A few posts ago I talked about our attempted but failed trip to Phu Chi Fah. Well this time, the weekend of January 14th, we were going to make it happen no matter what. We took the advice of the man we met at the Chiang Rai bus station (see previous post) and tried to get the bus from Thoeng Station since it was much closer and also less money.
Emma and I rode our bikes to the bus station around 11 hoping to catch the bus around 11:30 or 12. Learning from our previous lessons, we brought our bike locks and allowed ourselves some extra time to ensure that our bike rack was there and ready to use. After we got there, we locked up our bikes and sat down to wait for the bus. We sat for a while and no bus showed , so we eventually asked someone who told us it would be coming soon. This time it was late (classic Thai time), and we hopped on after clarifying that the bus would be stopping at Thoeng. It was pretty chilly that morning, we were both in leggings and our handy dandy Patagonia jackets and also brought plenty of layers for our hike.
After getting off the bus at Thoeng, I went up to the counter to ask when the next van to Phu Chi Fah would be here. He did a quick scan of the area and pointed to 15 minutes later on the clock. Wow! Had we really figured it out this time? We sat down and waited excited about the prospect of actually figuring this transportation system out. Aaaand 15 minutes later a driver arrived, however it was a songthaew driver and not the cheap van we had been promised. At this point we didn’t care, we were going to get to Phu Chi Fah and were going to pay the extra if it meant us getting there. We hopped into the songthaew for another mountainous journey but were just so excited we would finally be getting to this little mountain treasure. When we arrived in the town, our driver drove around to a few of the guesthouses to help us find the best price (how sweet!!!) until we finally settled on this little guesthouse up a rather steep hill for a good price. It was sooo chilly, and our room was even colder. We immediately layered up with our hats and gloves we had bought the last time we thought we would be hiking and headed out to get something warm to eat. We found a shop with hot chocolate and warm soup so we sat down to eat that over a beautiful but foggy view of the valley. It was a little bland but we were grateful to have some food with no trace of mystery meat in it.
There really isn’t much to do in the town of Phu Chi Fah. There is the little main drag that most of the guesthouses are off of, a few restaurant-esque places, and a ton of stalls selling Cup-o-Noodles (Thai version of course), gloves, hats and other layers for the unprepared tourists making the trip. After walking through the town very quickly, and figured we might as well hike the trail during the day before we did it in the dark for sunrise. We found a pick up truck at the bottom of the road that would take us up to the entrance point of the hike for a few baht. We laughed as we thought about how anywhere else it would absolutely not be ok to hop in the back of a strangers pick up truck to get a ride up the mountain, but in Thailand it is the norm. It was about a 10 or 15 minute drive up to the base where there were even more vendors selling Cup O Noodles and winter gear, but we were ready and decided to send it up the mountain. The hike was definitely a little steeper than I expected, but absolutely doable. Honestly, the most challenging part was that most of the hike is patches of mud which can get pretty slippery. We got up in under 30 minutes and were impressed by the view considering the hike was pretty short. It was really foggy (seems to be a trend) but beautiful nonetheless and it got us even more excited to hike up for the sunrise the next day. We headed back down to our guesthouse to warm up and pass some time before getting an early dinner.
It really was so cold– I know it’s hard to believe if you’re reading this back home… but I was wearing leggings, a long sleeve t-shirt, a sweater, my Patagonia fleece, my jacket, ski socks, a hat and hiking boots– and was COLD! I snuggled up under the fuzzy blanket provided by the guesthouse and began to write in my journal to pass some time…and what do you know, my pen, the only pen we managed to bring, ran out of ink. So classic but you really have to laugh! Emma tried to find something English on t.v. but our only option was some advertisement channel or something along those lines. We tried entertaining ourselves a bit longer but were so bored we headed back out to walk through town again. We ended up going back to the same place we had eaten lunch but this time managed to communicate that we would like vegetarian fried rice and it was delish! Lots of flavor! After, we stopped by the banana rotee man we had been eyeing all day and got 2 banana rotee to go to eat back in our beds under the warm-ish blankets.
Our alarms went off the next morning at 3:45, and despite being wrapped in all those layers, it was pretty painful to get up out of bed. We got up, put the very last of our layers on and headed down the hill to wait for one of the trucks to bring us up to the hike. We found a few drivers waiting on the main road, so after a few minutes of just staring at each other one of the drivers told us to get in the bed of his pickup truck and we waited for more people to join us. It was close to pitch black, and we were slightly confused why we were told to be here so early, but we wouldn’t miss the sunrise for anything so we stuck to the safe side. Eventually the truck took off with us and another family and we headed up to the base where we started the hike yesterday. We took off and started our short hike up to the top. We didn’t realize, but somehow we ended up in front of all the other people hiking up and were the first ones to the top even before 5 am. Once we got up we realized how long we would be waiting for the sun to come up and were not super excited to be sitting in the cold that long. Slowly but surely more and more people came up the mountain and we got closer to sunrise (which would be around 6:30 AM). The mountain got PACKED, but despite it being so crowded we were 2 of maybe 5 farang (foreigners) at the top. Everyone else were Thai tourists. The sun finally began to come up and although we did not get much of a sunrise, the view of the surrounding mountains early in morning covered by fog was spectacular. It almost looked like islands in the sea. It was unlike anything I had ever seen in my life, and all of the trials and tribulations to get there that morning were all worth it. We took lots and lots of pictures, and lots of pictures were taken of us also. One older Thai lady grabbed my hand and handed Emma her camera and pulled me into a hug for a picture, and another group of ladies pulled us into their picture and had a full on photoshoot with us. I’m talking 10 minutes of straight smiling, posing, and being called “so sexi and beautiful” despite looking like a marshmellow. It can definitely be somewhat uncomfortable sometimes but this time it was pretty entertaining.
When Emma and I put in our request to be placed in Northern Thailand, we were hoping to be in the mountains surrounded by lots of National Parks and ample opportunities to hike. Although we are indeed veryyy far north in the middle of mountains and national parks, there is very little hiking here. Kind of a bummer since that’s a main reason we wanted to be here, but it simply isn’t a huge part of the culture here. Of course there is more hiking in the touristy areas, and there are plenty of opportunities to trek but as far as day hikes near us, there really aren’t many. Phu Chi Fah was one of the few times we were actually able to hike (although short) and the views were absolutely worth the wait.
After our hike we headed back to the small town to grab something for breakfast and wait for our songthaew driver to come back for us. He was able to take us right back to Chiang Kham which made the price a little more, but it was worth it to get back to our town in a more direct way. It took a while to shake off the chill, but we eventually defrosted and had the rest of the day to prepare (both mentally and physically) for our next week of classes.
Stay tuned for more about Life in Chiang Kham! We are almost finished teaching!!!!