Ever wonder what Thai people do for holidays? They fly to far-flung borders to photograph cabbages. Is it fun? Yes, Super fun. While few may believe it, Thai cultures often differ from Western perceptions. Many not aspiring to Westernise, with little interest in Farang (foreigners), and, with the more affluent, it’s often the opposite. I am therefore grateful for these occasional glimpses of alternative Thai cultures. Cultures I’d barely know of if it weren’t for Fanfan and our travels with friends.
My first time in Phu Chi Fa was during similar travels, our second with Fanfan’s friends as a group (Bali the first), when we travelled to the north of Thailand for an unplanned road trip starting in the city of Chiang Rai. Our “Journey with no Map”. Exciting right? Fanfan’s friends escaping their nine-to-five work hours as architects, nurses and in Thai industries. All of us escaping the torturous 30’c heats of Bangkok city. To climb the hills and mountains of Northern Thailand in search of cooler climates. To wear cute hats, knitted scarves and to feel the bite of the cold on our skin. Oh, and of course, to photograph cabbages.
Fanfan’s friends are a little obsessed with farming, at least from my perspective. On this journey we spent a night on a farm, we visited a second farm, and we trekked through tea plantations and cornfields. I share much of it here in my guide to Chiang Rai Province, but, for now, it is all about our experiences with Cabbages, Giant Bugs, and Rolling Mists in Pu Chi Fa. A far-flung mountain in Chiang Rai bordering Laos in Northern Thailand.
After the excitement of cabbages, we climbed the hills to reach our cabins for the night, to meet some frantic lad chasing in the opposite direction flapping at what looks to be a toy helicopter bobbing up and down in front of him. The girls scream and run to the roadside as a giant flying beetle passes by. A beetle the size of my fist. The boy catches on the beetle, and snatches it from the air, before attaching it to his arm and jumping into a pickup truck that had followed slowly beside him. Completely weird. To me, it felt like a scene from Pokemon – watching Ash take down a Heracross (yes I know my Pokemon).
The Beetle is known as a Duang Kwang beetle, or the Siamese Rhinoceros Beetle, a symbol of Chiang Mai and emblem of the province’s football ball team Chiang Rai United aka The Beetles (กว่างโซ้งมหาภัย). So these beetles are hunted, kept as pets, and are put to battle against each other like Pokemon… Anyway, this was my first introduction to Duang Kwang in Phu Chi Fa, but there were many encounters to come, as smaller Beetles (still huge) would bash against our cabin windows, bap, bap, almost breaking the glass. Wings whirring like a revolving fan. Again completely surreal.
This went on for hours before I turned off the veranda light and then they disappeared. Yes, Duang Kwang are attracted to light, and we may have enjoyed some sleep that night having known this earlier. The following morning we wake to even more Beetles, this time our giddy driver, excited like a school kid, waiting to show off his somewhat tiddly catch in comparison (pictured). Coloured like a conker, bagged and ready to fight in the Lanna Beetle Festival. Ready to be squashed by the monster from the previous night.
Climbing Phu Chi Fa Mountain for Sunset
Phu Chi Fa is famous in Thailand for its “Seas of Mist” where clouds climb up and over the hills below. Rolling through the valleys. Phu Chi Fa is easily one of the highlights of Chiang Rai and Northern Thailand, miles from the tourist track, but still simple to reach by self-penned tours. To reach Phu Chi Fa mountain top there is a 760m trek up. It is relatively simple, but surprisingly tiring at this time of the morning. But it is in no doubt worth it. Spectacular views.
As arranged the previous night, we were to be ready for a 04:00 AM start to catch this fantastic sunrise at Phu Chi Fa Mountain. Crazy, but doable. At 04:00 AM I am ready for sunrise, scruffy, and irritable, but ready. It’s not until we reach the bottom of the Phu Chi Fa mountain walk that I am told we would have to climb the mountain to watch the sunset from the top. And I instantly regret scoffing that big bag of Cheetos en route.