Phu Toei National Park, located in Suphanburi bordering Uthai Thani and Kanchanaburi provinces is one of Thailand’s least visited national parks. So unvisited in fact, that a lot of the locals here in Suphanburi Town don’t even know where it is! Check out these official figures for paying tourists to Phu Toei last year – in October there were 65, November 141 and for December, the peak of the high season – 295.
One of my close friends in town, Khun Nimit (Mr Nicky) President of the Advisory Committee to Phu Toei National Park alongside Mr Tui an Environmental Officer, invited me and the wife, just last weekend, to visit the place. In fact, just a couple of months ago, I translated for the very first time, the official English language guide to the park.
With a great bunch of friends, we left for the park in the morning. The thing that struck me, was that it was so darned far from Suphanburi Town – a hundred kilometers, the same distance to Bangkok! On the way to the park, we had to go stock up on loadsa food and of course the statutory….beer. Then, just before the entrance gates, we stopped off at the groovy Lao refugee village of Ban Pakhee. As one of our friends, Ajarn Kittisak – an artist, wanted to do a quick water-colour for his Bangkok exhibition coming up soon. Anyway, what a chill place that was – I never knew that such a gaff existed in Suphanburi – everyone speaking Lao, listening to Lao music, and the wife just loved the Lao lullabies, blasting away to get the children to sleep!
By the time we arrived at the park it was mid-afternoon, and the officials got straight to work, setting up our tents. There were only two other tourists at the Camp Site – Thais, and I can tell you one thing, and that is – they didn’t look too chuffed when they saw us arriving with three guitars and a crate of beer! Anyway, I had a walk around checking out the environs with a German buddie, while the wife, Mrs Su, got involved with the cooking. Dinner, served up by the park official women wasn’t anything to write home about, but – it was decent enough.
When darkness fell, it got kinda chilly, and by 10PM – the temperature got down to 12C. For the first time ever in Thailand, I was huddled around a fire. What a classic night, Mr Nicky and other friends used to be ‘student activists’ during the 1970’s, so it was great listening to the guitar and Thai-Marxist songs from yesteryear. Could just feel how it used to be, as a Commie living in the Thai jungle.
Enjoying a beer around the camp fire
Up early at 6 in the morning, absolutely freezing me nose off with a bit of a hangover, I checked the thermometer and it read 9C! Couldn’t believe me eyes when I saw one of the park officials taking a shower! As for me however, I decided to spend the next couple of hours sipping hot coffee instead. By 10PM an old-fashioned Thai-style tractor had been arranged, courtesy of the park, to take us up the base of ‘Khao Son’ – which, even though just 7 kilometers away took – 40 minutes. We next had to trek 2km to get up to the viewpoint, and surrounded by Pine Trees, we got a breathtaking view of the national park.
That actual area, 15 years ago, made world-wide news headlines – for a horrific reason. On the fateful night of the 26 May 1991 at 11PM, the engine of a Lauda Airline’s plane, leaving from Bangkok – caught fire. Just after, it exploded, and the jet came down into the jungle of Phu Toei. There is a shrine dedicated, and a plaque showing the precise point of the crash which killed everyone on board – 223 people. To see some of the remains of the aircraft, old bags and even shoes – kinda freaked me out. At night too, just 7km from the crash – it felt eerie, and looking up to the sky, I could just imagine.
Unfortunately, because of the time, we didn’t get to see the other attractions. 30km away, but a 2 and a half hour journey is ‘Khao Thaewada’ (Angel Mountain) Suphanburi’s highest point at 1,200meters. Then just before the mountain is a two hundred year-old ‘Karen’ hill-tribe village, ‘Ta Pheurnkhi’– which must be truly worth visiting. In the vicinity of the Karen are two waterfalls, also called by their Karen names. The park is also home to the Phu Wai caves and plenty of endangered animals and birds like the Horn-bill.
(The actual site of the horrific 1991 Lauda Air crash. The numbers on the board tell it all)
First and foremost, it essential to have your own transport – just to get to the entrance of the park. If you wish to journey alone, it is highly advised to go by 4-Wheel. Otherwise, you may be smelling your clutch. If you haven’t got a 4-Wheel, the park does have one, including an old-fashioned tractor. You would have to inform in advance however, if you’d like to rent one of them out. At the gates to the park, they are plenty of officials willing to act as a guide – but I doubt they speak English though!
If you’ve got your own tent, then the fee to plant it is something like 30 Baht. Otherwise, they can be rented at 250 Baht a night, which includes sleeping bags, pillows and the officials setting the thing up. If you don’t bring your own cooking utensils, the officials can either cook for you or you can borrow their equipment. Of course, a tip is highly appreciated. If you go deep into the park, up the Karen village, waterfalls or Angel Mountain it is seriously recommended to take a guide.
I found Phu Toei to be a fantastic place, absolutely off the beaten track. If you really fancy a trip into the heart of nature then please feel free to e-mail me for more information. I could also help, with Mr Nicky, to arrange things directly via the national park.
By the way, the Karen Village really need a volunteer English Teacher. I’d love to do it, but the village doesn’t have a shop let alone a darned beer….