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Phu Suan Sai & Phu Soi Dao NPs

21 Aug 2018 15:44 - 22 Aug 2018 08:16 #5058 by BKKBen
Phu Suan Sai & Phu Soi Dao NPs was created by BKKBen
Hi all,

This is my first post here, and I'm just looking to see if anyone on here has any knowledge about hiking and camping at Phu Suan Sai and Phu Soi Dao National Parks in Loei and Phitsanulok provinces respectively.

I've been to Phu Suan Sai NP a few times (my wife is from Loei), but I've only ever stayed at the bungalows and birded the roads/hides. This December, however, a friend and I plan on hiking to the 'high' campground, which at 1408m claims to be the 'Top Camping Point in Northeast of Thailand'. I'm not sure if the sign is referring to it being the 'highest' campsite in Isaan (or if that claim is true), but thought it could be a fun little expedition.

When my wife and I were there in April, we casually asked about camping up there and we were informed that we'd need a guide and have to give a couple of days notice before arriving so they could arrange things. The ranger at the park told as that the hike up only took a few hours and wasn't too strenuous. My question to this page is, has anyone here hiked up and camped at this campsite at Phu Suan Sai NP?

Secondly, after we've spent a few days at Phu Suan Sai, we plan to move on to Phu Soi Dao NP, where neither of us have been before, and like at Phu Suan Sai, we plan on hiking to the top campsite for a night on the mountain. So, similarly to my last question, has anyone on here done the hike up to the higher campsite and camped the night, and if so, was a guide needed for this?

Given one can't book too far ahead at national parks, we've got some time before needing to book anything. Closer to the time, I'll probably just ask my wife to call the respective national parks for up-to-date info on pricing and logistics, but thought it couldn't hurt to ask on here.

Furthermore, I've read Robby's fantastic write-ups on here detailing his numerous expeditions to Thailand's many national parks, but was after more specific info on this occasion.

Thanks greatly in advance,

Ben.

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31 Aug 2018 14:54 - 31 Aug 2018 14:56 #5075 by WT admin
Replied by WT admin on topic Phu Suan Sai & Phu Soi Dao NPs
I think you may have to fill us in after your trip Ben ;+) 
It does not look like anyone knows any details yet.
I  am sure you have already seen these (?) ............


www.norththailandbirding.com/pages/localities/phu_suan_sai.html
www.thaibirding.com/locations/north_east/phu-suan-sai.htm

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31 Aug 2018 18:12 #5079 by BKKBen
Replied by BKKBen on topic Phu Suan Sai & Phu Soi Dao NPs
Yeah, I've looked at those sites many times, especially Nick Upton's; it was from that site that I initially learnt about Phu Suan Sai NP, and have subsequently visited on a couple of occasions while visiting family in Loei. Incidentally, the cabin that I've stayed in at PPS has been by far the best I've stayed in at Thai NPs - quite comfortable and very spacious (Cabin 102 for those interested).

I will definitely write up a trip report with sighting, logistics etc. once we've been on this trip. We also plan on spending a day at Phu Luang Wildlife Sanctuary on our way back into Loei before flying back to Bangkok.

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24 Sep 2018 11:29 #5097 by BKKBen
Replied by BKKBen on topic Phu Suan Sai & Phu Soi Dao NPs
A small update on the planning for this small trip:

To hike to 'Campsite 1408' (as it's known), you must hire a guide, and the cost is 600B (supposedly not per person, just per trip). Porters are not required, but can be hired for 30B/kg of equipment. The national park can provided all camping and cooking equipment; you must simply bring along the food and drink you wish to have while camping atop the mountain. The park staff did ask where we will be staying the night before ascending, and we told them that we'd be staying in the park bungalows, and they seemed happy with that as they would know we would already be at the park the morning of the hike up. Additionally, the staff at Phu Suan Sai NP were more than happy to take our booking when we called up.

