Less popular than nearby Phu Kradueng National Park, Phu Ruea is a truly off-the-beaten-path destination for adventure seekers in Thailand. Phu Ruea is a national park located in Loei province that is popular with Thai tourists for its sweeping views and chilly nights. Phu actually means “mountain” in local Issan language so it makes sense that all the mountains in this area contain the prefix.
I passed through Loei on my three week motorcycle trip around Northern Thailand, and I wanted to spend a night camping under the stars on Phu Ruea. Phu Ruea has several campsites throughout the national park, but the best one is obviously on the top. Up there, park rangers rent tents to campers for less than 300 bhat a night including tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and pillow. There is a full bathroom facility with toilets and showers (cold water only), and a restaurant onsite. It is also possible to get 3G data coverage at the camping area.
The park was easy to find off the 21 highway in Loei which is lined with coffee shops, Thai restaurants, and tourist attractions. Once I reached the park, I went up to the guard and paid the entrance fee. Normally the fee is 200 bhat for foreigners, but I used to be an English teacher in Thailand several years earlier. I was smart and saved my work permit before I left so when I return to Thailand, I can usually get discounted admission into the national parks. If they technically scrutinized my documents, they would see it is no longer valid, but most Thai guards would never bring it up for fear of causing an awkward situation.
Once inside the park, I drove several kilometers to the campground where I was able to rent my tent. The camping area is about two kilometers from the actual summit. It is not possible to drive to the summit, as the road is closed 1 km before the top. When I wanted to visit, I drove my bike up the hill, parked, and completed the last part on foot.
When I arrived there, as is quite common with remote national parks like this one, I was the only foreigner . This attracted quite a lot of attention as all the Thais kept looking at me and wondering what I was up to. I think they were just shocked to see a foreign tourist straying this far away from Pattaya.
The tents came already set-up so I just needed to prepare my sleeping bag and I was finished. I used the rest of my free time to check out the summit before getting dinner in the restaurant area. There must have been three to four different stalls open for business as well as several shops selling woolen hats and other souvenirs for Thais that have never experienced cold temperatures.
As the sun began to set, I went back to my tent to get my camera ready for what was surely the highlight of my visit. I walked a few minutes up the road to get away from the residual light to capture the beautiful night sky. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that night gazing off into the distance from this beautiful mountain.
By the next morning I was a little to tired to get up for sunrise, but many of the Thais staying there were up early hiking up the mountain for that beautiful view. One of the highlights for them at the top of the mountain is a temperature gauge that sometimes in December reaches 0 degrees Celsius. For Thais who think anything below 15 will kill them, this is quite a sight.
When the crowds came back from the top, I was awoke by their noise and decided to start packing my bags for the long journey ahead. I had spent three days in Loei now, and I knew I needed to get moving to make it the 430 km journey to Khao Yai National Park before dusk.
Spending the night on Phu Ruea was certainly an experience I’ll never forget. This was my first time rolling up to a national park in Thailand and renting a tent without any reservations. The process was so simple and easy that I started to spend more nights in national parks during the rest of my trip.