Motorfietstocht oostelijk Noord-Thailand, 15 dagen-dag 7
Pua is a nice place for staying two days or longer and it is an excellent spring-board to the fascinating 1700 square kilometers Doi Phu Kha National Park, one of the more interesting national parks in Thailand, that stretches east of Pua north-south along the Laotian border. The highest peak, the 1939 m high Doi Phu Kha is in the center of the park, to the southeast of Pua.
Although the Lua people, a little known tribe, probably lived in the area for centuries, and the Hmong have settled there during the last decades of the 19th century, much of the nature had been relatively untouched until a few decades ago. It was only in the 1970s, when the construction of Highway 1256, crossing the mountains from Pua to Bo Kluea, was completed, that the dense forests became accessible. In 1988 much of the area became a national park.
At the higher elevations the mountains are covered with so-called “ancient forest”, home of a number of rare relict species. It is the only place in the world where a certain kind of fish palm is found, while the rare flowering tree Bretschneidera sinensis is known from just a few other places in northern Vietnam and southern China.
Large mammals, such as elephants, gaurs, sambar deer and even tigers still roam the more remote (northern and southern) parts of the national park. Only recently, the rare Angel’s Stream Snake (Paratapinophis praemaxillaris) was found to live in the park, a rediscovery of a species that had not been seen in Thailand since decades. And in 2012, I spotted a Green Rat Snake (Ptyas nigromarginata) in the park’s ancient forest, a rare species best known from the Himalayas, but that was never reported from Thailand. You will probably not come across these rare animals, neither spot a tiger, but a visit to fascinating nature of the park is a must.
Left: A species of Amanita on the forest floor. Center: Russulas from the forest for sale at the stalls near the turn off to a cluster of Lua villages. Right: Collecting mushrooms is popular in and around the national park, but fatalities following the consumption of poisonous ones are quite common. A large bill board at the turn off warns for the most deadly species.
Leave early, and follow Highway 1256 in eastern direction. After a few kilometers you have passed most of the lowland habitation. You’lll cross a little stream (with a divider dam on the right), then the road ascends the mountains. The first kilometers the roads winds through mixed deciduous forest, but a little more uphill it is replaced by the agricultural fields of the hill tribe farmers, mainly Lua people.
At about 20 km from Bo Kon Home Stay you will reach a stretch of the mountain road that had been impassible for a long time following landslides during the rainy season of 2013. The old road has been replaced by a new short cut from where you have excellent views over the swiddens on the slopes of the denuded mountains to the left. However, remains of the original vegetation, such as fern trees, are evidence that you are have reached an elevation of about 1000 m where evergreen forest dominates. You will get to a curve, where many bamboo stalls line the road—Lua farmers from villages to the north use to sell their farm products and what they collect in the forest, such as bee honey, mushrooms, bamboo shoots and edible ferns. Nearby is the turn off to their villages. When you have time, it is worthwhile to visit these villages. On the other hand, a very small and difficult to find waterfall advertised on a road sign is not very interesting.
Left: Tree ferns. Center: Part of the old road Pua-Bo Kluea that was damaged or had disappeared by the landslides in 2011. Right: Mountain scenery. Much of the area was converted into agricultural fields.
A few more kilometers uphill you pass the a turn off to another Lua village, while on your right there are superb views of the denuded mountains. At last you reach more or less untouched hill evergreen forest and will pass the turn off to the headquarters of the national park, about 22 km from the Bo Kon Homestay. During a short descend the road enters Bo Kluea District (there is a white sign that marks the border Pua-Bo Kluea) and subsequently crosses two streams near the Lua Village of Huai Nam Dan. The next ascend brings you into untouched hill evergreen forest. On the right there are vistas of the largely cultivated mountains, but on the left the slopes are covered with dense forest.
Five kilometers uphill from the headquarters is a place known as Lan Du Dao (“Field to watch the stars”), actually little more than a parking place surrounded by food and coffee stalls (open during the winter months but closed most of the year). Opposite to this open place is the head of a trail through the forest. It loops back to where you start and my advice is: OK, quite a nice walk, recommended, although the trail is not in a very good condition.
