The most accessible and popular of the parks in Loei province, PHU KRADUNG NATIONAL PARK protects a grassy 1300m plateau 80km south of Loei whose temperate climate supports a number of tree, flower and bird species not normally found in Thailand. Walking trails crisscross much of sixty-square-kilometre Phu Kradung (Bell Mountain), and you could spend three days here exploring them fully – you’ll need one night as a minimum, as the trip from Loei to the top of the plateau and back can’t be done comfortably in a day. The park is at its busiest during weekends in December and January, when the main headquarters up on the plateau is surrounded by a sea of tents.
The attractions of the mountain come and go with the seasons. October is muddy after the rains, but the waterfalls that tumble off the northwestern edge of the plateau are in full cascade and the main trail is green and shady. December brings out the maple leaves; by February the waterfalls have disappeared and the vegetation on the lower slopes has been burnt away. April is good for rhododendrons and wild roses, which in Thailand are only found at such high altitudes as this.
Among the park’s wildlife, mammals such as elephants, sambar deer and gibbons can be seen very occasionally, but they generally confine themselves to the evergreen forest on the northern part of the plateau, which is out of bounds to visitors. In the temperate pines, oaks and beeches that dot the rest of the plateau you’re more likely to spot resident birds such as jays, sultan tits and snowy-browed flycatchers if you’re out walking in the early morning and evening.