Phu Kradeung is a popular mountain in Thailand among the locals. Many couples and adventurers flock to make the 5.5km upwards trek to the summit and then a further 3.5km walk to stay on the tabletop peak in tents or small villas.
At the base of the mountain we got our bags together and organised a Sherpa to carry them to the top of the mountain. There are no motorbikes or cars allowed so these guys (and girls) make a living from carrying bags up and down the mountain for about 10b (20p) a kilogram one way.
So for my 20kg backpack the Sherpa got about 200b (£4) to carry it 5.5km up a mountain, taking probably 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Of course they take more than one bag (about 50kg in total) using a strong bamboo pole to balance everything from gas canisters to bags of coconuts as they trek, usually barefoot, up and down Phu Kradung.
We started our trek early and soon realised that the Sherpas would easily beat us to the top. The climb was fairly pleasant with differing levels of steepness and a few food area stops serving refreshments. I grabbed a bamboo stick for balance and enjoyed the steady climb to the top.
Somehow, at one point, we took a wrong turn. In a couple of places the path splits slightly and the girls (Tik and A) went the easy way while the men (Craig, Martin and Myself) took on the slightly harder route. Which turned even harder, until eventually we were scaling rocks and trying to force through branches and bushes.
It took us a while but after realising our mistake we turned back and righted path, eventually arriving at the top after a total of about 3 to 4 hours. Here we saw one of many great views over unspoiled forest and mountains.
The mountain trek is said to be a challenge for Thai couples – if you can help each other out and reach the top together, you are meant to be. If you argue and fail then it is time to go separate ways. We saw no arguing couples but we did come across many curious Thais wanting pictures with the Farang (Westerners) – it is rare for them to see any tourists from outside of Thailand at Phu Kradung.
At the top of the mountain we walked the final 3.5km to reach the main area – campsite, restaurants, shops and the luggage pickup point. We shared a three room villa between the five of us which provided the basics. The “pretty warm shower” kept us clean with ice cold water while the outside cooking area attracted the local deer.
It is worth mentioning that although Thailand is a very hot country, the top of Phu Kradung is not. During the day peak temperatures reached about 20 to 23 degrees celcius but at night they dropped close to and below 0. The sun goes down at about 6:30pm rising again at about 6am (this is constant throughout the year in Thailand) so the place got pretty cold at night.
Our villa was not insulated. The walls were made of wood and this meant gaps allowing the cold in. I prepared for a little bit of cold and fortunately Craig brought over some thermals for me, but I didn’t expect to be shivering in the middle of the night. Craig and I shared the main living type room and although we might have got a bit close for warmth, I felt Tiks comparison to Brokeback Mountain was a bit unfair.
So despite the “Pretty Warm House” and the “Pretty Warm Showers” we soldiered on, rising early in the morning to see the sunsets and mountain biking our way to the various view points during the day.
There was talk of wild elephants around the top of the mountain and although we saw some dung, our nature experiences consisted of feeding wild deer and Craig getting attacked by a leech.
For three pleasant nights we stayed in touch with nature until, after many sunsets and sunrises, many of the same thai meals (“What’s for breakfast?”) and many cold showers we reversed our trek back down the mountain.
Next up we head towards the Thailand border, staying in Nong Khai before Craig and I carry on our Journey through Laos.