A little uphill, in the direction of Bo Kluea and on the right, are a number of spirit houses, all dedicated to a locally much venerated ancestor spirit who watches over the surroundings. Like at so many other shrines of tutelary worshippers have offered dozens, maybe hundreds of cement or gypsum images of elephants, horses, zebras, roosters, tigers, cobras and other animals. Inside the largest spirit house, that resembles a small temple building, is the statue of the deceased person who once belonged to that spirit, Chao Luang Phu Kha. Beside the shrine is a carriage drawn by the life-size white horses.
This is also the place where a Chomphu Phu Kha tree has been the proud of the national park and a major attraction for many years. One could have a close look at the tree from a wooden platform, but it has died and the platform has decayed. However, a tree planted nearby is steadily increasing in size and may soon become a true substitute for the old tree.
This tree species flowers in February, lavishly producing large clusters of pinkish purple flowers. These blossoms are beautiful, but what makes the trees so special is that they have no close relatives—it is the only species in the family of Bretschneideraceae and a kind of “living fossil”. Another reason is that the species is extremely rare, only found in a few other places in southern China and northern Vietnam.
1. The ‘new’ Chomphu Phu Kha tree beside the Shrine of Great Father Phu Kha in the centre of the Doi Phu Kha National Park; it has produced many fruits. 2. Details of the fruits and bright red seeds. 3. A cluster of flowers; the tree blooms in February. 4. Details of the flower.
A little uphill from the spirit houses and the ChomphuPhu Kha tree is the center of the ‘ancient forest’ where a species of fish-tail palm abounds that is only found in the national park. It is just along a stretch of a few kilometers where this palm can be spotted, but along that stretch it is rather common and conspicuous, and it seems to be a major floral component of the ancient forest. During the torrential rains in 2011 many mountain slopes have calved and due to the landslides the road was inaccessible for many weeks. The landslides and the road repairs had a large impact: terraced slopes fortified with basalt blocks and cement had replaced the lush and ancient vegetation at many sites.
From the heart of the ancient forest, the road gradually ascends to a viewpoint at the highest point of Highway 1256 about 13 km from Bo Kluea. A former road sign informed the visitor that he was at an elevation of 1684 m above sea level. At present, the height of the spot, has been upgraded to 1725 m on a new sign at the nearby wooden building (a fire preventions station). During winter time a coffee shop is opened in the building, but most of the year it is deserted. Whatever is the exact altitude of the spot, behind the building a fine trail descends into dense evergreen forest with many large trees densely covered with moss, ferns and other epiphytes. I do not know to where the trail finally leads, but following it for half an hour or so, and then returning to your motorbike at the viewpoint is recommended as a short walk.
Left: The rare Single Stem Fishtail Palm Caryota gigas only occurs in the Doi Phu Kha National Park. Centre: The Green Rat Snake (Ptyas nigromarginata) was spotted in the park’s ancient forest in 2011, the first record of this species in Thailand. Right: The beautiful ‘Curved-flowered Phlogacanthus’ (Phlogacanthus curviflorus), is common in the evergreen forest of the national park, in particular along streams. This large shrub reaches a height of 2 m and flowers at the end of the rainy season.
Descending on your motorbike bike in the direction of Bo Kluea, you will see a few more fishtail palms. A little later, you have left this rare species behind. Mountain views on your right are superb. After two kilometers a stretch of the road has been affected intensely by the road repairs. There are impressive vistas on the left. Subsequently, there is lush forest on the right again, with the spirit houses of Grandfather of the Bushes, Weeds and Rattans (San Chao Pu Dong Ya Wai). A little behind these sanctuaries a small stream cascades into a pool, it’s worthwhile to explore this corner of the forest, but the trail head has disappeared in a small landslide along the pool. In November you will see many Curved-flowered Phlogacanthus flowering near this spot (see figure above, right).
Left: One of the shrines of Grandather of the Bushes, Weeds and Rattans. Center: The Flavescent Bulbul (Pycnonotus flavescens) is probably one of the most common birds at higher elevations in the Doi Phu Kha National Park. Right: The Jerdon’s Bushchat (Saxicola jerdoni) likes open spaces, such as the swiddens of the hill tribe farmers.
Descending further, dense evergreen forest is gradually replaced by deciduous forest. Six kilometers before Bo Kluea, on the right, is the Lua village of Ban Pae.
