The plan: travel to Loei province in Isaan and hike onto Phu Kradeung, a mountain which is also a National Park. So we met at 19:15 h at BTS station Ploenchit and took the Skytrain to Saphan Kwai station, where we wanted to catch a taxi to take us to Mor Chit, Bangkok’s Northern and Northeastern bus terminal, from where our bus to Loei would depart at 20:10 h. We, that’s my girlfriend Noom, my friends Marc, Mario and Clive, and I.

The problem was: there was no taxi, absolutely nada. So after waiting for a couple of minutes, we got on board of 2 Tuk-tuks. Our Tuk-tuk had a good start with little traffic, but then we were stuck in traffic near a U-turn we had to do. The clock was ticking but we hardly moved. We would’ve surely missed the bus if Noom’s Tuk-tuk driver hadn’t done a couple of wild manoevers which got her to Mor Chit soon enough to make the bus wait for the rest of us to arrive.

Happy PassengersThe bus was a 24-seat VIP bus which was very comfortable. We got blankets, pillows, water and food (some very sweet chocolate sandwich and fried rice with pork), so we had everything we needed for a good journey. And fortunately the aircon was not programmed to deep-freeze us this time. I’ve experienced worse.

Anyway, after leaving Bangkok, the bus went to Loei via Saraburi, Chaiyapoom, Chumpae and Baan Pha Nok Khao, where we got off at around 4 am. At the bus station, we bought some souvenir hats and scarves and then quickly took a songthaew to the Phu Kradeung National Park Headquarters, some 10 minutes from Baan Pha Nok Khao.

When we arrived at the Park Headquarters, the driver told us the trail up to the mountain would not open before 7 am, which was very disappointing because we had hoped to climb part of the way before the heat of the sun could reach us. Instead, we had to wait for more than 2 hours. Fortunately, some shops and restaurants were open, so we enjoyed a nice Truly Thaiway breakfast – I had a rice soup with pork while the others had noodle soup.

While eating our meal, we heard an announcement that the park would actually open at 6 a.m., so Noom and I went to the headquarters to make a reservation for tents, sleeping bags, mats and pillows. All we had to do now was to pay the admission fee (200 B for foreigners, 20 B for Thai) and check in our bags. At shorly after 6 am we were ready to go. Phu Kradeung, we’re coming!

Hold on. Checking in our bags??? Yes, that’s what I like about Thailand: all kinds of service. They actually have porters who carry all your bags to the campground, and it costs just 10 baht per kilogram. Steep TrailThese guys do an incredible job. You won’t believe it when you see them. They carry at least 60 kilograms of bags, food, drinks, even gas flasks up the mountain. You have to hike at quite a pace if you want to reach the top of Phu Kradeung before them.

Steep TrailThe trail was quite steep right from the start. Okay, you hardly ever have to use your hands to keep your balance, but it’s also far from being a nice little morning walk. At least the sun had barely risen, so it was not hot yet, but we were sweating already. After the first kilometer, the trail got a little flatter. The good thing is: there are many rest areas along the trail where you can eat and buy drinks, so you don’t have to carry lots of supplies with you.

Taking a restWe just stopped shortly at the first rest area (Sam Haek ซำแฮก) to catch our breaths and to enjoy the view. There is a small cliff at this point which allows a good view to all sides, but unfortunately it was still quite misty so we couldn’t see too much. Misty SunriseWe didn’t feel hungry yet after the good breakfast we had had at the Park Headquarters, so we continued on our way up. The trail was very flat in the beginning, then started rising a little more. The sun had come out, so it was getting warmer, but still not too hot. Our trail was lined on both sides by bamboo forests, which looked quite beautiful in the sunlight.

Taking a restAfter having walked for roughly another kilometer and a half, we had our first longer break at Sam Kor Sarng (ซำกอซาง) to recharge our batteries. We sat down at a small restaurant and had a few drinks. The owner was very nice, and we also liked her cute daughter, uhm at least my friends did. My girlfriend and I didn’t. 😉 BTW, these two ladies walk up to their shop every morning and down every night. 5 kilometers of climbing every day. Wow.

After having left this friendly place, we found ourselves on quite an easy part of the trail. It was not too steep, and at one steeper part of the mountain, the trail was running in a zig-zag shape which kept it rather flat. The bamboo started disappearing and was replaced by an almost Central European type of forest, hadn’t there been lots of banana plants every now and then.

Taking another rest in the sunAfter another kilometer and a half, we reached Sam Kok Done (ซำกกโดม), another rest area. We sat and lied down in the sun on large rocks and ate some grilled corn, which was delicious. By this time, our legs were a little tired already, so it felt good to just rest in the sun.

We continued on our way, knowing that it was only some 500 m before we would reach the steepest part of the trail, which is 1300 m long. Therefore we stopped again for a few minutes at the final rest area and had a few snacks.

Steeper againAnd then it started. First the trail was about as steep as the part right after the start. Quite frankly, I didn’t envy the porters who had to conquer this treacherous path with such a heavy load. But it got better: there are three parts of the trail where the Thais have built steep stairs made from steel. They are not easy to climb if you suffer from vertigo, but it’s not that bad. I just wonder how the porters manage to do this. The following photos speak for themselves I think.
SuperhumansSuperhumans

Almost ThereThe ladder Marc is climbing in this photo, was actually the last one we had to climb. After another 150 m we had reached the top of the mountain. The last kilometer and a half had taken us one hour.

 
We've made it!It was now a few minutes past 10 am, so it had taken us just under 4 hours to reach Phu Kradeung’s top. We enjoyed the sunshine and rested our legs. Mario and Noom had (what looked like) a short nap, while the rest of us just watched other people arriving and taking their photos at the “Congratulations to Phu Kradeung Conqueror” sign.