My best memory of Thailand without a doubt was taking a trip to one of the least known places among Thais and foreigners, Thong Pha Phum National Park, hidden away in the mountains along the Thai-Myanmar border. This park is perhaps most known for it’s treetop accommodation where one can stay in a tree house high up in the peaceful fog covered mountains of this stunning national park. Equipped with running water and electricity, the tree houses are not only authentic but comfortable as well.
Along my three week motorbike trip throughout Thailand, I stopped for a night in Thong Pha Phum, and it was something I will never forget.
Getting to Thong Pha Phum
Reaching this national park is extremely difficult due to the treacherous road leading high up into the mountains. Located in Kachanaburi province, the only way to get to this park is through the provincial capital taking Highway 323 deeper into the mountains. This region of Thailand can only be accessed through this one road because as it is entirely sealed off from the rest of the country by huge mountain ranges on either side.
Midway between Kanchanaburi and Songklahaburi is the tiny town of Thong Pha Phum marking the turn off for the national park. Though it may seem promising to already reach the town, this is only the beginning of the brutal 60 km climb up into the mountains. While the climb is only gradual, the switchbacks are relentless. I drove up on a motorbike, and I was happy that the road wasn’t too steep, but even while driving, I began to feel sick halfway through the trip. The national park is about 6 kilometers before the tiny mountain village of E-Thong right on the Burmese border making the end of the road.
The scenery on my drive up was absolutely stunning. During the last 20-25% of the ride, the forest opens up to jaw-dropping mountain ranges covered in fog. Unfortunately just a few minutes before reaching the park, the sky opened up completely drenching me and my possessions. I was able to find a pagoda to wait out the storm, but this was after completely being soaked by the rain.
When I arrived at the park, I met the park ranger, and she took me to my tree house accommodation for the night. My best advice is to book this ahead of time by contacting the park directly so that your room will be ready. Not many people visit this park and they many not be able to host guests if they are unprepared. Unfortunately the contact number online and in Lonely Planet is incorrect or out of service. I stopped at another national park in Kanchanaburi province, and asked the park rangers there to help me contact Thong Pha Phum so I could place a reservation.
The Tree House
The tree house lived up to every expectation I had and even more. I was staying in their only one-person accommodation so it had the extra charm of being their smallest home. Fully supported by the tree, the room is built around the trunk with a wooden staircase circling up the trunk to reach an outdoor balcony before entering the room. Once inside the room, there was a single bed connected to a bathroom with a sink, shower, and toilet all with running water. There is also a light inside the room and on the balcony, but electricity turns off around 9 pm.
Check out this short MTV Cribs-style video I made about my accommodation:
As I mentioned earlier, a large storm had just come through but many of the storm clouds still remained in the surrounding mountains. Even though it wasn’t raining on my home in the park, I spent the night listening to thunder and seeing flashes of lightening from my tiny bed up in the trees.
With the early shut off for electricity, there wasn’t much of a point staying up any later so I went to bed around 9 pm setting my alarm to get up early for the sunrise. When I initially arrived at the park, the sun was setting so I didn’t have an opportunity to check out any of the beautiful look out points around the camping area. That next morning the sunrise, however, was absolutely magical.
After taking enough photos, I hopped back on my bike and headed up to E-Thong (sometimes called Pi Lok) for some breakfast. As a side note the park has a restaurant, but it will only be open during peak season. It was not open when I arrived so I had to go the first night without dinner (fortunately I had a few snacks). There are no streetlights, so driving to E-Thong from the park at night would be quite difficult especially with the wet roads from the storm. I wasn’t going to risk it.
E-Thong was a lovely town to stop for breakfast, and I think this town would make a great tourist destination in and of itself. The town is quite popular with younger Thais visiting from Bangkok so there are plenty of cheap accommodation options and restaurants/coffee shops around the main lake marking the center of the city. It is also possible to go up to the Thai/Myanmar border and even cross (illegally) into Myanmar as nobody seemed to be guarding the post. I only walked 20 to 30 meters into Myanmar, but I am sure that if I kept going, they would probably have a checkpoint somewhere else along the road. It was pretty cool walking into Myanmar though because the border is along a very steep ridge so once I was over onto the Burmese side, I couldn’t see Thailand anymore. It was a pretty surreal experience.
Thong Pha Phum National Park
Besides the tree house accommodation, Thong Pha Phum National Park is also known for ranger-led overnight treks to Chang Phuek Mountain. If I had more time here, I would have definitly gone on one of these hikes. It is a very popular weekend activity for many Thais so if you want to do the hike, it is best to call ahead so a ranger will be ready. The park can provide sleeping tents, bags, and pads, but it would be best to bring a large backpack to carry these things. The hike reminds me a lot of the time I went on a ranger led hike to Doi Jung Mountain in Lampang Province.
The tree house accommodation was a steep 1,000 bhat a night – worth it for just one night – but quite expensive nonetheless. This price would come down with more people in some of the larger tree houses, but it is also possible to rent tents from the park rangers and sleep in the campground nearby.
As for wildlife, there are signs up and down the road to E-Thong telling motorists to beware of wild elephants. While it is probably extremely unlikely to see a wild elephant, I did see a beautiful horn bill bird right at the visitor center before leaving.
After breakfast, I returned to my tree house, packed my bag, and got ready for the long ride ahead to Kampaeng Phet on my epic motorcycle journey. Staying a night in Thong Pha Phum National Park was by far one of the best things I’ve ever done in Thailand. The remoteness of the park gave me the truly “away from it all” feeling, and the scenery was some of the best I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Next time I am back in Thailand, I will surely be heading back up to Thong Pha Phum to make an attempt at Chang Phuek Mountain and to spend more time taking in the beautiful mountain views.