Located in the beautiful and underrated province of Loei, Phu Kradueng is a unique national park that offers a streamlined hiking and camping experience. It’s a novel trail that’s great for people who love nature, but aren’t invested in or not interested in going on a remote backcountry trek.
Given how built up this national park is, Phu Kradueng still manages to somehow be ruggedly charming and naturally beautiful – even for the most experienced hikers.
Everyday of the week, Phu Kradueng’s hiking trail opens at 6:00am and closes to new entrants at 1pm. You’re not allowed to enter past 1pm because of the risk of running into wild elephants (its likely that you’ll see their dung on the trail – we did).
For the most part, the 8.7 km trail is easy / well-marked and even the moderate sections are supplemented with hand rails or stairs. However, the last 1/3 of the hike (near the top) is much more difficult – it’s steep, a bit technical, and requires a decent level of physical fitness to complete. And once you bypass this difficult section, there’s still more trail to go – you’ll need walk another 3.5 km over a flat sandy trail to the campsite.
It took us ~4.5 hours to reach the campsite while carrying semi-heavy packs (we brought all of our own camping gear) and took frequent water breaks. On average, most people took closer to 6 hours to reach the top and were only carrying small daypacks filled with necessities.
Total Elevation Gain: 965 meters
For 30 baht a kilo, you can have porters carry any items that you don’t want to haul up yourself. In hindsight, we wish we would’ve paid for this service as it would’ve made the hike more enjoyable. Plus, it contributes a bit more towards the local economy (which is always a good thing).
Regardless of your choice, watching the porters beast their way up the mountain is an epic sight. Portage weights ranged from 41-54 kilos (we asked each one) and they were usually moving faster than most of the hikers on the trail.
On our way back down the trail, we were lucky enough to witness one porter carrying up a laundry machine and a full tank of gas – and no, we’re not exaggerating. See below…
Throughout the hike, there are five shaded rest areas with multiple shops that are loaded with food and drinks – from fresh coconuts to instant coffee. There are also relatively clean bathrooms in each rest area, in case nature calls.
Once you reach Phu Kradueng’s campground, there’s an information center where you can buy a map of the park for 10 baht – it’s worth getting from an intel perspective. Just behind the information center is another building where you can pay for any camping gear that’ll you need. Prices below:
In addition, the campground features two areas for restrooms / showers that are within a five minute walking distance from the tents. The toilets are a mix of both western (sitting) and eastern (squatting) design, although they both require you to manually fill them water to flush.
For a more “glamping experience,” there are a couple dozen cottages available for rent (pricing varies) and some seemed to have private bathrooms as well. Prices below:
The cottages must be booked in advance via Thailand’s DNP website.
If you do plan on bringing your own tent, we strongly recommend taking an ultralight shelter that’s pitched with trekking poles (which will also help you on trail).
We used Gossamer Gear’s The Two ultralight tent and it has so far performed well in Thailand. Overall, it’s a solid tent for travel in general and worth considering.
During our trip, watching the sunset at Mak Dook cliff was hands-down the most popular activity on the plateau. The cliff is roughly 2.5 km from the campground and is safe to walk back from in the dark (unlike cliffs that are further away). Overall, we definitely recommend Mak Dook over Lam Sok which is another 6 km down the path.
While watching the sunset on Lam Sok cliff is more Instagram famous, it’s just not worth the effort to get there. We quit about 15 minutes shy of Lam Sok as we were the only ones going there. Given that it was getting dark and we were completely alone, we didn’t want to risk a run-in with the park’s wild elephants (which roam around freely in the evening / night), so we turned back. In our opinion, Mak Dook had a better view than the cliffs further along the path.
For sunrise, it’s worth waking up early and heading out at 5:00am with a park ranger to Nok Aan cliff. Just know, you’ll have to walk 1.1 km in the dark in order to see the sunrise over the valley. For us, this was the best activity on the plateau and it was incredible watching the sky slowly change colors from red to magenta to orange. Simply put, it was beautiful.
*Due to the risk of running into wild elephants in the dark, you’re only allowed to go with a ranger.
To get around the park, bicycles are available for rent and cost 410 baht per day (half the price of a rental car)! In our humble opinion, it’s a ridiculous sum for shoddy bikes from a scrupulous seller. Please avoid this bicycle shop if you can.
Both of the bikes we rented had major issues and we were forced to return them early. Turns out we weren’t the only ones that had issues with the bikes, as we met other people that also had similar experiences.
