"Loei Challenge" Phu Kradueng: A Prologue to a Thrilling Adventure
Unfold the story behind “Phu Kradueng,” an enchanting mountain in Loei which keeps drawing hikers to conquer its peak once in their lives and a precious natural resource that generates sustainable income to surrounding communities.
“Once in our lives, we are Phu Kradueng conquerors” - a captivating statement we keep as a reminder while we are ascending against the gravity to our destination at “Lang Pae” or a flat area on top of Phu Kradueng. Even if you are an experienced hiker, this 5-kilometer distance from the ground still makes you catch your breath and your heart beat fast. A marvelous natural landscape and lush greens are a tempting invitation that has brought over thousands of visitors to Phu Kradueng every year. Some have visited this mountain more than once yet keep coming back. That leads us to a question - “why is Phu Kradueng still the most beloved mountain by hikers?”
“Phu Kradueng” is part of the Phu Kradueng National Park in Si Than sub-district, Phu Kradueng district, Loei province. Phu Kradueng National Park ranks second of all the national parks in Thailand. The mountain is a made of sandstone, with a flat peak and a shape resembling a heart. The name “Phu Kradueng” stems from the term “Phu,” which means “mountain” and “Kradueng,” the local dialect for “gong.” Thus, “Phu Kradueng” means “Big Gong” – reflecting the local folklore that the sound of a gong can be subtly heard from the mountain every Buddhist holiday.
One of the reasons that makes Phu Kradueng a favorite amongst hikers is the convenience of traveling to the mountain. Visitors can simply take the bus that stops at “Jae Kim’s Shop,” which is at the parking lot of Pha Nok Khao - “The Cliff of Owl.” From this stop, visitors can board trucks which directly take them to Phu Kradueng National Park. This traveling convenience keeps visitors fresh, energized, and full of smiles before their actual hike up the mountain.
The Porters of Phu Kradueng
Upon arriving at the national park, visitors who have not made online bookings for their tents or residences may directly contact the officers. After making the reservations, visitors are advised to check their baggage weight. If the baggage is heavy, they may request for porters by asking for queue cards. The rate for porter services is 30 Baht per kilogram of baggage. Soon the porters will be loading all the baggage on their scales made of bamboo.
The shoulder and leg muscles reflect the experience of each porter. The baggage sizes range from 20 kilograms to as much as 60-70 kilograms. The greater the weight and the number of bags, the higher the income the porter receives. Most porters in the area are Loei locals or spouses of Phu Kradueng locals. Thus, the 8-month traveling season of Phu Kradueng (1 October – 31 May of each year) serves as the golden period for locals to enjoy extra income on top of their primary jobs. Besides alleviating the burden of hikers, using the services of porters generates revenue for the local communities of Phu Kradueng.
The climb up Phu Kradueng includes going through various checkpoints, known as “Sum.” These include “Sum Haeg, Sum Bon, Sum Kok Cork, Sum Kok Wa, Sum Kok Pai, Sum Kok Don, and Sum Krae.” Although the trail is not considered rigorous, it is still not a path strewn with roses. The inclines can be steep, requiring great energy and taking a toll on the leg muscles. It is therefore a wise decision to use the “Sums” as rest stops during the journey. These rest stops have small shops providing a variety of food, drinks, and snacks to reenergize the traveler. Most travelers do not season their food – since the fatigue and hunger make the dish naturally delicious.
“We’re almost there!” “We’re getting close – any minute now!” “Getting closer!” “Keep fighting – we’re going to make it!” These are some of the words of encouragement shared between strangers who share the same trail – leading to rich friendships throughout the journey. The fruits of friendship developed are reflected by the luscious nature on both sides of the trail of Phu Kradueng. Among all the “Sums,” the most challenging stretch to climb is the trail between “Sum Krae – Langpae” due to its highly steep slopes. Conquering this stretch requires effective coordination between tbe brain, hands, and feet to prevent slipping.
After reaching Lang Pae, hikers must travel on a 3-kilometer plateau to reach the Wang Kwang Tourist Service Center. The officers will provide tents, sleeping bags, or residences based on the bookings made. It is time to rest and dine to refresh before the journey continues the next day.
The Highlights of Phu Kradueng
The recent update of Phu Kradueng is the availability of bikes for rent. Whether travelers decide to use the service depends on their discretion, since the trail is mostly made of sand with bumpy surfaces. The inexperienced biker will find balancing difficult, making the mode of transport a burden instead of a convenience. The bikes, however, can expedite the trip to explore all the attractions of Phu Kradueng when compared with traveling on foot – since the total distance covers tens of kilometers.
The most popular activities on Phu Kradueng which became a tradition for all who visit include watching the sunrise at Pha Nok Aen and experiencing the sunset at Pha Lom Sak. The “A-Must” activity is to enjoy the beauty of maple trees at Tham Yai Waterfall, or even taking photos of the beautiful maple leaves strewn throughout the area. With time to spare, travelers are encouraged to visit other attractions such as Lan Prasrinakarin (Buddha Image), Sra Anodard, Pha Yeab Mek, Pha Daeng, Pha Lom Sak, Pha Cham Sin, Pha Mak Duk, and various waterfalls.
Amidst the lush nature and wildlife at the peak of Phu Kradueng, very few are aware of the hidden “Pong Neeb” Village. Viewing from Google Earth, the village is situated exactly at the indent of the heart-shaped mountain. Surrounded by mountains which serve as natural barriers, the village is blessed with great weather almost all-year-round. The best season to experience the fresh air is during the cool season. The air quality, coupled by streams running through the village, lead to a simple equation of happiness at the heart of Phu Kradueng.
When compared with other similar tourist attractions, one cannot conclude that Phu Kradueng is the most captivating of them all. The national park, however, is the center of interconnectedness between many lives – such as merchants, porters, officers, locals, and even dedicated travelers. This interconnectedness is the unique charm of Phu Kradueng, making it stand out from other similar attractions.
Photo: i am EM / Shutterstock.com
“Phu Kradueng” will always maintain its legacy as one of the top destinations for hiking and trekking in the mountains of Thailand. The district and national park provide for the lives of merchants, porters, and officers in the area. Moreover, “Phu Kradueng” consistently provides an exceptional experience for all tourists who visit the national park with passion. These factors contribute to the unique charm of “Phu Kradueng,” which creates timeless memories for visitors to cherish.