About Phu Kradueng
Accessible by a challenging long hike, Phu Kradueng National Park is one of the most popular national parks in Thailand by local tourists. Due to it's remote location it is less known by foreign tourists.
Situated in Phu Kradueng District of Loei Province in central north Thailand, the park is popular for it's many longer trails, the cold winter season, number of waterfalls and viewpoints. Unlike most other major national parks in the country, Phu Kradueng National Park is accessible by public transportation from all nearby provinces and Bangkok.
The park is mainly a single big mountain mesa, covering total of 350 km² with highest point at 1,316 meters asl. The flat summit plateau of the mountain where the major attractions are located has an area of around 60 km², averaging an altitude of around 1,200 to 1,250 meters asl.
The forests in the park are deciduous dipterocarp forest below 800 meter asl, gradually up found decidious dipterocarp forest, mixed deciduous forest, dry evergreen forest and at the top areas hill evergreen forest. At mid elevations mixed bamboo forests are common, at the plateau pine and oak trees dominating at most parts.
Phu Kradueng National Park is part of Western Isaan Forest Complex including three other national parks and four wildlife sanctuaries covering 4,594 km² all together. The other protected sites within the complex are; Nam Nao National Park, Tat Mok National Park, Phu Pa Man National Park, Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary, Pha Phung Wildlife Sanctuary, Phu Pha Daeng Wildlife Sanctuary and Taboa Huai Yai Wildlife Sanctuary.
The park is closed for forest recovery during the rainy seaons from June to September, otherwise open every day, including on public holidays. During the holidays and week-ends, the park gets extremely busy.
Getting there & get around
There are two visitor centers in the park; the lower one which is the entry point at the Phu Kradueng Town at the east side of the park, the upper one at the plateau with a spacious camping ground. Both visitor center areas have bungalows, camping sites, restaurants and number of shopping vendors.
It is recommended to start hiking uphill early in the morning, for this reason, the visitors are recommended to get to the lower visitor center area the day before hiking up and stay either at one of bungalows or in tent at the camping ground. The trailhead opens 7 am in the morning.
Entrance fees are 400 Baht for adults and 200 Baht for children (foreigners) or 40 Baht for adults and 20 Baht for children (local tourists).
Getting to the park
Because there will not be enough time to reach the upper visitor center in time before it gets dark, the lower visitor center closes at 15:00. Good to take this into consideration when reaching there. There are some guesthouses at Phu Kradueng town.
By car - From Bangkok drive north on highway-1, than turn east to highway-2, finally halfway between Pak Chong and Nakhon Ratchasima turn left to highway 201 north. The route distance is around 500 km.
It is possible to park the car at a designated area for number of days, the car park is guarded at all times.
When using a GPS navigation device or app, enter the following coordinates; 16.870460, 101.846647.
By train - From Bangkok, take train from Hualamphong Railway Station to Khaon Kaen Railway Station, from there take the bus to Loei and get off at Pha Nok Khao or Phu Kradueng and then take a songthaew to the park.
By bus - From Bangkok, take the bus to Loei at the Mo Chit Bus Station 2 and get off at Pha Nok Khao, from there take a songthaew to the park.
At Mo Chit 2, there are multiple companies offering bus service to Loei. Air Mueang Loei at ticket counter 6 and Phu Kradueng Tour Bus at 3rd floor ticket counter 82. The Phu Kradueng one has departure times 8:30 am, 10:30 am, 8 pm and 9:30 pm. When the 9:30 pm bus taken from Mo Chit 2 Terminal, the bus would arrive at Pha Nok Khao around 6 am in the morning.
Ask clearly that you will drop off for Phu Kradueng at Pha Nok Kao (destination) when buying ticket.
Songthaews from Pha Nok Khao - Songthaew are smaller passenger vehicles adapted from trucks or pick-ups. Songthaews are very common all over Thailand, even in Bangkok, often used for destination at most couple of hours away. Tickets costs 30 Baht per person, but if there are not enough passengers to take off, passengers between can share total 300 Baht to take off. It could take around 20 mins to reach the visitor center from Pha Nok Khao. (May 2018 price).
