People flock to Thailand for the islands, full-moon parties and gorgeous temples, but Northern Thailand is home to some amazing mountain views, and Phu Chi Fa, 100km from Chiang Rai city, is the most spectacular sunrise spot in all of Thailand.
Chiang Rai is a gorgeous city, well worth 3 days of any travelers times and of course home to the world famous white temple, but for me the highlight of going to Chiang Rai is heading to the Thai/Laos border and watching the sun break through the floor of clouds. Phu Chi Fa is one of the those places that should be world famous, yet because it’s quite tricky to access and there’s quite little information online, it remains popular mainly only to Thais, not so much to foreigners, I’m hoping I can encourage a few of you guys to make the effort and be blown away!
PHU CHI FA
I had been in Chiang Rai for 2 days seeing the sights, and I had organised a driver and a car for 1500THB ($42) to pick my girlfriend and I up from our gorgeous (cheap! $90!) boutique hotel ( check it out, amazing – La Patta) in time to see the sunrise at Phu Chi Fa. And that meant a horribly early star.
So our driver picked us up around 3.45am and we set off for the 2.5 hour journey, I had a quick nap and the light began to appear around 5.30am. I was pretty stressed we would miss the sunrise but our driver was confident so I shut my mouth and soaked up the views and as we winded through the mountains at the Thai/Laos border.
Soon you arrive at the carpark at the bottom of the Phu Chi Fa viewpoint, from here it’s time to earn the views. 750 hike in the chilly morning air, uphill across an uneven surface. Don’t worry though, it’s not too tough and I managed it in flipflops. The hike takes about 20-30 minutes, and as you finally approach you’ll see a small gathering of Thai photographers perched in the best photography spots.
Actually the best view of all, the ‘famous’ one with the cliff and the clouds both in shot is not quite at the summit, that’s where I watched the sunrise from and it was breathtaking, the best I’ve ever seen. I stood at the spot, soaking up the atmosphere for more than 30 minutes, it’s truly spectacular. Soon after, Jaa and I wandered up to the the actual summit where you can see views stretching all the way into Laos. There is a country spot too where you can take a step into Laos and back to Thailand, and back to Laos, and back to Thailand, or at least you can do it if you’re a big kid like me!
The views here too are wonderful, blankets of clouds everywhere and another 20 minutes or so here and it’s time to head back to the carpark.
The beauty of Phu Chi Fa, aside from the stellar views, is how underdeveloped the tourism market is. Very few foreigners (if any), no tickets, no tourist tack stuff to buy aside from a few scarfs and hot coffees, which are both very welcome, especially in winter!
After a couple of coffees, a few Instagram check-ins and we were off, heading back to Chiang Rai for a nap after an early start, feeling delighted that the reality of Phu Chi Fa lived up to all the pics online and my high expectations. I love it when that happens!
Chiang Rai to Phu Chi Fa
How to get to Phu Chi Fa? It’s 95km from Chiang Rai city, and you want to be there before sunrise which gives you 2 options. Either you leave Chiang Rai at around 3.30am in the morning with a car rental, motorbike rental or car and driver rental OR you go the day before on the bus.
Car rental is about 1000THB ($28) and another 500THB or so for petrol there and back. I managed to find a car and a driver for 1500THB ($42) which was a winner, it meant I didn’t have to drive through the winding mountains in pitch black, and I could sleep on the journey! Also, it means you don’t have to go the day before, so leaving early in the morning, it’s a great way to maximise your time in Chiang Rai.
You can pick up motorbike rental for around 200THB ($7), and if you’re feeling brave you could do the journey yourself! I probably would have done this is my super-broke backpacking days, but with my girlfriend on the back, and at 32years old with money in the bank, I skipped this idea this time around!
Just 300THB ($9) return from Chiang Rai, and about 3 hours each way. You can take a local bus from Chiang Rai bus station each day from the local bus terminal, leaving at 13.00, and returning at 9am the next day (don’t miss it, there isn’t another one!).
SLEEPING AT PHU CHI FA
If you want to take the bus the day before your sunrise at Phu Chi Fa, then you’ll need somewhere to sleep near the summit! There numerous little guesthouses and homestays once you get off the bus. No one has websites so forget about booking in advance, just show up and you’ll be able to sort something out within 10 mins, for about 500THB ($15). They’ll even drive you to the base of the sunrise point in the morning for an extra 30THB ($1). Also, if you’re more hardcore, camping is possible too but it’ll be chilly up there!
Also, if you’re more hardcore, camping is possible too but it’ll be chilly up there!
So Phu Chi Fa, it’s not on the tourist trail, not on the backpacker trail and a bit of a mission to get to. But do it. Do it now before everyone starts doing it, before Starbucks move in and there are shuttle buses from Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. It’s amazing, spectacular, breath-taking and you won’t regret the effort or money. Enjoy! Oh and how do you get to Chiang Rai? In years gone by it was nightbuses from Bangkok now? Bangkok to Chiang Rai direct with Nok Air flights, $20, perfect! Or just a 3 hour bus from Chiang Mai. No excuses!