The town of Sukhothai offers little in the way of “modern” entertainment and amenities. The closest mall and movie theater is an hour away and only plays 1 or 2 English movies every month. While there are enough bars in Sukhothai to fill your social craving for a night or two on the weekend you can still be left craving something a bit more interactive. Especially after staying in the most beautiful of nature sanctuaries near Erawan National Park. That’s where Ramkhamhaeng National Park comes in.
Ramkhamhaeng National Park offers a variety of activities for all nature lovers spanning from those craving a peaceful day at Sai Rung Waterfall to the more adventurous seeking a trek to the summit of Khao Luang. Khao Luang sits at 1,200 meters above sea level and to reach the top you must hike a 4 km trail with inclines that can reach a steepness of 70°. The hike typically takes 3-4 hours. During the climb you will come across numerous signs that remind you how far it is to the next check point so it is extremely easy to keep up with how much further you have left. You must start by 1:30 PM otherwise the park rangers will turn you away.
The excursion will carry you through some of the thickest parts of the jungle and provide some tremendous views of the flatland down below that gets smaller and smaller with each step. The halfway point is built with stadium-style seating where you can sit and gaze out over the land and even see the starting point of the trip. About two-thirds of the way up the mountain you will come across the largest, and arguably the most beautiful, tree of the journey with hundreds of branches that reach far into the sky and roots that snake their way down the cliff-side. Another spot that you should stop is “The Bat Cave” as a sign aptly points out. It is near the top and is only 40 meters off of the main trail. Be sure to bring a friend and a light if you want to explore this cave as it reaches far into the earth and is quite dark. Unfortunately the party I was with wasn’t as brave as I was so I only got to see the entrance and a few of the bats that hung out near the mouth of the cave.
Once you reach the top your hike is not quite finished if you wish to see the sunset. The viewpoint that provides the most amazing perspective is another 1 km walk from the campsite. You and numerous other nature loves can sit atop a giant rock as you watch the sun fade behind another mountain range in the far distance. Be sure to bring a light to illuminate the path on the way back as it will get dark fast. On the way back to the campsite as I was using my headlamp to walk the path I noticed hundreds tiny lights reflecting like diamonds in the foliage off the side of the trail. These little rainbows turned out to be the eyes of spiders coming out to hunt for the night. I wish the picture I had taken could show you how beautiful, yet creepy, the sight was to behold but it’s a memory that I’ll have to treasure for myself.
What to Bring:
Ramkhamhaeng National Park offers little in the way of food and water to prepare you for the campaign up the mountain so you need to come ready. I brought two large bottles of water from 7/11 and another .5 liter collapsible bottle to ensure I had enough for not only the climb up but also the jaunt back down. There are water stations peppered throughout the trek but I would taste the water before filling up as it can sometimes have a metallic taste. Pack some food too. Things like khao niao moo (sticky rice and pork), sunflower seeds, raisins, and granola bars are great. There is a little canteen at the top which does sell instant noodles for 10 baht but they don’t do much good during the actual hike.
It will get cold during the night if you decide to camp outside. I recommend bringing long pants and a light jacket to keep warm (yeah, this isn’t something you hear too often in Thailand). Also remember to pack clothes for the next morning as the clothes you wore there will be drenched in sweat from the initial journey. For those less accustomed to the outdoors there are showers and bathrooms at the top of the mountain but that’s not camping for this guy.
Like most government attractions in Thailand, Ramkhamhaeng National Park is susceptible to the dual price system. While Thai locals only have to pay 20 baht for adults and 10 baht for children, foreigners will have to fork over a whopping 200 baht for adults and 100 baht for children to gain admission into the park. If you happen to have a work permit or proof of residency then you may be able to convince the ranger to give you the local price… fingers crossed.
Renting a tent for 2 to camp at the summit will run you 225 baht as of the date of this post. You can reserve your tent at the park headquarters located just before the start of the hike. They then give you a receipt which you show to the ranger housed at the summit who will happily set up the tent for you. That’s right, no carrying the added weight up the mountain as it’s already at the top. Straw mats are also provided to lie on but if you need something a bit softer to sleep on then I would pack your own sleeping bag.
Bungalows at the base of the mountain can also be rented for 1,200 to 1,800 baht a night as well you’ll miss the gorgeous sunset and sunrise if you decide to stay down there.
Ramkhamhaeng National Park is located about 45 minutes southeast of Sukhothai’s new city. You can reach Sukhothai from Bangkok via Mochit Bus Terminal and from Chiang Mai via its bus station. Once in Sukhothai you can either rent a Songthaew at the bus station which will take you there for the day and back for about 1,000 baht. I recommend renting a motorbike though as it is far cheaper and allows you the freedom to make your own schedule. There are numerous locations in Sukhothai to rent a motorbike but I recommend doing so at a shop just outside of the bus station for the best price (200-250 baht per day) or further into town near Chopper Bar where English is spoken but prices are a bit higher (300 baht per day).
From Sukhothai’s new city you want to take 101 south for about 17 km. You will pass two 7/11’s. At the second you will make a u-turn and then an immediate left down some back roads. From there you can just follow the blue Thailand National Park signs until you reach the front gate.
This was one of the most challenging things I’ve done in my life. At the end I was rewarded by a sense of accomplishment and a stunning view of the sunset. What’s your proudest accomplishment while traveling and what rewards, physical or mental, did you receive? Let me know in the comments!
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