Getting to Bangkok or other provinces - Take a songthaew from the visitor center to Pha Nok Khao, there Phu Kradueng Tour Bus has 9:30 am, 5:50 pm, 7:30 pm, 8:30 pm and 9:30 pm departure times to Bangkok. Busses to other nearby cities like Khaon Kaen, Loei, Phetchabun also departs from Pha Nok Khao.
Getting to the upper camping ground
The upper camping ground is accessible by a 8.7 km long challenging trail that takes less than 5 hours to walk for an averagely fit person. The trail is quite clear and doesn't require any guide, it starts behind the lower visitor center area where necessary arrangments can be done. The first 5.2 km of the trail is uphill to the plateau, accends from 285 meters asl up to 1,275 meters asl. The first 800 meters of the trail up is quite steep and the last 1,300 meters before the top bit is even steeper and harder to walk, but doesn't require any climbing. At the most steep parts it is either concrete, bamboo or other wooden stairways. Once reached the top it takes another 3.5 km walk to reach the upper visitor center on a very flat dirt road.
The trail up is pretty clear, no risk of taking wrong turn. At few points on way up, the trail splits to two directions, but shortly after they rejoins again, at those points it doesn't matter what direction to take.
Along the trail up, there are 5 resting spots which all will be open during the high seasons, longer public holidays and week-ends. Only 3 rest stops will be open during the low seasons. These resting spots has number of food vendors each, they also sell beverages and coffee, this means, no need to carry more than a small bottle of water while hiking this trail. There are also some shopping vendors at most spots that sells various souvenirs, t-shirts, rain coats etc.
It is possible to get heavier bags carried all the way to the upper visitor center by local carriers for 30 Baht per kilo (May 2018 price).
Phu Kradueng is a great destination for hiking, unlike most other national parks in the country there is no guide requirement to walk longer trails. The trails are clear and signposted well, up at the plateau easy to walk around between attractions.
A grid of dirt roads and trails crossing each other at the southern plateau makes it possible to reach number of waterfalls and viewpoints from different directions. For more information about these attractions and their location read further below in "attractions" section.
For those who are seeking challenge, hiking is an option but it is also possible to rent bicycle from the visitor center. There are around 100 mountain bikes available for rent, from 360 Baht to 410 Baht. It is not possible to rent bicycles during the heavily rainy periods as the dirt roads becomes muddy. There are no cars at the top of the mountain apart from few light vehicles used by the staff, so getting around to be done on feet or by bicycle.
Stay & eat
At the upper camping ground, there are two options for stay; tent or bungalows, see further below for details.
There are many restaurants around the campsite, most of these open from 7 am in the morning until 8 pm or 10 pm in the evening depending on how many visitors are around. Food and bevarages are more expensive at Phu Kradueng compared to most other national parks because these needs to be carried up by foot at a significant cost. A bottle of water is 25 Baht, bevarages from around 30 Baht, a big bottle of water is 50 Baht. A meal can cost from 60 Baht up. (May 2018 price).
The mobile reception at the upper visitor center area even at most trails are quite good. Powered by batteries charged from solar panels, there will be electricity from 6 pm until 10 pm every evening. It will be possible to charge mobile and other devices for 30 Baht per unit from the restaurants at any time as restaurants have their own solar panels.
The top camping ground is probably one of Thailand's biggest with enough space for around 5,000 tents. The park gets extremely busy during the longer holidays such as Songkran Festival or other week-end combined holidays that spans 3-4 days. During the week-days Monday to Friday the campsite gets less busy. It is recommended to get there during the week-days when there are much less people.
