Showing posts with label Driving. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Driving. Show all posts

Road Trip Part 4, Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park …

To be honest, after my horrible choice of roads to begin the trip, I let my wife do most of the navigating and searching out of destinations and accommodation, while I held forth as the driver extraordinaire.  After wrapping up family obligations in Nong Wua So, she decided on a route to our next destination, a national park I had never heard of.  With the midday temperature rising and the scenery becoming less interesting by the mile, I began to wonder about this place we were headed to.

Suddenly we began to climb out of the heat, into the cool lush mountains.  The road was wonderful and only surpassed by the ever improving view as we climbed onward and upward.  Near the bottom of the mountain was the park entrance.  The sign clearly said foreigners were to pay 200 baht but I gave my driver’s license to my wife to obtain what is usually a 50% discount.  She returned having paid 110 baht, (30 for the car and 40 each for two adults).  Whether they didn’t see me or didn’t care, I don’t know but it did work in my favor.

By the time we reached the top I was in heaven.  It was beautiful, there was a chill in the air and there was renewed vigor in my step.  Stopping at the Visitor Center we enquired about activities and accommodation.  The official on duty was fun and charming, so we took his recommendation of a lovely villa on the edge of the housing area and he offered us a 30% discount off the published rate of 1000 baht.  It was a huge room, well worth the price, rustically appointed with a high lofted ceiling and four single beds pushed together to make two large beds.  The beds were rock hard but I still slept amazingly well.

Not wanting to waste the remaining daylight we set out to explore as much as we could before the sun set.  We stopped for a few pictures at what used to be a reeducation school after the communists were defeated in the area.  From there we drove up to one of the several mountain tops, Phu Hin Rong Kla, at around 1600 meters above sea level.  Phu Phangma, Phu Lomlo, and Phu Man Khao are a few of the other peaks in the area, reaching as high as 1800 meters.

It was approaching six o'clock when we pulled into Lan Hin Pum parking area and we wondered if the hike was doable before dark.  A returning family said it took them one hour to make the loop and at that pace we had our doubts about setting out on a rough, unfamiliar trail without flashlights and the distinct chance of ending our walk in the dark.  In the parking lot we were approached by a young Thai couple in their late twenties.  They were eager to make the hike, but were afraid to do it on their own, so asked if they could tag along with us.

We told them they could join us but that we wouldn’t be waiting around for them.  It would up to them to catch up with us on the trail.  I have to admit to having my doubts as to whether they would follow or not.  After all, they weren’t the most rugged outdoor looking people we have ever encountered.  We hoped to at least get to a view point before the sun set, in order to get some photographs so didn’t waist any time hitting the trail. 

Our timing was perfect in the end.  Our new friends caught up with us and everyone got some photos to mark the occasion.  After watching the sunset, no one wanted to turn back so we picked up the pace once again and finished the loop just as it was beginning to get really dark.  It took us maybe 40 minutes to complete the loop, even with all the time we spent watching and photographing the sunset.

We talked our new friends into staying in the park that night, instead of going back down the mountain as they had planned, and we all had dinner together at the local restaurant.  We ate and talked until the staff began turning off the lights, in a not so subtle gesture, signifying their desire to go home even though our conversation was in full flow.  It was getting late and cold so their timing was appreciated, with us feeling grateful in the end for a hot shower and a warm bed.

We went for breakfast on our own in the morning where I struck up a conversation with another couple who I had noticed camping only a hundred meters or so from our villa.  They had a Chonburi license on their truck so we discussed where they had been and I admired his Canon 60D camera.  Soon it was time to take one more short hike before heading home. 

Lan Hin Taek is not a long hike but it is not for the clumsy or accident prone.  The terrain is broken and the gaping crevasses are spanned in strategic places by the flimsiest of wooden bridges, with no railings.  Still it was a wonderful way to say goodbye to the mountain before heading home.

While my only interest was in the beauty of the place, their is a great deal of military history to this park, as well.  Google, Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park, for more information.  It was a communist stronghold from 1968 to 1972 and it wasn’t until after they were defeated that the park was founded in 1984, as the 48th national park in Thailand.

The drive home was around 500 km of pleasant and comfortable driving in our new Fortuner, which got us home just as it was getting dark.  As usual it really felt good to get home.  After a few days rest at home my wife is now down in Bangkok for a visit with a friend from Hawaii and some time with her Bangkok friends.  All to soon she will be back to her classwork so it is important to make as much of this break as possible.
Fall colors in the forest.
Visitor Center
Road up the mountain.
Road up to 1600 meters.