So unless your determined to ride to Lom Sak for sunset, there’s no reason to rent an overpriced bike on the plateau. It’s easy to walk everywhere as nothing is too far apart.
Last but not least, there are several waterfalls and Buddhist statues throughout Phu Kradueng’s plateau. During our trip, all the waterfalls were dry so we can’t comment on them. As for the Buddhist statues, they’re worth the short walks from the campground and are best seen within golden hour.
List of Notable Waterfalls:
When it comes to water and food, there’s no shortage of supply on Phu Kradueng. Each restaurant resembles a mini 7/11 and is stocked to the brim with edible items. Cost wise, small water bottles are 25 baht each and most meals (such as pad kra pao) are fairly priced from 60-100 baht.
For dinner, Thai barbeque is also available for 500 baht (as of March ’22) and comes with roughly a kilo of meat (pork and/or chicken), veggies, and rice noodles. We ate at Nut-Pob for all our meals and enjoyed the food a lot – the staff was superb as well.
For breakfast, the only shops open outside of high season were serving Congee (rice porridge), sweet toast, and stir-fried garlic pork with khao neow (sticky rice). It cost 40 baht for the pork / rice meal and 20 baht for some instant Nescafe coffee.
While Phu Kradueng National Park is open for hiking from November through May, the best weather (for clear views) is typically between mid-November to mid-February. Outside of that timeframe, it’s likely you’ll experience a ton (and we literally mean a SHIT TON) of pollution. When we hiked Phu Kradueng in March 2022, the pollution was so bad that we couldn’t see anything except the thick magenta haze of good ol’ PM2.5, thanks to Isaan’s sugar cane burning season.
During the months of April and May, pollution will be less hazy than in March but there’s a tradeoff: the heat and humidity will be at Thailand’s worst levels throughout the year (up to 40 C / 104 F). While manageable, the sun can be oppressive in Loei, so make sure to wear the right clothes and try to time your visit around mild rainy weather (if possible).
As for crowds, Phu Kradueng averages 500-1,000 people a day during high season. So if you plan on going during this time (November-January) try to go on a weekday and avoid National Holidays at all costs – unless jampacked trails are your thing, in which case we won’t judge.
By car, Phu Kradueng is ~7.5 hours from Bangkok and ~2.5 hours from Khon Kaen. The road condition is in good shape and the park is easily accessible (there’s no dirt roads to drive on). If coming by bus, check 12.go for available routes and prices to Pha Nok Khao (Air Mueang Loei is the best option). From Pha Nok Khao, you’ll need to take a songthaew to get to the park – it’s a ~20 minute drive and costs 30 baht.
Associated Park Fees:
Prior to your hike, it’s best to spend a night in Phu Kradueng town so you can get an early start on the trail. On the road to the park, there are several hotels that range from 500-1000 baht a night. We stayed at คุ้มบงแก้ว รีสอร์ท, which had aircon and a hot shower for 500 baht.
*Park GPS Location: 16.873250, 101.845870
Tip #1: Pack ultralight and utilize the portage services offered for 30 baht per kilo (if needed). If you bring only the necessities (a change of clothes, a travel towel, and an emergency kit), rent all of the camping gear at the top, and buy whatever food / drinks are available (rather than bring your own items), you’ll only need to bring a small daypack and nothing more. Don’t take a big hiking pack and bring all of your own gear like we did – it’s unnecessary.
Tip #2: Spend at least 3D / 2N in Phu Kradueng national park. We only spent 1 night there and we didn’t have enough time to truly see everything. The trip felt too jampacked and we wished we had more time to explore the plateau.
Tip #3: If you’re into photography, consider bringing a Fuji X100v or a Ricoh GRIII as a lightweight camera option. Both cameras offer a great way of capturing life-long memories while on trail.
Tip #4: It can be cold at night and in the mornings, be sure to bring a lightweight fleece sweater (preferably grid patterned for breathability) and a rain jacket that can double as a windbreaker for warmth insulation. In December and January, extra warm layers (gloves + a beanie) are needed.
Tip #5: Since the hike is very steep at points, trekking poles can be incredibly useful on the descent. While they aren’t necessary, they’re a good form of insurance against falling.
Tip #6: If you’re a foreign tourist, you’ll have some trouble communicating as you won’t have access to the internet for translations. For the time being, Phu Kradueng is predominantly catered to Thai tourists and foreigners aren’t a common occurrence. The best thing you can do is be patient and smile as miscommunications occur – try using your hands to “talk.”