Tents are only available for rent at spot; 150 Baht for 2 people, 200 Baht for 3 people or 400 Baht for 4 people (May 2018 price). For 2 people, we recommend go for 3 people tents as you will need a bit space for your bags, otherwise you may have less space for your legs while trying sleep. Same with 3 people, better go for 4 people tent instead. Sleeping accessories are available for rent from 10 Baht to 30 Baht, all for 60 Baht per person. During the less busy days there may be space under one of few pavilions to set up tents, good to take cover from eventual rain, also good to have some shadow.
There are many shower/toilet facilities around the camping ground, all cleaned up regularly.
It is also possible to rent a tent on arrival at the lower camping ground.
Around the upper campsite there are good number of bungalows available for rent from 900 Baht for 6 people or 3,600 Baht for 12 people (May 2018 price). The bungalows have towels and hot shower powered by gas. These bungalows can only be booked online via DNP website and the bookings must be done in advance. As the money transfer needs to be done within 2 days of booking, it may not be possible to book bungalows from abroad. While in Thailand, the payment can be done via local banks or 7-Eleven convenience stores.
If there are bungalows available at the lower visitor center area they can be booked on arrival but they are also possible to book in advance via DNP website.
The park is not a wildlife watching destination, very few mammals seen around. Sambars deers are the most commonly seen animal at the upper camping site, they are not shy, can be seen every day. Boars and golden jackals occationally seen visiting camping ground area, while golden jackals prefers the edges of the campsite in bushy parts on late afternoon or evening, boars may be seen passing through the campsite any time. Other common animals are variable squirrels and western striped squirrels.
Some of the areas around the campsite are elephant habitats, so elephant warning signs will be seen on the trails. The trails may occasionally be closed for visitors if elephant activity seen in the area. Visitors should keep distance to wild elephants when they see one, and not get closer than 100 meters, elephant attack on humans are common in Thailand, sometimes fatal.
In the night, with a bit of luck civets may be seen.
Attractions of Phu Kradueng
There are number of waterfalls west and northwest from the camping ground, all accessible through few circular trails.
Wang Kwang Waterfall
A 7 meters high waterfall at around 1 km walking distance from the upper camping ground. There is a naturally flat rocky passage behind the falling water, wide enough to not get wet and walk to the other side of the stream.
Tham Yai Waterfall
Located around 2.3 km from the visitor center, 1.4 km before Phen Phop Waterfall along the same trail. The area around this waterfall becomes impressively beautiful every year during late November to early December when maples covers the forest floor in red.
Than Sawan Waterfall
Located around 250 meters downstream, south from Tham Yai Waterfall
Phen Phob Waterfall
Located 1.1 km further north from Tham Yai Waterfall,
Phon Phob Waterfall
Phen Phob Waterfall is an 8-tiered cascading waterfall over 30 meters. The waterfall is named after first Thai world champion boxer who found this waterfall an ideal place to train for championship that took place in a colder climate.
Phen Phob Mai Waterfall
Nearly 600 meters north from Phon Phob, it is a medium size waterfall with a great view. This waterfall too have nice view of falling red maples from late November to early December.
There are number of viewpoints in various directions and ditances from the campsite to watch sunrise and sunset from. The nearest one is about a km, all others are spead from east to west along the southern edge of the plateau with the one most far away at 9 km distance from the visitor center.
Nok Aan Cliff
This is the nearest viewpoint with a view of sunrise in the early mornings. It is located 1.1 km east from the visitor center.
Lom Sak Cliff
The most popular cliff for wathing the sunset at the southwest edge of the plateau, 9 km from the visitor center. Most visitors get to this cliff to see the sunset. There is a vendor nearby that sells drinks and snacks.
Mak Duk Cliff
The nearest viewpoint at the south side of the mountain, around 2.5 kilometers from the visitor center.
Na Noi Cliff
1.2 km further west from Mak Duk or 3.3 km from the visitor center via a shorter route.
Yiap Mek Cliff
Located about 2.1 km west from Na Noi Cliff.
Located 1.2 km west from Yiap Mek Cliff.
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