Two group members hiked up Thailand’s 5th highest mountain, on the border between Uttaradit, Phitsanulok and Laos last week. The highest point is actually over the border into Laos (no passports required) and getting up the final section is in some ways the toughest hike the two of us have ever done in Thailand. The start point, at Phu Soi Dao waterfall on highway 1268, is a 6 hour drive from Chiangmai, past the Sirikit Dam, but if you are passing nearby you may want to try just the first half, or perhaps all, of this challenging hike.
There is little (accurate) information available online in English, but a Youtube video in Thai shows the first, straightforward, section of the hike, normally done in the rainy season to view the pine tree/flower meadows: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLbwMTEmG-w. The park is closed to the public from January to June each year. Dogs seem to not be allowed.
After staying the night in National Park HQ bungalows about 1 km away from the waterfall/trailhead (at c.600m), and finally getting some reliable detailed information about what to expect, we realised our planned 2-night trip would need three nights, with two camped on the mountain, so we had to drive about 17 kms to the nearest village to be able to phone for wifely permissions and to buy further supplies.
The hike to the pine-tree meadows/campsite is only 6.7 kms but rises about 1,000m and is advertised to take 4-6 hours. We took 3-4 hours to walk up as we opted to each carry our own 10-15 kgs of personal tent, sleeping bag/mat, warm clothes, camera equipment, etc. But we also hired a porter to carry our 20 kgs of food, cooking charcoal and water – thirsty work this mountaineering. (Porterage 30 baht per kilo, min 20 kgs/600 baht per porter, max seemed to be 40 kgs! Pay the porter on arrival at the campsite and tell him if you want help on the way back down too.) No guide needed for this section – there’s only one trail from the waterfall to the campsite/meadow area.
Take small banknotes to hire buckets with scoops and/or charcoal braziers (but not charcoal) from the rangers’ shack by the campsite. No other supplies available. Basic squat toilets with no plumbing; fetch water from the nearby stream in your rented bucket. We also filtered and boiled some stream water for cooking and are still alive, so far. Temperatures lovely and cool, but never cold; could be much colder next month.
The second day’s hike up to the peak and back to the campsite is advertised to be only 2.5 kms (actually a little more) but to take 8 hours round-trip to climb the 650 vertical metres! That time estimate is not far wrong, with two of the group’s stronger hikers taking 6 hours to get up there, explore a little, have a quick lunch and get back down again. There are two long, very steep sections needing scrambling skills to climb up fixed ropes, roots, and rocks. Max slope 74%. A park ranger must be hired as a guide, for 1,000 baht per day/group. Evidence of wild boar, rumours of monkeys, a few birds seen but not really much wildlife.
Third Day: Back down again from the campsite (3-4 hours), late lunch, quick shower by the waterfall, and drive home.
Flushing toilets, showers and basic food stalls are available by the waterfall/visitor centre/trailhead. Charcoal, sleeping mats, biscuits/cookies/kanom available in the visitor centre (open for bookings 8am-2pm), where a detailed booking form must be filled in, entrance fee paid (200 baht for foreigners without local ID). A wooden ID tag, luggage tags(!) and plastic bag for bringing all refuse back are provided. Deposit refundable on returning your ID tag and all your rubbish.
Summary: 19 kilometres, up/down 1,720m, 12-14 hours walking/climbing over three days. Try it!