Phu Chi Fah: Catching the Sunrise in a Sea of Mist

There’s a hidden gem in Northern Thailand, right on the border of Laos, that’s home to one of the most beautiful sunrises you’ll ever see. It’s called Phu Chi Fah (ภูชี้ฟ้า) and although it’s well-known among Thais visiting Chiang Rai, it’s still considered an undiscovered place for most international travelers. All the more reason to add it to your bucket list!

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Phu Chi Fah Nautical Sunrise

The name Phu Chi Fah actually translates to “the mountain that points to the sky” and it’s not hard to see why. Just look at its incredible silhouette against the rising sun. But that’s not even the best part. Once you’ve climbed the summit, it’s like standing on top of the world.

Phu Chi Fah Sunrise

For this adventure, we arrived in Phu Chi Fah the night before and woke up in the wee early morning hours (as in 5am early). Getting to the viewpoint before the sun comes over the horizon is crucial, but in doing so we were rewarded with a gorgeous sunrise. We watched as the sun’s soft light poured over the mists blanketing the mountains below, revealing only the jungle-covered peaks in Laos.

Bright sun at Phu Chi Fah

We waited until the sun was completely above the horizon and captured some photos in the bright morning light. Most of the visitors left just after the sun appeared but don’t make that mistake! Weather permitting, stay and look at the clouds and hills.

Phu Chi Fah Summit

How to Catch the Sunrise at Phu Chi Fah

To watch the sunrise transform the skies from dark blue to perfect pinky-orange skies, you’ll want to get the top of Phu Chi Fa Forest Park trail waaay before the actual sunrise. The goal is to reach the summit at the beginning of nautical twilight. It’ll be different depending on what time of year you go (we went in mid-December), so we recommend using this sunrise schedule site for your trip.

Or get a feel for the time of Phu Chi Fah’s sunrise with this table:

Find out the sunrise at TimeandDate.com
Feb 1 (latest) June 1 (earliest) October 1
Nautical Twilight 5:57am to 6:22am 4:58am to 5:26am 5:21am to 5:46am
Civil Twilight 6:22am to 6:45am 5:26am to 5:49am 5:46am to 6:07am
Sunrise 6:45am 5:49am 6:07am

Photo Ops at Phu Chi Fah, Chiang Rai

A few terms to help you out:

  • ‘Nautical twilight’ is when the sky is dark blue and the first deep purples and pinks being to shine through. The sun is between 12 and 6 degrees below the horizon.
  • ‘Civil twilight’ is when there are streaks of fiery orange, soft lavenders, and hot pinks in the sky. The sun is between 6 and 0 degrees below the horizon.
  • ‘Sunrise’ is when the sun is completely above the horizon. It’s very sunny and bright and the day has officially begun.

Crowds at Phu Chi Fah

Our schedule to visit Phu Chi Fah in mid-December (nautical dawn was at 5:55am) looked like this:

  • 5:00am Wake up
  • 5:20am Leave our guesthouse in Phu Chi Fah and walk down to the main street to the police checkpoint where songthaews are lined up (10 minutes)
  • 5:30am Take a songthaew for 30 THB per person and ride from checkpoint to base of summit (5 minutes)
  • 5:35am Begin the 760-meter hike up the Phu Chi Fa Forest Park trail (20 minutes)
  • 5:55am **Arrive at Phu Chi Fah at nautical dawn** and snap photos of the summit’s silhouette
  • 6:05am Climb to the top of Phu Chi Fah and take photos of the sunrise
  • 6:55am Sunrise is complete!
  • 7:00am Don’t leave! Stay and watch the mist clear up around the mountain tops
  • 8:00am Start walking down the summit (20 minutes)
  • 8:20am Take a songthaew ride back to town for 30 THB per person (5 minutes)
  • 8:30am Eat breakfast at one of the shops along the town’s main street – we recommend a Thai omelet with minced pork (kai jeow moo sup) and chicken fried rice (khao pad gai)

Using our schedule, you can work your way backward to figure out what time to leave your guesthouse in the morning

TIP: This activity is NOT good for young children or people with limited mobility. You will need also a flashlight to see the dirt path up the mountain. Vendors sell them for 40 or 50 THB but we just used our phone.

Cold temperatures, so dress warmly!

Although Thailand is a hot, humid paradise let us forewarn you: the early morning temperatures at Phu Chi Fah are frigid. Ok, frigid if you compare it to its normal hot, tropical weather.

Wear a long-sleeve shirt, long pants, and a jacket. If you go during Cool Season (November through February), you can expect weather in the 40s ⁰F (below 10 ⁰C). Wear a heavier jacket plus gloves, a scarf, and a hat. Vendors wake up early and sell many different types of accessories if what you brought isn’t warm enough. They line the main street near the police checkpoint.

Wear shoes and socks, NOT flip flops. Not only will proper footwear keep your feet warm, the walk up to the summit is rocky and dirty. If there is any moisture, it’ll be muddy and slippery, too.

Hot ramen noodles and instant coffee are available at bottom of the summit. Pack a thermos in which to put these hot snacks. Otherwise, they will slosh out of their open container on the walk up or get cold.

Where to Stay in Phu Chi Fah

Town of Phu Chi Fah

As far as hotels in Phu Chi Fah, there’s only a few we know of that can be booked online. One is Banpakphucheefah. This basic bungalow is perched on the side of the mountain with gorgeous views of the valley. Prices start at 750 THB (22 USD) per night.

