Among the many hidden gems in Thailand, visiting Phu Kradueng is one of the most exhausting, beautiful, and unique experiences. Phu Kradueng National Park offers hiking and camping in Thailand at a location that is full of beauty, and will make you lose about 10 pounds in sweat.
What is Phu Kradueng National Park?
This hidden gem in Thailand sits atop a large Mesa in the Loei Province of Thailand and boasts views of the surrounding region. Loei Province is in the Northwest of Thailand, under Laos, and is one of the least populated regions of Thailand. It’s not nearly as popular a destination as Chang Mai or the Islands in the South.
Phu Kradueng was designated a park in 1962. Among Thais, it is a popular destination. It was highly recommended on Google and Trip Advisor.
At the top of the mesa, visitors can rent tents and equipment to do some camping in Thailand at an altitude that makes the air temperature quite pleasant at night. Everything you need is along the trail on the hike up, and you can rent/buy anything you need at the top. Camping and hiking is never this convenient!
How Do you Get to Phu Kradueng National Park?
We caught a bus from Loei (the capital of the province) to the town that sits outside Phu Kradueng National Park (which is, in fact, the same name as the park). The bus ride was about 1.5 hours.
We needed to hire a van to take us to the park entrance from the bus stop. I think 100 bhat ($3USD) is an okay price to pay, maybe you can barter for cheaper. There are people waiting at the bus stop to take passengers to the entrance to the park so it shouldn’t be hard to get a taxi.
You can rent a bike and go on your own from Loei. We didn’t do this because we were worried about crashing. That said, a lot of people rent bikes in Thailand so go for it if you feel to!
Is the Park Free?
You have to pay an entrance ticket. When we were there in 2017 it was 400 bhat each (about $11.50USD).
When you reach the top, you’ll need to rent a tent and some equipment (unless you are schlepping your own gear, god help you). More on the cost of camping below (but it’s not much!).
You can rent tents and sleeping equipment at the top for a cheap price.
The tent was 225 bhat a night (they’re all set up already, you just choose one that doesn’t look too busted or dirty), 30B/night for a sleeping bag, 20B/night for a sleeping pad and 10B/night for a pillow. All told: 345 Bhat (about $8 USD) a night for the two of us.
This is ridiculously cheap.
There are a couple places to eat at the top. The restaurants are expensive compared to what is offered below, but to us tourists it’s still really cheap. We were able to enjoy hot, fresh Thai food for about $4USD for the two of us, per meal. Not bad.
Why go Hiking and Camping in Thailand?
When we were doing our research, many reviews said that the climb to the top was “hard”. Bah! We can do hard! We did the Milford track in New Zealand in pouring rain, how hard could it be?
We chose this excursion as a way to get off the beaten path. We had just visited Chiang Mai and were feeling overwhelmed by the amount of tourists. We knew that Loei Province would be quieter and less crowded (which it totally is).
We enjoy camping. We’ve camped in Scotland, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, New Zealand, and the USA. Camping in Thailand meant that we could do something unique and fun in a country not well known for campsites.
Hiking in Thailand is a lot of fun. I’ve done it a couple times, and especially enjoyed Khao Sok National Park. The hills around Chiang Mai are fun to hike as well.
Normally, the Thai weather is really hot and humid. There are two seasons: dry and wet, but it’s almost always hot. This means that camping in Thailand can be really uncomfortable if you are not in the right climate. We figured that climbing the mountain at Phu Kradueng would put us at a higher altitude which would mean cooler temperatures.
Phu Kradueng National Park is pretty well-known in the local Thai circles as a place to go that isn’t overrun by tourists. This makes it a real hidden gem in Thailand and camping here is all a part of a different type of experience people normally don’t have.
Do you Need a Guide to Hike to the Top?
No. The trail is pretty well marked and there are a lot of stops along the way. It’s easy to follow (although, at times, hard to climb!).
When you reach the top, you don’t need a guide, either. It’s really easy to hike around the park as the trails are well marked and simple.
