The Misty Mountains of Phu Ruea National Park
As a juxtaposition of tranquility and dramatic beauty, the soft golden spill of Phu Ruea’s morning light has a magnetic quality that’ll captivate any traveler. It’s truly amazing to witness the mist-shrouded crags change colors from deep blue to smoldering yellow to a fiery orange. It’s as if two polar worlds are meeting, if not colliding before your very eyes.
As the morning sun rises higher in the sky, the verdant landscape surrounding Phu Ruea becomes alive and shimmers in different shades of green. Undulated with forested mountains as far as the eye can see, small rural villages are the only signs of human intervention.
Atop Phu Ruea, you’ll discover more than just a breathtaking view. The peak is also home to a majestic Buddha image known as Phra Phuttanavabanphot, an intricately-designed statue that was brought to the national park in 1977 from Wat Phra Yat in Ayutthaya.
Getting to Phu Ruea’s Peak: roughly 1.3 kilometers from the top, the park’s rangers have set up a makeshift roadblock with an accompanying parking lot for visitors. From the parking lot, you have two options to reach the peak: 1) pay 10 baht and take a gas-guzzling cramped songthaew all the way up or 2) take the nature trail and walk underneath a beautiful rainforest canopy.
We opted for the nature trail and enjoyed the rejuvenation it offered – both on the way up and the way down. The trail itself is lined with an alluring mix of wild flowers and lichen-covered pine trees – ones that are capable of turning powerful gusts of wind into a soothing gentle breeze.
As long your physically capable of walking through a rainforest, the nature trail is hands-down the best way to reach Phu Ruea’s peak. By foregoing the leisurely convenience of a songthaew, you’ll be rewarded with an energizing and refreshing start to your day!
Situated 10 minutes away from Phu Ruea National Park is a Buddhist monastery known as Wat Somdet – it’s an architectural marvel that was designed to bring peaceful reflection.
Commissioned by Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra, Wat Somdet was constructed with immaculately carved teakwood Vihāras along with masterfully chiseled Buddha and Naga statues made of jade stone. In total, there are four Vihāras that surround the Ubosot which enshrines a rather large and impressive Phra Kring Pawaret statue.
The features that make Wat Somdet truly unique aren’t solely found in the monastery’s architecture, instead it’s the fanatical attention to detail in the sculptures found throughout the temple grounds.
Unlike most temples in Thailand, the sculptures are clustered into groups and each grouping tells a series of unrelated stories that together have a meaningful sequence.
As an alternative to Wat Somdet, there’s another temple ~2 kilometers down the road known as Wat Pa Huay Lad. Built in 1940 by Luang Pu Chob Thansamo, this temple is revered for its legacy of pilgrimage rituals as well as its wide collection of detail-driven statues.
The interior of Wat Pa Huay Lad contains a giant white Buddha image resting at the far end of an equally massive central hall. Within these walls, visitors are encouraged to perform a religious ritual that begins by making a donation in order to receive a small bouquet of marigold garlands.
Visitors then take their flowers to a painting of a monk besides the Buddha image. There they sit and recite a sermon of the monk, after which they request the monk’s help in a particular area of their life. To finalize their request, the visitor will then exit the central hall and hit each of the three gongs in succession and according to the written instructions.
Where To Stay: Phurua Inn is the best value hotel in town and it’s only 15 minutes away from the national park by car. The rooms are clean, have aircon, and Jok (Thai congee) is served for breakfast every morning. Alternatively, if you’re craving a place with a mountain view then you can check out, Phu Sumphao Valley, which is located right next to the park.
When To Visit: Phu Ruea National Park is open year-round, but the best experience will be during Isaan’s cold season (November – February) – during this time you’ll get to experience the sea of fog that this place is known for. If possible, we recommend avoiding Isaan’s burning season (March – May) as the view will be filled with haze (similar to our experience at Phu Suan Sai).
Hours of Operation: 5:00am to 6:00pm, 7 days a week.
Entrance Fees: 20 baht for Thais, 200 baht for foreigners, and 20/30 baht for motorbikes/cars.
Tip #1: To maximize your sunrise visit, we recommend arriving at Phu Ruea National Park at 5:00am, so you can have ample time to walk the nature trail on the way up to the peak.
Tip #2: If you’re willing to wake up early and have a car, Phu Ruea National Park can be a solid daytrip from an extended stay in of Loei’s more popular destination such as Chiang Khan or Phu Kradueng. In all honesty, there’s no reason to stay near Phu Ruea for longer than one day.
Tip #3: During the cold season, Phu Ruea’s peak reigns as Thailand’s coldest location. It’s also incredibly windy and situated in an exposed spot, so please layer accordingly. By layering a waterproof jacket over a fleece sweater (accompanied with warm socks), you’ll keep warm.
Tip #4: Next to the highway (on the road to/from Phu Ruea), there’s a small market that runs from the early morning into the evening. Here you can find some inexpensive yet delicious food, making it a great place to pick up a quick bite after exploring the park.