When I visited the town of Chiang Rai in the north of Thailand I didn’t plan to go camping in Phu Chi Fa.
In fact, I didn’t even know what Phu Chi Fa was and only discovered it because of a photo posted on the bus from the out-of-town Chiang Rai terminal to the city centre.
I went to Chiang Rai because of the famous White and Blue Temples but when I saw that photo on the bus I knew that I had to go there!
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This ended up being one of my favourite places while solo backpacking in Thailand!
The area surrounding Phu Chi Fa Forest Park is of outstanding natural beauty and sits right by the border between Thailand and Laos.
Although it ended up being quite touristy for the sunrise, I still consider Phu Chi Fa to be off the beaten path and a wonderful backpacking adventure in Thailand.
How to get there
The small town of Phu Chi Fa is about 90 Km away from Chiang Rai, you can go either with a scooter or take the ONLY one mini van available.
The mini van leaves every day at 13:00 and the return on the following day is at 9:00.
In January ’19 the price for it was of 200thb each way. Make sure to book either one day in advance or around 8:00 in the morning when you expect to travel as they normally sell out (only 12 seats or so)
As I was short of days due to my Thai visa running out, I decided to take the minivan as it was going to cost me the same as a scooter rental (minus petrol) and I couldn’t afford to get lost returning on the following day as I was planning to go to Chiang Mai.
If you have a few days, I’d strongly recommend to go with a scooter as you will have the chance to visit some waterfalls and other viewpoints in the Thoeng district.
In Chiang Rai, I stayed just one night at the ALS Clock Hospitale Hostel which was pretty decent and Laila, the owner, is a charm! she also cooks during the day some delicious and extremely cheap food!
You can read here my two day backpacking itinerary in Chiang Rai where I include the visits to the White and Blue Temples!
Arriving to Phu Chi Fa
The mini van trip takes around 3 hours, and will drop you in the main parking lot at the entrance of the town of Phu Chi Fa.
I only walked a little bit and could see that the village has plenty of accommodation, however the info about it is not so easy to find online.
If you’re not planning to go camping in Phu Chi Fa, as soon as you get off the mini van you will find a few people offering rooms so don’t worry if you go there without a booking.
There are also quite a few camping options, even renting a tent in the village is possible. As I was travelling with my camping equipment I headed towards the entrance of the Phu Chi FA Forest Park as that’s where the best camping ground is. It’s also free of charge!
MY CAMPING ESSENTIALS
Camping in Phu Chi Fa
The campground is walking distance from the mini van stop. You just need to walk down the road you came with the van for a couple hundred meters and you will see the entrance of the forest park, after a gentle 10min climb you will reach the campsite.
I arrived around 4pm and there was only another tent already set so I was lucky enough to just pitch my tent in what I considered the best spot! later on the day a few more tents arrived but the place was certainly not crowded and I had a good few meters clear of the closest tent.
Once I set up my tent I still had time to climb up the Phu Chi Fa mountain to see the sunset. You should not miss this as it was quite magical when I went!
Climbing to Phu Chi Fa from the campsite
The climb between the campsite and the highest viewpoint of Phu Chi Fa takes just about 20-30min so it’s not really a hike but just a walk.
The climb up has a little bit of traffic and at the top you can expect to have some small crowds as the people that spends the night at the village will pay for pick-up trucks to take them up there….lazy people….
After about 10 minutes climbing on a paved road you will arrive to the trail entrance to Phu Chi Fa.
At the trail head is where the pick-up trucks leave everyone. You can find there some small shops selling food and drinks.
From the trail head to Phu Chi Fa mountain you have just another 10 minutes going up hill but it’s not steep at all.
This is how sunset looked on my day camping in Phu Chi Fa!
Make sure to bring some warm clothes as I didn’t and got pretty cold as soon as it got dark and I had to run back to my tent just to warm up!
On the way back you can walk to town (where the mini van left you) for dinner in case you didn’t bring food with you.
On the campsite it’s allowed to light a small fire and each tent had one, I found a few small logs in the area.
PLEASE! always remember to be careful when lighting a fire in nature, keep it small, at a fair distance from your tent and most importantly water it off once you decide to go to sleep!
The camping ground is fantastic, not too hard, no many rocks or pebbles. With the bonfire, the stars and if you have any neighbour with a guitar (I had 3 on my night there!) you’re set for a wonderful camping night!
I had an early night as I was planning to wake up pretty early to see the sunrise, luckily not the earliest ever as I just had to wake up at 5:20am.
All I had to do was to retrace my steps from the previous day when I went to see the sunset.
So early in the morning was actually a bit annoying to have again (even more) pick-up trucks carrying the lazy tourists. There were lots of them which was not a promising sign.
Arriving to the trail head, the few shops for souvenirs and refreshments are already open before sunrise so you can have breakfast there if you were not prepared in advance.
Apart from the crowds that were bigger than on the previous day, an extremely sad thing is that you will also find several kids on the trail wearing traditional costumes and dancing to loud music looking for some money as a reward.
Not only the peace of the mountain is broken but more sadly is the life perspective of these kids being exploited from such a young age.
On the previous day I watched the beautiful sunset from highest viewpoint, but for sunrise I think it is much better if you stay behind and use the silhouette of Phu Chi Fa in contrast for an even more incredible view.
Also, the top of Phu Chi Fa will get really crowded (a lot more than for sunset)
It was another beautiful display offered by nature. Although I enjoyed more the sunset as there was too many people for my liking and also I couldn’t stop thinking of the poor kids dancing on the trail.
It’s just one of those harsh realities you experience when travelling around the world.
Back to Chiang Rai
After the magical display of sun, clouds and a million shades of colours in between. It was time for me to go back to the campsite and pack all my stuff to catch the 9:00 am van.
This was a quick trip for me, and super worth it because of the natural beauty of the place!
Ideally you’d have the time to ride the region on a scooter opposed to “rush” it a bit as I did.
Sunset at Phu Chi Fa is definitely a hidden gem in Thailand, which is funny as the sunrise is no longer a secret! all in all, Camping in Phu Chi Fa is a wonderful backpacking destination in Thailand.
Feel free to drop any comments or questions!
Check out the rest of my backpacking adventures in Thailand for more inspiration!