What is it like Hike to the Top Like?
The hike to the top is brutal. I don’t want to sugar coat this. Visiting this park is a real hidden gem in Thailand, but you’re in for a very strenuous climb.
The park closes at 2pm. This is because the hike to the top of the mesa takes a while (we took about 5 hours to do it) and they want to be sure everyone gets to the top before it gets too dark to see. There are no lights on the trail.
We stupidly declined to leave our heavier items down at the base (we can carry them! It’s not too big a deal, right?) and we set up for the climb. If you are carrying heavy backpacks to go hiking in Thailand, you’re in for a very heavy climb.
At the visitor’s center at the base, they offer lockers for your bags for a small price per day. Leave your heavy bags, you’ll be so much more comfortable for it.
To reach the camp at the top, a total walk of about 9km (5.6miles) is required, and most of that is vertical.
The climb takes you 1,200 meters (about 4,000 ft.) up. So, you have to climb 4,000ft in 3.4miles. It looks a bit like this:
The first 800 meters up were an absolute nightmare! We started the hike at 1:30pm (BAD IDEA).
We had NO IDEA WHAT WE WERE IN FOR AND THEN WEPT FOR OUR ARROGANCE AND FOOLISHNESS. It was ridiculously hot, about 38C (for us Americanos, that’s 100F). We had 30lb backpacks on. There was a breeze, but the gusts would blast up the side of the mountain like an oven. No relief from shade. Just baking sun and heat.
Oh, and we didn’t bring enough water.
If you plan to go hiking in Thailand, please do yourself a favor and observe these two rules:
- Bring plenty of water
- Don’t hike in the middle of the day (way too hot!)
As I climbed (more like dragged myself up using my hands) I reflected back on the worst travel days we’ve had. Much of what happens on a bad travel day comes down to poor planning, not anticipating enough, and bad luck. This trek felt like that: we were HOT and badly prepared for it. Stupid, stupid!
The First Stop is the Sweetest
Reaching the first base camp of Pang-Kok-Ka was like reaching a gate of heaven. As if our purple faces and empty water bottles didn’t scream it loud enough, our trudges and stumbles must have. A lady at one of the food stalls called us over. “You want soup?” She asked. I nodded, almost in tears at the thought of replenishing my salt stores.
She gave us cups full of ice and some fruit for free. She pointed to a purple, orange-sized fruit and gave it to us (all free – what an angel of mercy!). I gulped down delicious water and ate the fruit, relishing the sweet taste (a little like a pineapple and a nectarine had a baby).
The hot bowls of salty, steamy soup came and I ate, feeling the electrolytes and calories fueling my depleted body. Ah! Bliss!
Along the trek, there are stops to get food and buy water. Hiking Phu Kradueng isn’t so bad if you can sit and have a meal partway through!
Jackson and I sat there for a while, contemplating the fact that we weren’t even a quarter of the way up and it was almost 3pm. We had to get to the top before sunset.
You Have to Reach the Top Before Nightfall…
Some parts of the walk are not too bad and, objectively, are quite pretty. It’s when you reach the steep parts that you want to sob because these parts are unrelenting. There are stairs or boulders or step-ladders: all of which are steep and hot. Flies buzzed, then mosquitoes as the sun dipped behind the hill. A lady called out to us from another base: “You better hurry! The elephants come out at dusk and they are very dangerous!”
Suddenly it was 4pm and we were only half way. GO GO GO. No stopping! No rest! We have to climb before it gets too dark to see!
The worst part of this trek is the last 1,300 meters from Sum-Krae to the top. It’s almost vertical and a whole lot of scrambling over boulders. You keep thinking: surely this is closing in on the end? Just around the bend, right? Just up this step-ladder, right? Muscles ache. Joints creak. Sweat soaks everything. Up and up and up.
Hiking in Thailand can be brutal.
There are a lot of Porters Going up, Too.
What was really embarrassing was watching the porters trudge past. These ripped, bent, sweat-soaked workers were carrying packs the size of ours by the dozen.
