Phu Pha Man National Park (Loei/Khon Kaen)

13 Apr 2022 14:46 - 02 Sep 2022 13:37 #5778 by wvwv
This was a great find, I've driven past it twice before but never saw much online to pique my interest.  All the attractions (mainly caves) are well spread out.  The headquarters area only has a nice camping ground and a 600m nature trail up to a viewpoint.  There's a waterfall across the road but I went in April so didn't bother looking at that.

This is the walk up the nature trail and the viewpoint.

For me the best part of the park is the forested area near Pha Nok Khao Town.  Pha Nok Khao is best known for where you get off the Bangkok-Loei bus to get the songtaew to Phu Kradeung.  When you get off the bus you can see the huge mountain behind you.


Just as I was coming through the town a lorry came past me and blew a tyre, it's the loudest bang I have ever heard, maybe on a par with a lightning crack striking very near.  I just about dived for cover thinking Putin had invaded Isaan!  All the tyre shredded and it took off the metal mudguard too, leaving a trail of debris all over the road.  I've been in a minivan in Thailand that blew a tyre but this was something else... out of interest I checked and the pressure for truck tyres is about 8-9 bar where a normal car is 2-3 bar, I guess that's why it makes more of a noise.

Looking at the mountain you would think it would be impossible to get up there but there is a group that goes up every December to change the flag.  I believe it's also possible to hire private guides to take you there too.  I had no idea where to start from so wasn't planning to attempt it, I was just going to check out a couple of the caves, starting with Tham Lai Thaeng (ถ้ำลายแทง).  I think the way Google Maps directs you to this cave is wrong, I think you should head to Phaya Nakarat Cave and walk from there.  But I didn't know that so started on a trail from 16.822159495781765, 101.94736961333179.  The trail was marked with bottles and cans every few metres but they quickly fizzled out and the trail became hard to follow.  I realised by then that it wasn't a trail to the cave because it was going in the wrong direction.  Since it was heading uphill I thought it might go to the karsts.  It's all bamboo so even off trail it's quite easy to walk, and you will have to go off trail because the path isn't obvious after the first part.  ** don't attempt alone without a GPS or GPS app on your phone - you will get lost! **

Half an hour of walking later I made it to the top of a rocky outcrop which had great views.

I have no idea what this tree is but in case it is new to science I would like to name it the Sideshow Bobbus tree after the Simpsons' character because they have the same hair.  The bark is razor sharp when it starts to split open.


You could call it a day here and not be dissatisfied but I had some time so onto the next!  Climbing up this one I found some amazing rocks which made a sound like a wine glass, this was the best one, I had to hold my phone in my mouth hence the wobbling:


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13 Apr 2022 16:04 - 14 Apr 2022 20:03 #5779 by wvwv
There is another tree common up here - Afzelia Xylocarpa, this is a pod full of seeds.  It's an IUCN endangered tree because the bark/wood fetches such high prices.


The second cliff/karst I got up was number 2 on the picture, I was aiming for 1 but completely lost my bearings.  The red line is the route I took and it was really tough, a lot of climbing... this is where that musical rock was.  I think the blue line up 1 would be much easier.  1 and 3 have flags atop them, 2 doesn't, perhaps because 2 is harder to get up.  I wanted to try and go from 2 to 3 but it looked too dangerous.  I'm not sure how to get up 3 relatively safely.


Here are the views from 2:


Above, flag on top of karst 1.


Above, flag on top of karst 3.



Above, top left across the valley about 500m away is where I just walked from.

All these karsts are playing second fiddle to the main karst which is a few km away - the one where the group goes up every December.  It's the karst directly above Pha Nok Khao Town that you can see when you drive along the road.  Here is a video of that group arriving at the top that I found on Youtube, watch 50-70 seconds for the best views:

Any vertigo sufferers can probably give that one a miss!  If you want to go here and want a guide, probably best to contact Phu Pha Man National Park.  043249050    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Smog was pretty bad in April, you can see the grey in my photos.  I'm planning to go again in October so I will check out the caves properly and also try and do the main karst above Pha Nok Khao.  I believe there are cave paintings and millions of bats in some of the caves.

In April lots of butterflies driving along the backroads to Phu Pha Man.  Plenty of these flowers about also:


I think this is the route I will try (brown):



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27 Jul 2022 14:57 #5817 by wvwv
Last month I had another go at this and got close but I misjudged the final ascent and ended up a few hundred metres off on another peak, almost as tall but not quite.  You can't follow the map when you get close because it's not accurate with the slope gradients (even on terrain and satellite view), you have to try and get a vantage point and see with your own eyes the path to take.  I was a bit tired by then and you can see some rain approaching in some of the photos below, so decided to go down rather than across the valley and up again.  I might try it again in October, but even just thinking about it makes me feel less than enthused.

The biggest problem apart from the terrain are the mosquitos.  Lots even in daytime.  I've now established that there are no clear paths up these peaks, I've read another report from a Thai who went up with a local guide and they mention the guide getting 'lost' many times and having to backtrack and try another way.  I think lost is an unfair term because there is no path, it's just a case of finding the route of least resistance.  And they mention how it is more like climbing than hiking which matches my experience.

That's Phu Kradeung in the distance, one of my favourite places in Thailand.


This is the highest peak.  It looks very close but not possible to walk it in a straight line, from where I took the photo you would have to walk backwards and down 30 minutes, across the valley 20 minutes and then up again for maybe an hour.


These are those smaller rocky outcrops mentioned earlier in the thread, centre and centre right.  You can see they are considerably lower.


Green pit viper near the bottom of the trail, I can't tell the difference between all the green vipers.


I also had a look at that cave mentioned earlier - Phaya Nakharat - it was barriered off but you could park at the barrier and walk through, no staff around.  Possibly a seasonal closure, not sure.  Very impressive inside and there was a separate section away from the cave with some rock paintings.




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06 Aug 2022 23:54 #5868 by onflipflops
Replied by onflipflops on topic Phu Pha Man National Park (Loei/Khon Kaen)
This is a (male) Large-eyed Pit Viper, Trimeresurus cf. macrops. 
The following user(s) said Thank You: wvwv

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26 Oct 2023 12:43 #7008 by wvwv
10km drive of the main Phu Pha Man Visitor Centre area, is Wat Sung / Wat Tham Sung.  Drive to 16.725669172593808, 101.9213669149602 and walk up for 30-60 minutes from there.  I think you are supposed to take off your shoes for the entire walk which is strange as a lot of it is bare earth and the step sections are not exactly clean too.


I had seen some pictures of the views already so was expecting a nice viewpoint but what I wasn't prepared for was the precarious way the platforms have been built onto the side of the cliff.


There is only one turning on the path, a thinner sidetrail left goes to this smaller peak below (centre of photo).  The main wider path continues on straight.


Definitely worth the walk.  Also near here is a road/path which I haven't had chance to do yet but it looks like it might be a nice walk through forest for 4-5km.


Also had a quick look at Tham Khang Khao cave famous for bats flying out in their millions at sunset but my schedule meant I could only be there in the middle of the day.  The cave smelled really bad from the bat guano.  I read about a trekking group which went into a hollow tree in Nakhon Si Thammarat to observe bats and they breathed in the fungal spores and got sick with histoplasmosis a week or two later.  So I didn't stay in there long.


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