A land of waterfalls, mountain ranges and rivers, Phetchabun Province also hosts two impressive national parks. The misty heights of Khao Kho National Park provides a forest home for wild elephants, Asian golden cats, mouse deer, porcupines and the gorgeous slow loris. Meanwhile, tigers, leopards, black bears and sun bears live in the equally enticing Nam Nao National Park.
Thais just love fog and mist. Many are more than happy to drive half way across the country for cool temperatures and an early morning “sea of mist” – a concept quite alien to the foreign visitor. So where to find “Bliss in the Mist”? Many would say Chiang Rai or Mae Hong Son in the far north, but those in the know would head for the province of Phetchabun, where endless vistas of mist-filled valleys are an everyday occurrence in several locales. Phetchabun is also high on the hit list of Thai foodies – with sweet tamarind, locally grown vegetables, Wichian Buri grilled chicken and Lorn Kao rice noodles being the star attractions. More than enough reason to head off to this hidden gem in Thailand’s lower north.
If seeing a sea of mist is a serious objective, then few places could beat Phu Hin Rong Kia National Park, which covers the boundary of Phetchabun, Loei and Phitsanulok provinces. It is an area of beautiful and unusual nature, which also has many historical sites dating back to the Communist insurgency four or five decades ago. The climate here is comfortably cool year round but can get downright cold in the winter. Than Phayu, at Km 32 on the Phu Hin Rong Kia – Lorn Kao Route is the place to go for the early morning view of the sea of mist and surrounding mountains, while Pha Chu Thong, a steep cliff where the Communists once raised their flag, is good for panoramic sunset views. Historical attractions within the park include a battle museum, a political and military school, a water turbine built by engineering students that joined the Communist Party in 1976, a headquarters building and a hospital, which in its day provided most types of surgical procedure. Natural attractions include unusual stone formations and several waterfalls, such as the 32-tier Namtok Man Daeng with its magnificent evergreen setting. The park provides bungalows for tourists, a camp site and tents for rental (+66 5523 3527) .
The 789,000-rai Thung Salaeng Luang National Park is a long limestone watershed area which experiences cool temperatures during November to February. Like many of the hills in this province, it was at one time a stronghold for Thai communists and signs of their latter-day struggles can still be seen. The park is characterized by montane pine forests interspersed with large flat swathes of savanna grass. The savanna areas offer excellent trekking opportunities with many types of wild flowers , ferns, pitcher plants and caladiums to be seen. Bungalows, tents for hire or space to pitch your own tent are available at two areas in the park (+66 5526 8019).
Nam Nao National Park is another of Phetchabun’s verdant forest jewels much loved among Thai trekkers and naturalists . Straddling Phetchabun and Chaiyaphum, Nam Nao is a complex mountain range that can experience temperatures as low as 2-5° C in winter. Spots of interest within the vast park included the two-tier Tat Phran Ba Waterfall with water running all year; the Pha Hong Cave with fascinating stalagmites and stalactites, and several surrounding walking trails; the Phu Kho Viewpoint, which offers wonderful sunrise vistas during the wintertime; the Ban Paek and Phu Kum Khao Pine Forests, with large areas of montane pines and savanna grass; and the Yai Nam Nao Cave (Phu Nam Rin), a large stalactite-studded cave within a limestone mountain, with running water, natural chimneys, and a large colony of bats. A good way to explore the national park is to go on one of the organized Nature Study Routes where it’s possible to see elephants, barking deer and many types of bird. Bungalow accommodation is available in the park as well as tents for rental and a camp site for those with their own gear (+66 5672 9002).
Phetchabun has so m ch more to offer the visitor. Wat Mahathat, Wat Trai Phum and the Nakhonban Phetchabun Cultural Hall in Muang District and the Khao Rang Viewpoint on the route to Taphan Hin are all well worth making a trip for. And don’t forget the grilled chicken and sweet tamarind , two outstanding products of this province in the mist.
Wat Phra That Pha Kaew
One of Phetchabun ‘s unseen sites, this mountain temple and Dharma retreat, also known as Pha Sorn Kaew, is built atop an 830-m peak close to the village of Kheam Son in Khao Kho district. The temple ‘s main pagoda and surrounding buildings are encrusted with millions of colourful mosaic tiles that present a glittering sight in the afternoon sun. In front of the pagoda is an impressive sculpture of five white Buddha images seated on emerging lotus buds. Established in 2004 , the temple has been built as a site for Buddhist monks and lay people for the contemplation, study and practice of Dharma.
Located 346 km north of Bangkok , Phetchabun is accessed by road only. First and second-class air-conditioned coaches and ordinary buses serve Phetchabun on the Lomsak route from Bangkok ‘s Morchit 2 Bus Station (www.transport.co.th). By car there are two main routes. From Bangkok, take Highway No. 1 to Saraburi , turning right into Highway No. 21 , passing Chai Sadan District, Si Thep District, Wichian Buri District for a further 221 km to Phetchabun. The drive takes 5 hours. Alternatively take Highway No. 1 to Wang Noi District and turn into Highway No. 32, passing Ayutthaya, Ang Thong , Sing Buri, Chai Nat to Nakhon Sawan. Then take Highway No. 117 to Phitsanulok and Highway No. 12 into Phetchabun.
For further information, contact the TAT Northern Office: Region 3 on +66 5525 2742-3 , +66 5525 9907.