I’m not exaggerating.
They must have been hauling hundreds of pounds in backpacks, water bottles, supplies, gas tanks… you name it. They moved, slowly and surely, up the mountain and a lot faster than us. I felt like I had no right to complain watching those guys (and gals!?!) move.
At the base, you can opt to have a porter take your bag up for you. We didn’t feel comfortable doing that because we felt bad for them carrying our stupid gear. The price was also really cheap and that freaked us out a bit. What are they paying these people?!
At the Top of Phu Kradueng
We reached the summit just at sunset.
The golden rays stretching out over the Savannah like a warm kiss. The alpine trees and their needles gave off a fresh scent and the area was empty save for us. Taking a much needed breather at the “Congratulation!” sign we counted ourselves lucky. We made it and didn’t die of heat stroke, dehydration or elephant trampling.
The walk to the camp is roughly another 2 miles (about 3.5 km) once you reach the top, but it’s flat and compared to the climb a literal walk in the park.
We arrived at the camp site at 6:30pm. The climb took us 5 hours.
What Can you Do at the Top?
We decided that two nights would be enough time to see most of the area. This will give you a full day to see the top of the park.
You can rent bikes at the top in order to get around faster and see some of the farther flung cliff sites like Lom Sak or you can walk around and see stuff that’s a bit closer to camp, like we did.
Waking up bright and early (because the Thai were getting up at 4am to see the sunrise and then played the national anthem over loud speakers at 7am) we roused our aching bodies and set out to explore this park we had climbed so hard to get to.
We set off on a loop from the campsite to Ano Dard Pond, over to Yeab Mek Cliff, walked along the edge, and then swung back toward camp at Mak Dook cliff. A total walk of about 9km (5.6 miles).
The hike was mostly deserted. Most of the time we were the only people anywhere. It was a great!
Ano Dard Pond
Ano Dard Pond was ok, we enjoyed it more for the walk and less the destination.
Yeab Mek Cliff
When we got to the cliffs the views were very hazy and it was hard to see anything. In a way it felt like looking out into a void: like the end of the world. A bit creepy when I got to really think about it. We sat down near the edge of the cliff at one point and ate dried mango while letting the wind whip the sweat from our face.
Thankfully, it’s a lot cooler at the top of the mountain because it’s 1,200m/4000ft high. The air smelled so good, too. The pine needles scented everything.
At the end of the day, we tried to go see some waterfalls but because it was the dry season the falls were dry as well. Also, we got freaked out by the “Caution! Elephants!” signs that warned of dangers after 3pm.
Jackson and I weren’t sure if we wanted to run into a wild elephant or not. They could be really cool to see, but also, I wouldn’t want to startle one and get trampled. We didn’t wind up seeing any anyway.
Mak Dook Cliff
Walking along the edge of the park was beautiful. Not too hot, lots of wind, and no one else around us. Glorious. Who said hiking in Thailand was all uncomfortable?
Get up Early to See the Sunrise
We woke up at 4:30am the second morning in the hopes of seeing the sunrise over the Eastern cliff edge of Nok An.
We followed a ranger along the path in the dark. The stars were pretty and it was fun walking around the area at night. There were a lot of people hoping to see the sunrise and the procession behind us looked like a line of ghostly lights in the dark.
Getting to the cliff face meant a slow and cold watch for the sun. The people around us were loud! Jackson and I wished we all could have sat in silence and watched the stars, maybe without instagramming and facebooking? Also, who are you messaging at 5am?
The “firefly” lights of the cellphones were very distracting to the ambiance of the stars and nature.
The sky lightened and I got excited, and then a huge cloud rose from the valley. Everything was gray and damp. It was quite pretty, actually. But no sunrise.
Jackson and I gave up at 6:30am and walked back to camp. It was cloudy which meant the climb down would be mercifully less hot! Sometimes, the weather won’t cooperate: oh well! I’ll bet on a clear day it’s glorious.
What is Camping in Phu Kradueng Like?
Sleeping in the tents was rough.