At Phu Soi Dao, a guide is not needed to hike up to and camp at 'Lan Son' campsite, but one must be hired if you wish to hike further and actually reach the summit of Phu Soi Dao - the cost for a guide for this is 500B/person. The whole summit hike can easily be done in a day, and we plan on hiring a guide as we go up, leave our gear at the campsite, hike to the summit, and then stop and camp at Lon Son campsite as we descend. As with Phu Suan Sai, all equipment can be hired from this NP if required. However, unlike PSS, the staff at Phu Soi Dao didn't want to take any booking now, and told us to call back closer (within a week or so) to our arrival date.

So, that's it. It was all pretty simple to organize (so far...), and I'll be happy to write up a trip report on what was encountered on our hikes/stays in these national parks upon return to Bangkok.
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30 Dec 2018 21:43 #5149 by BKKBen
Replied by BKKBen on topic Phu Suan Sai & Phu Soi Dao NPs
Hi once again,

So I’m back from my trip to Phu Suan Sai and Phu Soi Dao NPs,which also included a morning at Phu Luang Wildlife Sanctuary on our way back
to Loei. 

Here’s a report on the first part of the trip, Phu Suan Sai.

After hiring a car from Loei airport, my friend and I grabbed some supplies from Loei and headed off to Phu Suan Sai NP where I had
pre-booked accommodation. The drive from Loei to the PSS took just over two
hours, and after double-checking our hiking/camping booking for the following
day, we checked into our bungalow before doing a little late afternoon birding
along the road that heads north from the NP’s HQ and accommodation. Though
nothing terribly interesting presented itself, we were greeted with a bird-wave
of small forest birds at the corner directly above the culvert hide (at which
we’d sat for a short period of time before deciding the time of day and
temperature probably weren’t conducive to high bird activity).

The following morning we set off up to ‘Noen 1408’ campsite at around 9 am, and along with the required
guide, we were joined by a Thai tourist couple from Loei, and four monks
accompanied by a female relative. Initially we’d planned on carrying our own
rented tent and bed mats, but once seeing the size of these, we decide to
simply carry our own backpacks with gear and food etc., and pay the 30B/KG/day
for the porter, who happened to just be one of the two park rangers who joined
the trip.

The first two kilometres of the hike went through mostly bamboo thickets, and
was relatively steep, though utilized numerous switch-backs, and was completed
within an hour owing to a small break after about 30 minutes. The bamboo
started to give way to more evergreen-type forest after this break, but due to
focusing on the hike, not a lot of birding was done during this first hour, but
the usual species in this type of habitat seemed to be present.

After this first two kilometres, we came upon a fork: head north along the ridge to the campsite,
or head south to a strange rock formation in the forest. Given we had more than
enough time on our hands, we left our packs at the fork and headed to the rock
formation with one of the rangers and the monks. Along the way we came across
some sapria himalayana, but little else, and once at the rock formation –four large boulders in a square formation – the monks prayed for a while and my
friend and I looked for birds; nothing much showed itself, but a Common Green
Magpie was heard. All in all, this side-trip to the rock formation was about
1.7km each way through the forest, with the way there descending very slightly.



Once we’d made our way back to the fork, and our packs, the monks decided to stop for lunch, but my friend and
I decided we’d prefer to press on and reach the campsite. The campsite ended up
being another four to five kilometres north along a ridge, and the trek was
very easy, with only slight, gentle inclines at times, with us arriving at the
campsite around an hour and a half after we’d left the fork, owing to a few
small water stops at viewpoints. As before, not a lot of birding was done along
this trail, but several areas, especially some more open areas closer to the
campsite seemed like quite good habitat, with several species of bulbuls seen,
along with minivets and other smaller species. It was also along here that we
first encounter the leeches, and there were many!!!

The ‘Noen 1408’ campsite itself is situated at the northern edge of the ridge, and affords fantastic views over
the surrounding countryside east towards Phu Ruea. Once we’d set up our tent,
we set out exploring the small, yet open campsite, which had three other trails
leading off it, not including the trail we’d arrive on: one very steep trail
leading down off the eastern edge; another trail that led through forest from
the western side of the campsite; and, the last trail that lead north-west from
the northern end of the campsite; it would this trail that we’d leave the
campsite from the following day.