Bo Kluea. At last you will see Bo Kluea below, in front of you, a small district town, the size of a village, situated in the narrow valley of the Mang, a rather wild, but little stream. Entering the place, the local hospital on the right is the first set of buildings. Continuing, just before the bridge over the Mang, is a turn off on the left. The lane goes uphill to the beautiful but rather expensive Boklua View Resort (accommodation is 1200-1500 baht). Past the bridge you find a few simple restaurants and shops and a little petrol station. One restaurant with a view on the Wang from its balcony is a great place to have lunch.
In winter time, many Thai tourists from Bangkok visit this charming little district town. There is a kind of camping site just north of the bridge along the stream, and a kilometer south of Bo Kluea is a new resort (the Bo Kluea Fa Sai) with bungalows for 500 baht (low season price).
Left: Fancy tents for rents during the cold season along the Mang in Bo Kluea. Center: Clay stoves for boiling the salt water. Right: Water with dissolved rock salt is hoisted from a well in Bo Kluea.
The major attraction in the small town is the ancient salt well which in the past has been of considerable importance with merchants coming long distances (as from Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang) to buy the precious rock salt. Traditionally this commodity was produced by hoisting water with the dissolved rock salt in a bucket from ten meter deep wells with wooden shafts. The salty solution was subsequently heated in large metal boiling pans in clay furnaces/stoves fired by burning logs. After the water is evaporated off, the salt is left. You can see the well and furnaces in the centre of the village, and salt is still produced in the traditional and 10 kilogram bags of salt are for sale in some of the village shops to serve the growing stream of Thai tourists to the place in Winter.
Bo Kluea is on Highway 1081, which loops from Pua via Santisuk District (about 30 km south of Pua) to Bo Kluea, and then continues to Charoen Prakiat, almost 80 km to the north. Charoen Prakiat is near a major border cross point to Laos and much of the traffic to Laos this way passes through Bo Kluea and contributing to its fast development. However, it is still a charming quiet place. As the craw flies, Bo Kluea is close to Laos. The densely forested mountains to the east form the relatively small Khun Nan National Park (250 square kilometers) that is sandwiched between the highway and the Laotian border.
Sapan Waterfall. The major natural attraction in the park is the beautiful Sapan Waterfall near the (northern Thai) village of Ban Sapan. To get there, turn left at the T-junction in Bo Kluea. It is about 6 km to the turn off to the headquarters of the Khun Nan National Park. Ignore this turn off and continue for another 3 km, and then turn right. You will reach Ban Sapan Village after about 1 km. In the village turn right. This lane passes a school with a large pond and then peters out. Park your motorbike and follow the path through the forest. You will cross an iron bridge from where it is about 800 m, including a number of stairs, to the most scenic level of the waterfall, where large lianas overgrown with moss and ferns hang over the rocks.
Left: The most scenic step of the Sapan Waterfall. Here the path along the stream deteriorates. Center: Epiphytes abound in the forest around the Sapan Waterfall, such as the large fern in the picture. highest level. Right: Also seen at the Sapan Waterfall: a rare climber that produces elegant clusters of pinkish tubular flowers.
The production of furniture from rattan is flourishing in the village of Ban Sapan. You can see a number of home industries along the main street. I wonder where the villagers obtain the rattan, as a sign at the head of the path to the waterfall lists the severe penalties for illegally extracting rattan and other plants from the national park.
Back at the main road you can continue another 10 km or so through the hills sparsely speckled with Lua villages. At last, you will see a sign that informs the visitor that he is close to the sources of the River Nan. In the forest to the right is a statue of the Goddess of Earth, wringing out the water from her long hair, a famous scene in Buddhist lore—when the Buddha was attaining enlightenment she drowned an army of demons with the tsunami of water that came from her hairs. The statue suits a water source well, but there is no clear path going to what is supposed to be the exact beginning of the river. You will see a little stream down from a slope and maybe you get close to the source by following this stream uphill. Anyhow, the Nan first flows in northern direction to curve to the west near Charoen Phra Kiat. Then, it bends to the south, and continues flowing in southern direction, passing the district towns of Thung Chang, Chang Klang and Tha Wang Pha before reaching the city of Nan where it is a river of considerable size. The Nan is a major tributary of the Chao Phraya, the river that flows straight through the heart of Bangkok.
After an eventual visit to the sources of the Nan, return to Bo Kluea and head for Pua to get back to Bo Kon Home Stay.
Ge verder naar: Motorfietstocht oostelijk Noord-Thailand, 15 dagen-dag 8
©SJON HAUSER: text and pictures