Doi Pha Hom Pok mountain is Thailand’s northernmost national park. It’s mostly covered by dense, wild jungle. Its summit reaches an elevation of 2285, which makes it Thailand’s second highest mountain. It is sparsely visited, especially by foreigners, so it can make an ideal destination for one who seeks to experience the wild in an otherwise crowded with tourists country. Being aware of its existence, and happening to be situated nearby, I could not let the chance of a great exploration unexploited. So, at a noon of a hot and sunny day, me and my Belgian friend, we had set off heading toward it.
We started driving from Chiang Dao with a 150 cc Kawasaki D-tracker, which is not the kind of vehicle appropriate to bear two adult men together with a significant volume of equipage, despite that, though, we covered fairly swiftly and comfortably the 55 km which separated us from the town of Fang. From there there is a road leading up north, along the ridge of the mountain, all the way to the summit’s base, from where the peak can be reached easily via a short trek. This happens to be the only standard way to get up the top. Though, as the uncustomary is always what makes the big fun, we’d rather attempt to find another way. Having inspected the mountain on the satellite, I deemed it perfectly reasonable to undertake a venture following the ravine (where we’d have a steady supply of water) running along the west side of the mountain, all the way to the summit’s foot, wherefrom an ascent seemed plausible. Also, that way, we were counting on retaining the park fees, as we would not need to pass through the gate. However this idea was mistaken, as, approaching the verge of the valley, we realized that there is yet a gate over there, before a campsite maintained within the reach of the national park. There we were requested to pay 300 baht each for the entry ticket. However, after dealing with the guard, we managed to get in by paying him a 100 each ”black”, without receiving a ticket. We got in, we parked the bike, prepared the backpacks, and off we set into the jungle.
After leaving the campsite behind, we found a road running along the left bank of the stream for a couple of kilometers, till it terminates at a little dam. By the time we reached there the night was already imminent. We set the tent, made a fire, a nice dinner, and emptied a flask of whiskey, while listening to the warbles of the night-birds behind the constant roaring of the falling water, and looking the part of the richly starred sky appearing between the gloomy figures of the giant tropical trees.
Next morning, we got up early, and after indulging in the ritual of an easy-going morning (i.e. food, coffee and cigarette), we started preparing to penetrate into the jungle. After passing the dam we followed for a little while an ill-defined path, which apparently some villagers have opened to their fishing-spots. That path soon took an end though, so we were obliged to open our way through the dense vegetation, crossing continuously from bank to bank according to the circumstances. Moving steadily farther, the vegetation was becoming denser and the banks steeper and steeper, till a point where to keep moving further along the stream was impossible… so we had to move through the stream. As the day had progressed quite hot, I found it actually refreshing getting into the cool water. For the rest of the day, we got to wade upstreams with the water reaching at points well above the waist, while at others we’d need to fight against the rapids, escalate on the extremely slippery rocks at the cascades, or, when the stream would get deeper than our height, leave it all together and make our way through the forest pushing blindly against the greenery on the way and cutting the rope-like branches endeavoring to bid us.
By the time night started to cast her veil upon the rainforest, we had covered quite some good distance taking the difficulties in account. Though, as we were actually expecting a generally smoother route and counting on a 2-3 days round-trip, we had to disappointedly decide to turn back the next day, if we didn’t want to feed on insects, as we were still just a little less than half the way to the foot of the summit. We found a very nice spot on a fairly flat rock in the middle of the stream and there we camped for the night, enjoying for yet another time the charm of the jungle night.
Next morning we started early going downstream planning to go up the peak the normal route this time. We moved quite fast and by noon time we were back at the campsite. We had lunch there, we packed the stuff on the bike and we got ready to leave to the other park gate. The problem was that we did not have any ticket, as we had entered by bribing the guard. The issue got easily resolved though by appealing to the park office saying that we had lost our tickets, where a very kind girl granted us readily a special permission to enter the park again from the other gate without any extra cost. We passed quickly through the town, resupplied ourselves, and by late afternoon we were coming inside the park through the eastern gate.
As I mentioned before, our vehicle was not any suitable to bare that weight. And especially when we needed to drive up a whole mountain, starting from 500 m to get 1900 m, as the case was now, it had to perform quite a venturing task. Surprisingly though, the poor engine toiled proudly uphill until a certain point… at which point the chain broke. After smoking a cigarette, contemplating the possibilities, we decided to to leave the bike there and start walking down. After about 3 km we reached that tiny village located at the limit of the park, just before the gate. There, for our great fortune, we found a very kind man with his wife who offered to drive us to the town and back free of charge. We drove, we got a new chain, and back at the village we were. We bid farewell to the crowd of villagers that had assembled to satisfy their curiosity for us, and we started up again. By the time we reached the bike was well dark. We set the headlamps and started to work to change the chain. Bad fortune stroke first, the chain that guy gave us was shorter. Good fortune came at last, using only pliers and stones we managed, somehow strangely, to connect a cut piece of the old chain and get the new one on place. Even though a bit imperfectly, the transmission worked and the bike could move forward again. It wasn’t though to be attempted to carry both of us up there anymore. So we came up with the following: One would drive up some short distance, leave the motorcycle working on spot and start walking up. The other, who would follow behind walking, would find the bike on the road, ride, drive, overtake the other and leave the bike again some way to the front for the other to find it. This process being repeated circularly, we managed to move fast for the rest 10 km of distance and 1200 m of elevation, so, before midnight we had made it to Kiew Lom, the highest campground of Thailand at 1900 m. There the fatigue of the day was rewarded optimally. A company of Thai people welcomed us warm-heartedly, invited us to site with them by their fire, and offered us warm food and a cold beer.
A bit after sunrise we were up next morning and we took the trail to the peak. The trail itself is extremely easy and of a unique beauty, running through the highland, mixed with pines, rainforest. Having the various little birds accompanying and singing for us the entire way, after about an hour we had made to the top. There we got to marvel at the amazing view of the vast jungly mountains spreading eastwards and northwards to Myanmar. Also, gaze at the west slope of the mountain, I am still pretty assured that an ascent from there is perfectly plausible. Though a good supply of food would be necessary, and a good machete quite useful.
After receiving all the profound pleasure one usually receives while on the top of a high mountain, we headed down again. We came to the camp, packed everything, rode the D-tracker and off we rolled…