There seemed to be quite a lot of bird activity around the summit of Phu Suan Sai (at around 1408m), and
along with numerous soaring raptors, smaller birds were also present, including
phylloscopus warblers, a female Vivid Niltava, and a Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher. Among other birds seen at the summit were several bulbul species,
Stripe-breasted Woodpeckers, Orange-breasted Leafbirds, a Large Hawk-cuckoo,
and unidentified white-eyes and minivets. Undoubtedly, more astute birders than
my friend and I would be able to turn up some more exciting species, especially
at this time of year.




Following the night of camping atop the mountain where the temperature dipped to around the mid-to-low teens
(but no lower), we descended the mountain from the path leading off from the
north-west of the campsite. This trail led down more steeply than the trail
that led directly to the trail along the ridge, and after about 300m, we were
in evergreen forest and came upon a small bird wave. The trail continued west
for another kilometre or so before reaching a small, grassy hill with a small
shrine at the northern end – a place the monks once again stopped to pray.



After this place, the trail became quite steep, and led through much more open,
drier forest than the trail we taken up the mountain, and like our ascent,
concentrating on carrying packs and footing became more important that birding;
although, we did have a close fly-by from a vocal Crested Serpent-eagle, which
was a nice experience.

In all, after leaving the campsite at around 9am, we reached a pick-up spot on a dirt road at the base of
the trail at around 11:30am, having walked just over 4km. We did, however, have
to wait quite a while after our truck had arrived, for the monk’s friend must
have unfortunately slipped on the way down and exited the forest with her arm
in a sling. The drive from this pick-up point back to the park’s HQ was a
couple of kilometres and took around 10-15 minutes.

I think I will definitely do the hike up again, but next time I will camp for
two nights to allow for more exploration of the trails off the summit, and I
will definitely leave the mountain off the same trail we originally hiked up. Aside
from birds, and a single macaque seen crossing the road while we were being
driven back to HQ, there was significant signs of wild boar, especially on the
way down the north-western side of the mountain.



(1 - Turn-off to PSS HQ; 2 - HQ/trail head; 3 - fork in the trail up; 4 - Noen 1408 Campsite; 5 - grassy hill/shrine; 6 - pick-up spot)
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31 Dec 2018 09:38 #5152 by Paul T
Replied by Paul T on topic Phu Suan Sai & Phu Soi Dao NPs
Great write up Ben! Now I know something about the place its another one to add to my list ;+)
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31 Dec 2018 21:08 #5153 by BKKBen
Replied by BKKBen on topic Phu Suan Sai & Phu Soi Dao NPs
Thanks, Paul. 
I'll write up the Phu Soi Dao NP leg of the trip, too, but due to internet issues, I'll do that once back in BKK.
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04 Jan 2019 16:17 - 04 Jan 2019 17:28 #5159 by BKKBen
Replied by BKKBen on topic Phu Suan Sai & Phu Soi Dao NPs
Hi once again. Here is my write-up for the Phu Soi Dao NP leg of our trip, which included an ascent to the summit.

After three nights at Phu Suan Sai NP, my friend and I droveto Dan Sai to pick up his wife who would be joining us for the rest of our trip. We left Phu Suan Sai at around 8:30am and picked up my friend’s wife at the guesthouse where she’d stayed after arriving from an overnight bus from Bangkok. And by around 10:30am, after we’d stocked up and had a quick breakfast, we were leaving Dan Sai for Phu Soi Dao NP, a drive that would take us about two hours, leading us back past the entrance road to Phu Suan Sai NP.

