Explore Phetchabun, Thailand
A region rich in cultural and natural beauty
Thailand’s province of Phetchabun is in the lower part of Northern Thailand and sits at the point where the regions of Northern, Northeastern, and Central Thailand meet. As such, there’s a great blend of Thai sub-cultures, and the province has its own distinct atmosphere.
While several provincial destinations attract many Thai visitors, particularly during the holiday period, Petchabun remains an off-the-beaten-track treasure when it comes to foreign tourism. Combining nature, culture, and unusual sights, it’s definitely worth a visit for adventure-loving travelers.
I have visited Phetchabun on two separate occasions, each time focusing on different parts of the province. However, these would be easy to combine in a stay of a few days.
Initially, a friend invited me to go on a road trip to Phu Tub Berk, a mountain in Phetchabun. Although I knew nothing about the province, let alone the actual mountain, being a fan of discovering new places, I jumped at the chance.
We made a quick stop at Si Thep Historical Park, which contains the ruins of ancient Phetchabun. Built during the Khmer period, the ruins are some 1,000 years old. With few other people walking around the site, it’s easy to imagine the past and enjoy the peace and quiet. Excavated pits contain bones and artifacts, and there are walls and foundations, chedis, and mounds. Take a peek inside the small museum, and don’t miss seeing the detailed carvings crafted many, many years ago.
Next, we visited the large Buddha Thamaracha statue, located close to the city center. The unusual statue stands proudly overlooking the nearby lake and busy highway. The black statue sits in a cross-legged position and is adorned with golden details. Everything about it is different from most other Buddha statues around the country, from the facial features and designs to the color and embellishments. Step inside the building, and you’ll find an interesting collection of Buddhist memorabilia.
Finally, we drove up Phu Tub Berk, Phetchabun’s tallest mountain – a scenic destination with cool temperatures. There are numerous viewpoints along the snaking, steep roads, and we pulled over frequently to admire the views and snap lots of photos. The sloped fields grow various crops, but cabbages are particularly abundant. Stand in the middle of a cabbage patch for quirky pictures … it’s way cooler and heaps more fun than it sounds! Although not something I did, some farms let you go and help pick the produce. You can also buy various fresh, locally grown items – such as strawberries, carrots, and flowers – in the markets. Don’t worry if you’re feeling a chill—the markets also sew woolen garments like hats, ear muffs, gloves, scarves, and ponchos!
The Hmong village of Ban Thap Boek relies on agriculture to make a living, and people still live a traditional way of life. A group of small kids wearing traditional Hmong dress came running over to us, eager to point out the views, play around, and snap some pictures with visitors.
There’s a quirky farm where you can pet and feed sheep and goats, and the peak has a statue with a thermometer so you can see that the temperatures really are cooler up the mountain.
On my second trip to Phetchabun, we mainly focused on the area around another of the province’s mountains – Khao Koh. Sometimes nicknamed the Thai Alps, there are various viewpoints around the mountain where you can stop to soak up the views. Look out for cute coffee shops where you can take a break and enjoy a drink as you sit overlooking lush natural splendor. Interestingly, Communist insurgents and the Royal Thai Army regularly clashed around this area in times gone by. Today, however, the mountain has a variety of attractions and activities to suit different interests.
You can learn more about the mountain’s tumultuous past at the Weapon Museum at the former Itthi Military Base. See an impressive collection of old military equipment and vehicles, including helicopters, tanks, and guns, and peek inside reconstructed bunkers and strategic headquarters. Life-sized mannequins help bring scenes more to life. A little farther up the road, the Khao Koh Memorial honors those who lost their lives during troubled times.
Impressive architectural features include Chedi Phra Borommasaririkkathat and the International Library.
The striking white Chedi Phra Borommasaririkkathat contains relics of the Lord Buddha. There is also an interior display of statues of the Lord Buddha in different postures, revered monks, and characters from Thai mythology and folklore. Other displays include religious artifacts and timepieces. It was built to celebrate the end of fighting in the area and to remember those who died during conflicts.
I didn’t find the International Library itself all that impressive; there are few books inside, the books are dusty and damaged, and the building itself is decaying. The grounds, however, are a different matter. A gorgeous pagoda stands within well-maintained, flower-filled gardens; it’s a peaceful place for a leisurely stroll.
Another attraction that’s worth a quick photo stop but is unlikely to blow your mind is Khao Kho Palace. Used as the local official royal residence, visitors are not allowed inside the actual (rather basic) palace. You can, however, take a walk around the grounds and enjoy the gardens.
My absolute favorite place on my trip to Khao Koh was the dazzling Wat Phra That Pha Kaew. Built in 2004, the Dharma center features a stunning pagoda inset with donated plates and ceramics, as well as gleaming mosaics, beads, and glass. There’s a large, eye-catching white statue of five seated Buddhas, perfectly offset by the mountain background. Other statues of the Lord Buddha are spread throughout the site, and the scenic courtyard is filled with Bhodi trees. This is definitely one of my favorite temples in Thailand – both for its beauty and its picturesque setting.
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
Regular buses run from Mochit Bus Station (the Northern Bus Station) in Bangkok to Phetchabun, with a traveling time of around five to six hours. There are also buses and minivans between Phetchabun and nearby towns and provinces.
Local buses, vans, and songtaews (converted pickup trucks with two benches in the back) operate on set routes throughout the province, connecting most major towns and villages. There are also tuk-tuks and motorbike taxis, with plenty available at the main provincial bus station.
