could see it was a small body so perhaps a child. The car had hit a motorbike. I think maybe the car had lost control around the bend and hit the motorbike on the inside of the road and both had ended up in the ditch, with the car rolling judging by the damage. Or maybe the car hadn't seen the motorbike until too late and tried to take evasive action. Anyway your problems seem a lot less important after something like that.

I slept at Phu Soi Dao Waterfall which is the startpoint of the trek. I woke up at 3am and couldn't sleep again so I thought why not start walking. I set off about 4am with torches and was walking for 2 hours until dawn by which time I was already on the ridgeline. In those 2 hours I'd first smelled burning and then seen red embers at various points in the forest, often very close to the trail. In the dark this was a little unnerving and I told myself if I started seeing proper flames I would turn around. But soon I was out of the forest. The trail was covered in burnt bamboo leaves, so I guess 6-12 hours earlier there would have been flames all around the trail and it would have been impassable.

At the pine forest plateau I saw fresh footprints in the sand and soon after saw a guy around some storage buildings. He was a distance away and didn't notice me so I just carried on. With nobody else around I hiked up to the summit which took another couple of hours. The slope there is up to 75% - it's basically climbing, not walking. There are ropes which you literally have to climb up and abseil down. It is easily the steepest slope I have experienced on any official trail in Thailand. I'm surprised that they let people attempt it from a safety point of view, even with the helmets and harnesses other people mention having to wear. Also at this time of year there is a layer of dry leaves all across the trail and it acts like a manual treadmill on an incline - you step on it and the layer of leaves slides backwards underneath your feet. I had to use my hands to clear the path in front of me of leaves, in order to put my foot on dirt which was more stable.

Once at the summit I saw burning below on the plateau where I had just walked through. The guy had set fire to the dry grass. Presumably he is a ranger and it's controlled burning and he's not a random pyromaniac (or a Prodigy fan) setting large swathes of Northern Thailand on fire. I wasn't sure if he'd also set fire to the forest lower down the mountain the day before.

On the way back across the pine fields the fire was on both sides of the trail so I had to detour around it. No sign of the firestarter. I've never experienced wildfires before but from the media coverage of places like Australia this year you expect it to spread really quickly. When at the summit I was worried I wouldn't be able to get back across the pinefields. But this fire was quite slow, creeping across the ground at about a metre a minute. I imagined it would burn the trees too but of course they have too much water content and don't burn well. It's just the dry leaves and grass and dead wood on the forest floor which burns.

I took some photos of the waterfall on the way down around 1pm, this was the first time I had seen them properly. A surprising amount of water for the time of year and considering how dry the forest was.

I've now done the 5 highest mountains in Thailand!

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