If you’ve never heard of Khao Kho, you’re not the only one. Hidden in the central mountains of Thailand, this district is located in the province of Phetchabun, and is part of the Phetchabun mountain chain. Khao Kho is less visited by international tourists, but many locals take to the hills during the weekends and school holidays for a slightly cooler getaway. The hills get wintry in the months of November to February; and then the Southeast Asian heat kicks in during the months of March to June (which was the time we visited). July through October is the rainy season, but visitors still flock to the mountains during that time because it is when the ‘Sea of Clouds’ (the district’s most popular attraction), is the most dense.
Most people prefer to take a road trip to Khao Kho from Bangkok — it is about a 6-hour drive, and you can make short stops at interesting places along the way to the central Thailand mountains. I, on the other hand, wanted to get there as quickly as possible — so we decided to fly into the nearest airport at Phitsanulok (you can get there on Air Asia Thai, Nok Air and Thai Lion Air from Bangkok’s Don Mueang International Airport). From Phitsanulok, it is another 1.5-hour drive to the district of Khao Kho.
I was traveling with my partner, Fong, and we only had about 3 days in Khao Kho. I really wish we had allocated more time to explore further into the forest reserves and parks around the area. However, I believe that we managed to visit most of the significant sights in this part of the Phetchabun Province, so here’s sharing with you the top 10 things to do on a short trip to Khao Kho.
1) The Sea of Clouds
Khao Kho is most famous for the spectacular ‘Sea of Clouds’ view — a view that when seen from above the clouds, looks like an ocean of raging waters. The area around the district is mountainous, and has many high points where you can admire a bird’s eye view of the surrounding countryside. Clouds gather beneath these points, and during the right season, can completely cover the entire landscape.
We visited Khao Kho in early June during the hot season, so most of the time, the clouds were sorely missing. However, we were lucky that it rained (the night before) when we were scheduled to head up the Phu Thap Buek Mountain (highlighted in one of the points below) — and were rewarded with the most breathtaking view of a blanket of white-colored candy floss clouds beneath us… just swirling with the wind.
2) The Blue Sky Resort Khao Kho
My trip to Khao Kho was made so much more amazing because of my stay at The Blue Sky Resort Khao Kho. It was just wonderful to be waking up in the midst of so much beauty — from its pretty English cottage-like buildings and country houses, to the amazing flower garden and the surrounding views. We got to witness the most beautiful sunsets every evening; either from our room balcony, or from the highest point of the resort that offered 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains.
Of course, there are many resorts all around the mountainous area of Khao Kho, each one offering breathtaking views of the countryside and the ‘Sea of Clouds”. However, there really is nothing like staying at The Blue Sky Resort Khao Kho, click here to find out why!
3) Phu Thap Buek Mountain
At an elevation of almost 1,800m above sea level, Phu Thap Buek Mountain is the highest point in the province of Phetchabun. The mountain lies between the areas of Khao Kho and Lom Sak districts to the south and east, and the neighboring Loei Province to the north and west. Locals staying in the area are mostly from the Hmong Hill tribe (and they sell lots of local handicraft in the shops on the mountain); and because of the mountain’s cooling climate, lots of local farmers plant cabbage on the steep slopes.
Most people stay the night atop Phu Thap Buek Mountain to catch the first view of the ‘Sea of Clouds’ at sunrise. You can pitch your own tent (or even rent one) for a fee; but if you’re afraid of the cold, you can stay in the small chalets with rooftop balconies. We arrived to the top of the mountain VERY early in the morning (by car from our resort) and got to see the view too, but it would have been awesome to have stayed a night on the mountain.
4) Wat Pha Sorn Kaew
Wat Pha Sorn Kaew has got to be one of the most beautiful temples I have ever seen. Translated to English, its name means the ‘Temple on a Glass Cliff’ — and though the cliff is not exactly glass, it is 830m high and overlooks the wide expanse of the surrounding mountain range. Wat Pha Sorn Kaew is a Buddhist temple and monastery; and has a few buildings around the area (with more being built). The main temple has a gigantic porcelain white image of Buddha in 5 different sizes, seated one in front of another — a little bit like the Russian doll.