It wasn’t that the creature comforts were bad. We had nice mats, pillows, a private tent, an ablution block with showers and sinks, and everything was pretty clean.
The loud snores of the campers around us was dreadful! Sleep was not easy to come by at night. The tents are really close to each other and you can hear every sigh, snore and fart.
You can rent as many mats as you are willing to pay for, though. So it can get quite comfortable.
There are a couple of restaurants around the campsite. They are pretty good, nothing as good as what is below the mesa, but okay.
We made friends with a family that owned one of the restaurants and they wound up giving us a lot of tea for free. This was amazing for us and saved us a bunch of money on water bottles (as well as reduced our impact!). You can ask the locals if they have any tea they are willing to sell you. This is a great way to get liquid!
After our last breakfast, we packed our bags and set out for the long climb down.
The walk to the path back was really foggy! I’d never walked through fog that thick in my life, we were walking through a cloud. Our visibility was almost as far as our feet were from our eyes. It was really magical. We shared a road with other people heading back, including two female monks, but soon lost them to the mist. I felt like we were walking in a dream.
The climb down was WAY better than the climb up. I felt really sorry for the red-faced hikers going up. I did my best to encourage the few who looked our way by holding up my fist in a Rosie-The-Riveter stance that said “you can do it!” It got worse and worse the farther down we got.
Near the end, a family was trudging up the first leg of the journey that I had wanted to lie down and die in two days prior. I didn’t have it in me to encourage them. They had 5 hours of climb ahead of them and their own personal hell to go through. Yikes. I’m sure they made it….
Getting down to the bottom my legs were jello. My calf muscles were tight and my thighs were quivering. We did it, though! That was one helluva climb, but I was so glad we got that done!
Hitching a ride back to the bus stop, we caught a bus bound for Khon Kaen. We were told this would be the city to catch a bus bound for Bangkok the next day.
When is the Best Time to go to Camping in Phu Kradueng?
When we went on our trek, we went during the week. This meant that the numbers of visitors was far less than on the weekend. If you are travelling in Thailand, try to aim for a trip that falls during the work week (and definitely don’t go during a holiday!) to avoid the crowds.
Hiking down, we were walking back into civilization on a Saturday morning and already the hikers were coming in waves. Far more people were climbing up than there had been when we were up there!
We went in the dry season, mid-February. The dry season that year was particularly dry and that meant no waterfalls, which was sad because we had heard they were very pretty.
The best time to see the waterfalls would be to go at the very beginning of the dry season, in December or late November.
The park is closed from June to September each year due to the rainy season and park recovery.
As I’ve mentioned before: try to plan your visit during the week. This park is very popular among Thais and can get very crowded on weekends and holidays. Camping in Thailand is not very fun if it’s crowded.
You can read more about the park on the Thai National Park page here.
If you are interested in any Thailand Itineraries, you can check out the 10-day itinerary I’ve put together. Because Loei is so far flung, it is not included in the 10 day itinerary, but Chiang Mai is if you wanted to get any hiking and camping in Thailand done there.
Any questions about hiking Phu Kradueng? Leave them in the comments!
We love learning more about any Thailand hidden gems out there. If there is place you’ve gone hiking in Thailand, please let us know so we can check it out!
Pol saysDecember 1, 2020 at 10:06 pm
Thanks for the article guys! I am planning on going next week. We will leave on Wednesday and climb on Thursday. Thursday 10th is holiday but since it’s the first day of a long weekend I hope it’s not very crowded since Bangkok people won’t have time to make it on that day, most of them will probably climb on Friday. Let’s see!
Natalie saysFebruary 14, 2021 at 12:44 pm
How did it go? I hope you had a good visit!
Kate saysNovember 22, 2021 at 9:04 am
Wow thank you for this comprehensive article! How long did the hike back down take?
Natalie saysNovember 23, 2021 at 8:31 pm
Hi Kate! Thanks for stopping by. It took us somewhere between 2-3 hours to get down. Definitely a LOT faster than going up.