A November 2002 trip
to Phayao by markiemark
Quote: Ninety kilometers south of Chiang Rai, Phayao offers an excellent base for exploring an area dotted with national parks which have been almost completely neglected by western tourists. Phayao Lake is a picturesque spot in the mornings and at sunset. The cultural center gives an excellent insight into local life, both past and present.
Phayao sits on the north-eastern shore of Lake Phayao. Formed from a complex of swamps and low-lying wetlands by the damming of the Ing River in 1941, it’s a picturesque spot in the mornings as the mist rises over the mountains of Doi Luang National Park to the west and fishermen are out in their boats. Similarly, it’s a lovely and popular spot in the evenings when I saw several stunning sunsets, the sky a blaze of reds, pinks, and purples. There are numerous restaurants lakeside specialising in barbecued catfish, the local delicacy. Towards the older, south-eastern part of town can be seen many old teak houses and grain warehouses, some abandoned and now returning to overgrowth which makes them wonderfully photogenic!
It costs 17B on buses 198 or 113 to Doi Luang viewpoint and 15B to the turn-off for the national park HQ. To Phu Nang National Park, take a 2160 bus every hour to Dok Kham Tai (10B), and ask to be dropped off at the turn-off for Phu Hang or Ban Bo Bia, the slightly more well-known nearby village on Route 1251. It’s a small road, not signposted opposite a large school on the eastern edge of town. Songthaews, usually around 11am-2pm take this road to the park entrance for 30B a beautifully hilly road through Yao villages.
The headquarters is at the foot of Phu Kaeng Waterfall, which is really a series of seven big cascades about 1km long over limestone. It’s really spectacular and beautiful. A stepped trail climbs right by the steeply tumbling river, and there are numerous pools to swim in. A nature trail in the forest completes a circuit with the riverside path, and at its highest point, a narrow but clear trail heads further up the slope.
This leads up, after about 20 minutes, to a bamboo-forested flat area between two ridges, where there is a trail crossroads. The first morning, I followed the straight-ahead trail as it wound down, sometimes crossing a stream. I had to keep a careful eye on where the trail re-entered the forest, but it wasn’t too difficult.
After 2 hours, the trail emerged from the forest between two old wooden shelters to a dirt road which led to a Lisu village, Pa Tum, a couple of hundred meters away. Doi Luang National Park was created in 1990 by joining three smaller parks together. There are still Lisu, Lahu, Yao, and Hmong villages within the park area. I spent about an hour in the village, and the villagers were friendly and curious, but only one girl even spoke Thai there! After taking a few photos of villagers and butterflies, I headed into the forest back to the trail crossroads and took the trail going up the west ridge. This led up and up and up until, having walked nearly 6 hours, I’d had enough!! I stopped at a good viewpoint, had a snack, then went back to HQ for a late lunch.
Looking at the relief map again, I saw that the second trail leads to a Yao village, but no one could tell me how far it was--they just kept saying it was far! There are two other waterfalls in the park accessible by road (but there's no public transport), along with a viewpoint. See my "Climbing Doi Luang" entry for details on the viewpoint.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 25, 2002
Doi Luang National Park
Attraction | "Doi Luang National Park; Climbing Doi Luang"
Further up the road, I followed a trail into the forest from opposite the Ban Pak Bok turn-off. This paralleled the road for about 20 minutes, which I spent scampering around after butterflies with my camera. Feeling really pleased that I’d made something of the trip, I kept on the trail until it topped various knolls, hoping for a view, but always being thwarted by tall trees. I had no idea where the trail was going, but after 1 hour climbing higher the entire time, I noticed through the trees that I was heading for Doi Luang, the highest point at 1,750 meters.
Looking at my watch, I had only 2 1/2 hours of daylight left, so I put a spurt on to see how far I could get, giving myself until 4:30pm before turning back. I climbed through a mixture of deciduous, evergreen, and bamboo forest until I was within striking distance of the top. The last 40 minutes or so was spent wading through chest-high grass, and the trail was very difficult to find; I just headed up towards the peak, which was now very close.