There are two other methods to snag a Phu Chi Fah hotel room:

Option One: Just wing it. Get to Phu Chi Fah before check-in time (usually 2pm) and ask around for availability. This works best if you are traveling with a Thai friend. (A word of caution: It may still be challenging because this town is heavily influenced by hill tribe and Chinese dialects.) Due to the lack of English-speaking clientele, the guesthouse and restaurant owners speak very broken English, if any English at all!

Option Two: Have your guesthouse in Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai call ahead and make a booking on your behalf. They may have a recommended hotel or you can do some searching online. Other travelers have written about Phu Chi Fah’s hotels and have provided contact information.

We went with the second option. One of our friends called ahead with the help of their hotel in Chiang Rai and booked Phu Mok Dok Mai (ภูหมอกดอกไม้). The bungalows had a small bedroom, a private bathroom, and a balcony for 600 THB per night. Look at our map below for the location of this bungalow (all of the booking sites are incorrect). 

NOTE: Phu Mok Dok Mai’s address is incorrect on several hotel booking sites. Our map below has the correct location (Google ‘ภูหมอกดอกไม้’ to see for yourself

Where to Stay in Phu Chi Fah

There’s also an area to set up camp. You don’t need to bring your own camping gear. Tents, blankets, and pillows are available for 300 THB.

TIP: Thailand’s buildings do NOT have insulated walls or heaters. If it’s 45⁰F outside, it’ll only be 50⁰ or 55⁰F (9⁰ or 11⁰C) inside your hotel room. Be sure to bring warm pajamas (long pants, long sleeve top, and socks). The hotels are stocked with fleece blankets.

How to get to Phu Chi Fah

Phu Chi Fah is on the eastern edge of Chiang Rai province in Northern Thailand, so it’s miles away from the tourist track. Its closest major cities are Chiang Rai (60 miles or 95 kilometers away) and Chiang Mai (185 miles or 300 kilometers away). Both cities have bus stations and an airport. Chiang Mai also has a train station.

Phu Chi Fah - The Mountain the Points to the Sky

Chiang Rai to Phu Chi Fah

The best way to get to Phu Chi Fah is to rent a car. We don’t recommend renting a motorbike unless you are traveling with someone else and are an experienced rider. There is also an option to take a daily bus from Chiang Rai to Phu Chi Fah.

Car or Motorcycle Rental

The drive is roughly 2 to 2.5 hours from Chiang Rai to Phu Chi Fah. Rent a 125cc motorbike for 200ish THB (7ish USD) per day or rent a car for 1,200ish THB (35ish USD) per day. The roads from Chiang Rai to Phu Chi Fah are in good condition. The exception is the last 30-minute ascent up the mountain, which is littered with potholes and requires your undivided attention.

Schedule Minivan from Chiang Rai Terminal 1 Bus Station

There is also the option to take a minivan. There is a scheduled to depart the Chiang Rai Terminal 1 Bus Station at 1:00pm. It departs from Platform 1, which has a green sign above the platform that reads ‘PHUCHEEFA’. Arrive at least 1.5 hours prior to departure to ensure you get a ticket as the minivan fills up. After a 3 to 3.5 hour drive, the minivan arrives in Phu Chi Fah town around 4:00pm or 4:30pm. This gives you just enough time to check into your hotel and catch the sunset. The minivan tickets cost about 150 THB per person one way (there is also a round-trip option that is roughly double the one-way price). They must be booked in-person at the Chiang Rai Terminal 1 Bus Station or with help from your guesthouse’s staff.

The minivan will drop you off at the town’s police checkpoint sign (it’s red and white and flashes at night), which is within walking distance of several dozen guesthouses. It departs the following morning at 9:00am from the same checkpoint.

Private Driver

Lastly, you can hire a private driver from Chiang Rai to Phu Chi Fah. Typically they depart around 3:30am or 4am, drive to the summit, and then drive back to Chiang Rai. Rates are roughly 2,500 THB for the day trip.

Chiang Mai to Phu Chi Fah

Chiang Mai to Phu Chi Fah is a 5.5-hour car ride. If you stop like we did, budget your time for a 6-hour drive. Be sure to leave early enough to catch the sunset. It varies from 5:45pm in December to 6:45pm in July.

Car Rental

Since Chiang Mai is a much farther drive from Phu Chi Fah, we recommend renting a car (about 1,200 THB or 35 USD per day). Only ride a motorbike if you have something powerful and comfortable, have experience, and plan to make this part of a serious road trip.

Bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

Another safe option is to take a 3-hour bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai and then continue following the first set of directions with a rental car or motorbike, a minivan, or a private driver from Chiang Rai.

The map below includes all points of interest (viewpoint, hotels, bus stations) as well as ideal routes.

We’ve been to a lot of places in Thailand and Phu Chi Fah is absolutely stunning. This natural attraction rivals our top favorites including the Giew Mae Pan Trail on Doi Inthanon and the Windmill Viewpoint in Phuket.

If we were to do it all over again, we’d stay for two nights. Or at the very least arrive much earlier to be in time to see the sunset and then leave the next morning after taking a nap. If you have a full extra day to spare in your itinerary and have plans to visit Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, definitely squeeze this into your trip. It’s otherworldly!

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