We arrived at Phu Soi Dao NP headquarters at around 12:30pm and quickly set about organizing the porters to carry the water and food we’d require across the two nights at Lan Son campsite. My friend’s wife also had her large backpack carried up by a porter; however, my friend and I decided to carry our own. After a short pickup truck ride up the road to Phu Soi Dao Waterfall, where the trailhead up the mountain is located, we were off up the trail. It should be noted that I had pre-booked the tent ‘site’ online prior to coming, but I doubt this is necessary unless visiting over a long holiday etc.


Trailhead at Phu Soi Dao Waterfall


First stream crossing - others are just bamboo poles across the stream.

Our hike began at around 1:20pm, and the first several kilometres follow (and cross several times) a stream, and is mostly flat, with a few small dips and metal staircases to climb. It’s perhaps at this stage good to mention that the 6.5km trail as signed, it actually much closer to 10km, with the park rangers at the top of the trail admitting as much. On several occasions further up the mountain, several signs a kilometre or so apart signal ‘1.5km to go’.


As mentioned, the first part of the trail followed a rocky stream, and while we didn’t do a whole lot of birding on the four-hour hike to the campsite, Slaty-backed Forktail was seen along this steam, and in the bamboo thickets close to the first true ascent, a pair of Bamboo Woodpeckers was seen – always a great bird to see!

From the trailhead, the ‘6.5km’ trail ascends around 1000m,with the Lan Son campgrounds and surrounding pine fields sitting at an elevation of around 1600m. The trail seemed to become very ‘birdy’ after an elevation of around 950m, and we actually stopped to do some birding here, and among the smaller birds, woodpeckers were very evident, with Grey-capped Pygmy, Stripe-breasted and Lesser Yellownape all seen. The whole way up, the sounds of barbets was also a constant presence, and both Blue-throated and Great were seen.

The last section of the trail begins at ‘Dead Hill’, and it’s a fitting name, especially after carrying a pack for more than three hours up a hill. I won’t lie and say this part was easy, because it was difficult, but that was mostly because of the steep ascent and fatigue due to carrying a large pack. However, by a little before 5:30pm, we had arrived at Lan Son campsite, meaning the hike took us around four hours. Needless to say, we slept well that night.

We were up just before 7am the next day to prepare for the hike to the summit, which ascends the further 500m or so to Phu Soi Dao’s highest point – 2102m above msl. This trail is a little over 2km in length, but the last few hundred metres of so are a scramble up a dirt track that quite thankfully – especially for the descent – has ropes almost the entire way up. Before the hike, there was a bit of bird activity around the campgrounds, with numerous species of bulbuls present, including Mountain and Black, and a nice
surprise in the form of a Blue-winged Minla.

The hike to the summit began at around 8:20am, and there was a group of perhaps 20 people, including the three of us, but not including the four rangers/guides who were required. The fee to climb to the summit was 500B per person, and everyone had to wear helmets, gloves and a harness; however,
the harness must only be required if you wish to use it, as neither my friends nor I were asked to attached it to anything on our ascent. In all, to reach the
summit, it took us about 2 and a half hours, and this included a few rest stops along the way, but nothing too long.

My friends and I, along with a couple of other climbers, were well ahead of the rest of the group, and as such were afforded almost an hour on top of the mountain to enjoy the views and eat our lunch before the remaining, larger group arrived, and it’s a good thing too, as there is not a long of space up
there. We were told by the rangers that at times it can get very crowded up there; though luckily there are no immediate cliffs.


Summit marker


View from the summit - the clearing just right of centre is Lan Son campground/pine fields.

So, after our rest, we headed back down, which was actually a lot of fun, with the ropes making the descent both a lot faster and more enjoyable than I has envisioned on the way up, and the descent took us a little under two hours. Towards the bottom, where the path had flattened out, I had walked off ahead of the group, and due to this I was afforded fleeting views of a family of wild boar that I had startled. However, not much else in the way of wildlife watching was done during both the ascent and descent, due to the need to concentrate on the task at hand.

The rest of the afternoon was spent walking around the pine fields that make up the plateau on which the campsite is located. There is a 2.2km circuit trail that runs around part of this plateau, as well as a trail that leads down to a waterfall. We didn’t walk to the waterfall, but we did walk the circuit, which is a flat, open trail, and we again found woodpeckers and barbets to be quite common among other species.