After 10 minutes more of steep clambering over rocks, I arrived puffing and sweating at the top at exactly 4pm, and what a view! Although it was cloudy, the mountains to the north just went on and on. Phayao lake was way down in the valley, alternately revealed and obscured again by the clouds. Swallows were swooping around my head as a gentle breeze ruffled my shirt - it was so quiet!
The way down was tough; I lost the trail three times, swearing loudly before retracing to find it again! Once out of the long grass, it was easy to race down to the main road, where I was lucky to pick up a lift as the sky turned a brilliant red at sunset.
Attraction | "Doi Phu Nang National Park"
However, looks aren’t everything! It was difficult trying to find out from the staff where there were walking trails into the forest. This wasn’t the first park where I’ve had to keep badgering before someone finally lets on that there is a trail or two - or I’ve gone and found them myself! In national parks, even busy ones like Nam Nao or Phu Kradung, I’ve hardly seen a soul on the trails. Persuading the park staff that I want to walk and not just see the waterfall and leave hasn’t been very easy! I found the trail in Phu Nang myself. It was an old nature trail near the waterfall, now hardly used since the bridge over the river fed by the waterfall has long since collapsed and it’s a good wade across!
Shooting off from the nature trail is another overgrown trail that I followed over ridges until I got bored. The forest here is not good. The trees are widely scattered and there’s a lot of long grass. Not many birds, butterflies, or wildflowers--in fact, a very boring forest! Apparently it’s in the north of the park, where the forest is natural but inaccessible to tourists. The southern area, where the headquarters and the pretty Tansawan Waterfall are, is surrounded by villages and cultivated fields. The park has been created to prevent further encroachment and to rehabilitate the hills nearby. So, what I was walking in were former crop fields in the first stages of regrowth. Grass comes first, then thicker stemmed ferns, then shrubs, and then the trees some years later. Maybe I have to come back in 20 to 30 years’ time.
The songthaews that pass the park on their way to Ban Bo Bia have all gone towards Phayao by about 9am. By the time my tent had dried from the overnight condensation, it was well after 9am, so hitching was the only option. I got a lift back from the park to Dok Kham Tai with a senior police officer who drove like a maniac! A not-so-relaxing end to the trip!
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on December 25, 2002
Attraction | "Wianglaw Wildlife Sanctuary"
A 1km walk took me and Sompong, my guide, to a lake, which we rowed across for about half an hour. On an island in this lake is a community of White-Handed Gibbons that have been re-introduced to the sanctuary and who came down to the water’s edge to see us and give me some good photos.
On the other side of the lake is another 1km walk to a flattish area, where we camped. There is a basic toilet hut, but the river is for washing and water supply.
The walks I did with Sompong didn’t really follow any trails; sometimes there was one, sometimes not! There was a problem communicating, as neither of us spoke the other’s language enough for questions about the forest to be asked or answered. I really disliked having to toddle along behind like a poodle! The walks were interesting, but we saw hardly any wildlife! Lots of deer and wild pig tracks, but apart from the gibbons on the lake and the fenced-in deer being bred for re-introduction, not a lot!! Not even many birds to speak of.
The other rangers at headquarters gave me the impression that I was just very unlucky, especially as the area is supposedly excellent for birds! I stayed 2 nights and did two half-day walks and a full-day walk - quite tough as it’s hilly country, and it was also very wet, having rained all the first evening and night.
Sompong, my guide, was very friendly and did his best to tell me about the forest in very broken English. He also gave me a lift back to town on his motorbike to save me the 5km walk!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 25, 2002
Wianglaw Wildlife Santuary
Chun, Phayao Province
Attraction | "More National Park Butterfly Photos!"
Butterflies have given me the opportunity to get some photos of some of the life in the forests - not just the forests, either, as some gorgeous butterflies frequent the hedgerows and verges in town, too!
Some of them are not so easy to photograph, though. I must have seemed like a madman to the locals, chasing round after these creatures with my camera, getting on my hands and knees to get up close just as they decide to take to the air again!
Nevertheless, they are beautiful things, and here are a few photos that I've taken that I didn't have room for in the national park entries of my journals.
Mae-Puem National Park
Mu 8, Ban Pa Tueng Mae Jai Sub-district
london, United Kingdom