Excellent dirt road to the top.
View of the parking area from the top.

View from 1600 meters.

Reeducation school area with a few Maple leaves left for our enjoyment.
Beginning our sunset hike.

On the trail.

Lending a little support.

Enjoying the view.

Sunset at Lan Hin Pum.

Sunset photo op with new friends.
The trail to the lookout.

Parking by the front door.

View from the front door.

Our accommodation for the night.

Camping area.

Restaurant

Lan Hin Taek trail

Finding our way.

Amazing rocks and crevasses.

More unusual rock formations.

A view for Lan Hin Taek.
The memorial at the beginning of the trail.

Road Trip Part 2, Na Haeo, Chiang Khan, Nong Khai …

The road from Na Haeo to Chiang Khan moved prominently to the top of my list of the worst roads I have ever encountered.  Dirt, mud, broken asphalt, major roadwork, and a moonscape of potholes left me rattled and the car looking like a chocolate covered ice-cream sundae. 

Sorry I didn’t get any pictures after the initial construction area but I just couldn’t see getting all muddy to get an ugly picture, of an ugly road.  We did stop at a dilapidated roadside park.  It was terribly overgrown but you could just catch glimpses of some interesting rock formations in the river which must have been the motivation for developing this little park in the first place.  I tried to get down to the waters edge for a better shot but the closer I got the less I could see.

As we limped into Chiang Khan my wife was in dire need of food, nothing unusual about that I guess.  Asking around we were advised to drive a few kilometers further down the road to Kaeng Khut Khu, a riverside market and dining area that looks out over the mighty Mekong River.  This was a great find and after a quick bite, I went for a walk down by the water’s edge to stretch my legs after a day and a half of driving, collecting a few images along the way. 

From there we went back into town to see what all the fuss was about in this modern must see riverside destination.  Though midday, and nearly deserted, it was not hard to imagine the area as a bustling hotbed of nightlife reminiscent of Pai, with a walking street that seemed endlessly lined with quaint wooden shuttered shops, bars and guesthouses.

With our main goal of this trip being to visit our young nephew we hadn’t seen for two years, it was decided we were too far behind schedule to spend the night as we had planned.  Soon we were back in the car and heading to Nong Khai, again snaking our way along the river road but at a much fast pace.  Every once in a while there would be an opening in the roadside foliage and I would think to myself, that would have made for an interesting photo, but I had fallen in behind a couple of Bangkok drivers who were making good time and I was enjoying driving on a much better road, at a much better pace.

My wife had drifted off to sleep again and I didn’t want to wake her by stopping, so I never did get a record of that section of the river.  When we did finally pull over it was not at the most scenic of stops.  Continuing along the river we arrived in Nong Khai late in the afternoon.  A carwash was the first order of business in this expansive Isaan outpost on the Mekong River. 

From there we looked for and found a hotel for the night.  The White Inn Nongkhai didn’t look like much from the outside but we opted for one of their more expensive rooms at 800 baht and found the room quite spacious with a huge wonderful bed and a large glass enclosed shower with a large rain-shower style shower-head similar to what I use at home. 

Daeng Namnuang Vietnamese Restaurant, prominently situated on the riverside promenade was a must for my wife as it came highly recommended by friends.  Stepping out of the hotel on our way to the restaurant, we traversed a gauntlet of those stereotypic roadside bars, with their equally stereotypic punters, gracing barstools and eyeing us as we walked by.  The restaurant was only a few blocks away and we needed a walk, so there was nothing for it but to soak up some local color as we offered ourselves up as fodder for their evening gossip.

My wife was very happy with the restaurant, so I was too, if you get my drift.  She made plans to return the next morning to checkout the promenade in the light of day and get some takeout to share with others at her nephew’s home in Nong Wua So.  It was divided highway all the way from Nong Khai to Nong Wua So and it took us past Udon along the way.  We arrived much quicker than we had expected having become accustomed to slow mountain roads over the last couple of days.

Road out of Na Haeo.

Beginning of the road work.
Neglected Park

A glimpse of the river.
Walking street area of Chiang Khan midday.
View from Kaeng Khut Khu
Looking back up at the market from down by the river.
Market at Kaeng Khut Khu.
A little lunch, a little Facebook.
Temporary dinning area during the dry season at Kaeng Khut Khu.
White Inn Nong Khai
Daeng Namnuang Vietnamese Restaurant
Another view of Daeng Namnuang and the riverside promenade.