Having your own vehicle is the easiest way, however, to explore the province, especially if you plan to visit the mountains, as I did. Failing that, you could charter a vehicle for your stay to maximize your time and provide flexibility.
Do – Activities & Attractions
Camp at the top of Phu Tub Berk and wake up to impressive views, peace and quiet, and crisp, fresh air.
Soak up the views from the top of Heaven Hill, which is crowned with a large white cross.
Hike in the nature-rich and scenic Thung Salaeng Luang National Park.
Feel an adrenaline rush at Phukaew Resort and Adventure Park, where you can test your agility on rope courses, go rock climbing, ride the luge, lose your head for heights on the giant swing, trampoline bungee, and tower jump, go canoeing, and more.
Stay – Accommodation
Sabaidee Place – Located in the heart of Phetchabun city center, Sabaidee Place has comfortable double and twin rooms. All rooms come with a private bathroom, a balcony, a desk, a fridge, a TV, and free Wi-Fi. The guesthouse has ample parking. There’s a small onsite shop that sells essentials, drinks, and snacks. Laundry facilities are available, and guests can borrow bicycles for free to explore the area.
Chill Chill Farm Resort – A cute and quirky resort in Phetchabun, the forest-surrounded Chill Chill Farm Resort has charming, brightly painted chalets for two and four (each can also accommodate an extra child). The chalets have a private bathroom, a balcony, large windows through which you can soak up the views, and a TV. The lack of Wi-Fi lets you disconnect from the world and enjoy nature. There’s free parking and 24-hour reception.
Gypsy Village – Situated close to the scenic mountain of Khao Koh, Gypsy Village has lovely chalets for three, each with a balcony, private bathroom, TV, free Wi-Fi, and kettle. Wake up and feast your eyes on the splendid views and take pleasant strolls through the gardens. Breakfast is included in the price, and there is free parking.
Eat – Restaurants
There are many places to eat in the main city and around the province, with an abundance of typical Thai fare and specialties from Northern Thailand – often referred to generically as Lanna food. Northern Thailand is known for dishes like khao soi (a coconut noodle soup), kaeng hang lei (pork curry), sai oua (spicy sausage), and kaeng khanun (a hot and sour soup with jackfruit). Phetchabun is especially known for tamarind, and much fresh produce is grown throughout the province, including things that are difficult to grow in warmer parts of the country. If you visit the district of Wichian Buri, don’t miss out on tasting the local grilled chicken.
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
The best time to visit Phetchabun is during the cool season, which falls between November and February. Temperatures are more pleasant, and conditions are generally dry. Do take a light-weight jacket or sweater, though, as it can be quite chilly in the evenings, especially if you are staying up a mountain.
July to October is the rainy season in Northern Thailand. Although the landscapes can be beautifully lush at this time, mountain roads can be dangerous to drive, and mist can obscure views. Also, plans for outdoor adventures can get rained off. If you are sensitive to smog, try to avoid visiting Phetchabun in March and April—this is when farmers in Northern Thailand often burn their fields in preparation for the next crop; as a result, the air can be filled with smoke and tiny particles that can irritate the respiratory system.
Si Thep Historical Park is open each day between 8 am and 4.30pm. The Weapon Museum opens daily from 7 am until 5 pm. Wat Phra That Pha Kaew is open each day between 8.30am and 4.30pm.
Safety – Possible risks
There is always an element of physical danger when hiking and enjoying outdoor activities. Be sure to have a map or GPS-enabled device, wear suitable footwear and attire, carry plenty of water, and let people know your plans, especially if traveling alone. Going into more remote areas always carries a higher risk, and Phetchabun is no exception.
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
Everyday amenities and services such as accommodation and food, are generally a bit cheaper in Phetchabun than in Bangkok and other major tourist areas. Many sights are free to experience, and any that do charge typically have low admission fees. For example, at the time of visiting, there was a 30 THB admission charge for Si Thep Historical Park and a 10 THB admission fee for the Weapon Museum.
Public transportation is cheap, but (unless you have your own transport) you might find that you spend a fair amount on private transport (like taxis) to reach different spots.
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Don’t leave litter at natural spots. If there are no rubbish bins, carry your waste away with you. You’ll likely see piles of discarded trash as you explore; don’t be tempted to just add to the pile. Respect the environment even if others don’t.
Make sure you’re suitably dressed to visit temples. Your shoulders should be covered (a sarong can make a great cover-up) and your lower garments should reach at least to the knees. Take your shoes off to look inside major halls and shrines. Try not to point your feet at statues of the Lord Buddha or monks.
Reality Check – Be Aware
Phetchabun is an awesome place to experience nature and culture. That said, language barriers and lack of tourism infrastructure can make your trip more challenging than if you stayed in more-visited areas. But, getting off the beaten track is half of the fun! If you’ve already visited many temples on your travels around Thailand, you might want to skip some of Phetchabun’s religious spots.
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This sounds like quite the adventure, right? We thought so too! Though we realize it can be pretty intimidating to get out there into the world on your own, especially when travelling to some of these off the beaten path locations. We love it when our readers give it a shot and try it for themselves! In fact, please leave us feedback if you do!! If trying something ‘this’ adventurous on your own is just a bit outside of your comfort zone, WSE Travel is here to help!
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Have you ever been to a city that had a really unique historical or cultural feature? Where was it and what made it so unique?
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