Phu Chi Fa: The Best Sunrise Spot in Thailand?
Phu Chi Fa became a bit of a “White Whale” for me over my last couple of trips to Thailand. I tried to visit in 2015 before being denied at the Chiang Rai Bus Station due to overly hazy conditions. On my most recent trip I tried again, with doubts swirling due to nobody online quite knowing whether there were minivans still running there. I obviously made it – so keep reading for everything you need to know about visiting this stunning sunrise spot in northern Thailand.
Getting to Phu Chi Fa
Phu Chi Fa is a mountain / small set of villages around two hours northeast of Chiang Rai. It’s about as far north as you’ll get in Thailand and is pretty off the beaten path for western tourists. There are several ways to get from Chiang Rai to Phu Chi Fa, but I was most interested in the minivan option (I’m too cheap for tours and can’t ride a motorbike). Minivans depart Chiang Rai bus station at 1 pm – there’s only one a day so it pays to get there a little earlier and book your ticket. I stayed in Chiang Rai the night before and bought my ticket at around 9 am – the van was full so if you try to buy a ticket last minute you might not have any luck. You’ll easily see the sign for Phu Chi Fa (it’s on a whiteboard close to the first few gates / bus stops).
Minivans depart Phu Chi Fa at 9 am, getting you back to Chiang Rai around 11.30 am. Tickets cost 200 baht (400 return) – it’s best to book your return ticket at the same time, unless you’re planning on spending a few days there. The minivan ride was alright – my only advice is to try to get on early and get a good seat. I can confirm that the minivan was running as of December 2019, but it seems to come and go a bit so there are no guarantees. It may also only run in high season, I have no idea though. You can also rent a motorbike and drive to Phu Chi Fa or take a tour – both are good options, but I’d be wary of riding a motorbike in Thailand if you’re not experienced.
The Night Before
If you take the minivan to Phu Chi Fa you’ll arrive at around 3.30 pm. I was greeted by a local woman on a motorbike who took me the short distance to her guesthouse. Rooms were 500 baht, which seems to be the going rate for guesthouses in Phu Chi Fa. They all seemed similar – not exactly luxury but good for a night. It probably doesn’t matter which one you go for. After getting settled in I went for a walk around the village. There are a few restaurants on the main street and some camping places further up the hill. It’s a good place for a relaxing stroll but there isn’t too much to see (apart from the nice views).
As the day drew to a close, I found a restaurant with a nice view. The sunset was great and there were only two other people there – so relaxing. To find the restaurant I went to head down the hill from the main part of town, just past the turnoff up to the sunrise spot and you’ll see it on the left (the BBQ pork and rice was really nice).
Sunrise at Phu Chi Fa
The highlight of a trip to Phu Chi Fa is obviously the sunrise. Get up early and head to the main road where you’ll be able to catch a songthaew up the hill. It costs 30 baht and it gets cold – bring warm clothes! I was on the main road at about 5 am and was heading up the hill about 10 – 15 minutes later. You’ll get dropped off at a group of shops selling food, drinks and souvenirs. From there it’s a short walk up the hill. Once at the top all you can do is wait for the spectacular scenes that are about to unfold. First, you’ll see the glowing light on the horizon and things continue to brighten until the sun finally rises. There was a full moon when I was there, so it was almost light before the sun had actually appeared.
The view is incredible and it’s great to see it in various shades of morning light. The hanging mist and the various hills and ridges spread out below combine to create a very special scene – I can’t imagine a better sunrise spot than this!
It’s a good idea to explore at bit once the sun comes up. There are a few other viewpoints and it gets a lot of quieter after the sunrise rush. From there just head back down the hill and hop on a songthaew back to your guesthouse.
- Where is it? Phu Chi Fa is in the far north of Thailand, close to the border with Laos (although you can’t cross in that area). Most people head there from Chiang Rai, which is around three hours from Chiang Mai. From Chiang Rai it’s a two-hour (ish) minivan ride. The sunrise spot is at the top of the small mountain and it gets cold — bring warm clothes!
- How much does it cost? If you’re catching the minivan it’ll cost you 400 baht return. Rooms seem to cost at least 500 baht (more if you want a bit more luxury) and most aren’t available for online booking. There were heaps of available rooms when I was there (December 2019) – I was the only one staying at my guesthouse. Food is cheap – I paid 50 baht for a delicious meal. Tours and private drivers will set you back a lot more, although the private driver route could be a good one to go down if you have a few people.
- What is there to do in Chiang Rai? Chiang Rai is a lot quieter than Chiang Mai and there are a few things to do in and around the city. It’s most famous for the surreal White Temple, but there are some other temples / buildings worth checking out as well as some waterfalls. I’ll be writing a full post about Chiang Rai soon.
Are you planning on watching the sunrise at Phu Chi Fa? Let me know in the comments below!