Road Trip 2013 Part 1, Home to Na Haeo …

One could say our trip really began the night before, as an unseasonal deluge continued unabated into the night and we found ourselves questioning the wisdom of beginning a long road trip in that kind of weather.  We continued with our preparations, however, deciding to wait and see what the next morning would bring.

While we had discussed an early departure around 7am, and thought we would be awake well before then, somehow it was after 7:30am before we began to stir.  In the end it was 9am before we got everything sorted and were able to hit the road.  It was dark and grey even at that hour but at least the rain had ceased.  A quick look at the weather forecast and we decided it was a go.  We encountered nothing but perfect weather on our trip but received frequent updates from home of rain and even hail.

We had some wild-eyed notion of making it from Chiang Kham to Chiang Khan in one day, which did not come to pass.  This was not to be a high speed highway cruise but rather a backroad mountainous adventure that also snaked along tortured riverside byways.  As the sun began to set we found ourselves far from our destination and still in the midst of high mountain switchbacks.

I almost never drive after dark but on this occasion we had no choice but to drive well into the night.  Ten hours of hard driving, not including breaks along the way, put us a mere 500 kilometers into our trip and far short of Chiang Khan were we hoped to spend the first night.  It hadn’t helped that I got lost at least once, missing a turn, but my wife also got carsick along the way further delaying our progress.  Thankfully that is not a regular occurrence.

She fought it as long as she could but finally said I should pullover, which I did immediately.  At that point she lost her breakfast, and everything she had eaten since, right there on the side of the road.  Not long after we got moving again, she feel fast asleep and awoke feeling much better.  From that point on she was fine, and her normal wonderful self.

Sometime after 8:30pm we arrived at Na Haeo which looked like the only possibility of finding accommodation in the area.  Sure enough we stumbled onto the sign for a guesthouse and pulled in to check it out.  Fortunately the gate was open and as we drove in the owner, a lovely well spoken lady, came out to greet us.  It ended up being well worth the 500 baht she asked for, even if the bed was a bit hard.

My wife was starving and there was a roadside vendor just across the road in this sleepy little town, who served up tasty stir fried dishes.  To our surprise we were not the only ones who were hungry after a long day.  There was a Norwegian couple who had peddled over 100 kilometers from Chiang Khan that very day.  Waiting for our food we shared a pleasant traveler’s exchange which left us quite impressed with their fitness and sense of adventure.  This was before we realized what kinds of roads they had covered.  Lets just say our admiration was turned to absolute awe not long into our drive the next day as we traversed the same roads they had traveled.

As this was a long trip, it is also a long trip report so I have divided it into four parts, so as not to overwhelm my readers.  Stay tuned as the best is yet to come.
Classic view of highway 1148 from Chiang Kham to Nan.

Closeup from above.
Nan River

Backroads out of Nan
Pit stop along the way

Guest House in Na Haeo

Phu Chi Fa and Phu Sang, A Family Day Trip...

We loaded up five adults and set off on our first real mountain drive in our new Fortuner.  Someone had never been to Phu Chi Fa and someone else needed to visit a market near Phu Sang Waterfall so we took a circular route which included the shorter but steeper 40 km assent of Phu Chi Fa followed by a longer 110 km mountain and valley drive to return home.

With three rows of seats, we rode 2 in front, 2 in the middle and 1 in the back.  Everyone seemed to have a comfortable ride and I really enjoyed driving.  It was a very different ride from the old truck.  Comfort, control, handling and visibility were great, as I took on two steep climbs and a myriad of mountain bends.  It was a bit hazy on the mountain top but we got a few nice pictures anyway.

The classic Phu Chi Fa shot.


New car and the driver at the trailhead to Phu Chi Fa.
On the trail to the summit of Phu Chi Fa.

Later we stopped at Phu Sang Waterfall for a picnic lunch and I ventured up beyond the falls for the first time.  The steep stairs leading to the top were interesting and lead to a raised wooden walkway that meandered through the lush forest and past a bubbling hot spring before looping around to where the trail began.  I loved the walk as it reminded me of similar hikes we have taken in the old growth temperate rain-forests in the Pacific Northwest region of the States.  The roadside park in front of the waterfall is great but one really needs to take in the short trail above the falls as well.

Looking down on the park from the falls.

The stairs to the top.


I couldn't capture an image of the bubbles rising from the bottom of the pool.