Phu Soi Dao summit from Lan Son.

We had only booked two nights at the campsite, so we were off the following morning back down to our car at the park’s headquarters, and by the time we’d packed everything and arranged our belongings for the porters – all three of us had our gear carried down this time, to allow for an easier trip and some birding – it was about 8:30am. We hadn’t gotten far before the birds made themselves noticed, and we spent half an hour or so at the top of the trailhead overlooking the treetops, and the bird life including nuthatches, cuckooshrikes, flycatchers, and a flycatcher-shrike among the ever present barbets and woodpeckers.


Our porter carrying out gear off - just leaving the Lan Son at the top of the trail.


This is the ridge that the trail between Phu Soi Dao Waterfall and Lan Son campgrounds follows.


Looking up 'Noen Morana' (Dead Hill) - the final ascent before reaching Lan Son.

We again stopped at around 950m above msl to do some birding as once again the forest seemed to be alive with birds, albeit mostly small, fast-moving species, with leaf warblers being very noticeable. One other thing we noticed on the way down was a steady trail of young Thais slowly making their way up the mountain – it was Saturday morning, and the campsite was sure to be rocking that Saturday night; we could only imagine what the place must be like on a long weekend/holiday – surely NOT a time to come and enjoy the nature.

It also seemed that many of these young ‘hikers’ were ill-equipped/informed about the length and steepness of the hike to Lan Son; we passed one group of young people obviously looking forward to partying at the top, with one young man hilariously carrying up a plastic bag full of ice – he had about another three hours to go. Another instance of the unaware nature of these young hikers was when we came across a small group stopped not a kilometre from the trail’s starting point; this group hadn’t even ascended any of the hills yet, and asked us how much further it was to Lan Son. They also seemed unaware that food was not available at the campgrounds and that you must arrange your own.

Anyway, given the few stops on the way down to do some birding, the trip down took a little less than four hours, and once at the bottom, we tipped out porter and headed to the headquarters’ restaurant for a hot meal. Even around the headquarters there is significant birdlife, with both Stripe-breasted and
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpeckers easily viewed, as well as both Grey-backed and Brown Shrikes among more common species.

So, my verdict on this national park is that it is a great place, and I will hopefully return some day. While I doubt I’ll do the summit climb again, camping at Lan Son for several nights would allow for easier access to the great forest halfway up the trail – as well as the pine fields themselves – without having to worrying about getting to the top to set up camp or get to the bottom to leave. However, I definitely think that Phu Soi Dao NP would be a place to avoid during long holidays, and possibly even normal Saturdays in the cool season.


(1-Park Headquarters; 2-Phu Soi Dao Waterfall/Trailhead up to Lan Son; 3-Approximate location of the first'hill'; 4-Approximate location of last 'hill'; 5-Lan Son Campgrounds)

(6-Phu Soi Dao Summit)

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06 Jan 2019 08:14 #5164 by Paul T
Replied by Paul T on topic Phu Suan Sai & Phu Soi Dao NPs
Sounds great - all sounds very physical. Did you notice any increase in small flowering plant species when you were at the upper elevations?

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06 Jan 2019 19:30 #5165 by BKKBen
Replied by BKKBen on topic Phu Suan Sai & Phu Soi Dao NPs
Hi Paul, I didn't really notice any increase in small flowering plants, but that was more because I wasn't looking, not that they weren't there. I know that Lan Son campsite and surrounding pine fields are famous for their wildflowers at the right time of year, and there were flowering trees, both before the campsite and at the base of the actual summit ascent.

And while it was quite physical, I believe it could be a great place to explore if you had all your gear carried up for you, leaving time to explore the forest trail on the way up and down, and during your stay. Camping at Lan Son for more than two nights would definitely make exploring the surrounding paths, ridges and forests more accessible than on our trip, which was essentially planned around reaching the summit.

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