The highlight of Wat Pha Sorn Kaew however, is the gorgeous pagoda that is adorned with more than 5 million mosaic tiles and little trinkets. It may seem very Gaudi-ish, but look a little closer and you’ll find small pendants and little keepsakes that look like they once belonged to someone. I loved walking around the many levels of the pagoda and admiring the colorful shiny walls and pillars; and marveling at the view from up-high. This temple left me completely mesmerized.
5) Khao Kho Wind Farm
Aside from its main purpose to minimize green house footprints through renewable wind power energy, the Khao Kho Windmill Farm is also a local tourist attraction. The collection of 24 windmills are located 1,050 meters above sea level, and supplies about 140 million units of power to the Phetchabun Province. Visitors are allowed to get pretty close to the windmills on a THB600 (US$2) tram ride that brings visitors around the area to see the windmills from several viewpoints. That’s what we did.
If you have a car, you can drive around (instead of taking the tram) to the surrounding themed cafes that offer lovely views of Khao Kho on one side, and the windmills on the other. Nearby, there are also flower gardens, as well as the fruit and vegetable farms (as per point below).
6) The Vegetable and Fruit Farms
Due to its cooling climate for most of the year, there are tons of flower gardens, fruit farms and vegetable patches all around the mountainous Khao Kho (and the rest of the Phetchabun Province). One of the popular things to do when in the area is ‘strawberry picking’, but I was visiting in June and strawberries weren’t in season (the bushes were all bare)! However, there are many other fruits that are grown in this region as well; and we got to visit a grape farm during our visit.
While in Khao Kho, I noticed lots and lots of Cabbage Farms everywhere we went. I was told that it is the province’s most planted vegetable (and we ordered some of these fresh produce for dinner too)! The farms plant their cabbages in rows along the steep mountain slopes; and while I’ve seen tons of rice terraces, this is the first time I’ve actually seen cabbage terraces.
7) Tanrak Talaymok and the Many Cafes
Another thing that I noticed about Khao Kho during my visit is the insane number of themed cafes everywhere! Think cartoon characters, flowery swings, heart-shaped monuments, white-washed cottages, fairy lights; and even stonehead statues and Chinese mansions — there is definitely a special cafe for everyone to get that perfect insta-worthy shot. During our visit, we dropped by the popular Tanrak Talaymok (Love Cafe) that features a love-themed flower garden with gorgeous views of the Khao Kho valley; and King Kong Cafe that has a garden with bamboo structures and statues of King Kong made of hay!
Some of the more popular cafes in the vicinity include the Pino Latte Cafe and its gorgeous morning ‘Sea of Clouds’ view; and Route 12 with its all-American charm. Whatever themed cafe you choose to dine at in Khao Kho, you’ll certainly be served with gorgeous views, and fresh local produce.
8) Remnants of the Khao Kho Battle
While in Khao Kho, we learned a little of the history of the district, as well as the Phetchabun Province. In the mid 20th century, the Thai government and the communist party fought to control this mountainous region of Thailand for almost 15 years. Lead by Colonel Itti Simarak, the goverment managed to reclaim Khao Kho from communist rule in 1983. However, more than 2,000 people lost their lives fighting this battle, including the colonel who perished on the field.
The Itti Military Museum is named after the colonel, and showcases the weapons, equipment and military transport used during the war — including a F5 fighter jet, cannons, and the remains of helicopters and tankers. Nearby, there is a War Memorial that lists all the names of the soldiers that died during the war; and an abandoned Military Base used by the government forces back then. It offers beautiful views of the surrounding area.
9) Sunrise and Sunsets
I have to mention the gorgeous sunrise and sunsets we got to witness every day. Almost every morning, we woke up before the break of day to head to a nearby hill (or the Phu Thap Buek Mountain) to be in time to (hopefully) see the ‘Sea of Clouds’. And while doing that, we also managed to catch the sunrise. I don’t often get to witness mountain sunrises (because I am not a hiker), so it was wonderful to be able to drive to the top of a peak to catch the gorgeous sun as it appears from behind the Phetchabun Mountains.
In the evenings, we enjoyed our sunsets in the comfort of our resort. The Blue Sky Resort Khao Kho has so many lovely places to watch the day end — and I especially loved the sunset view from it’s 360° View Point on top of a hill overlooking the resort. So while in Khao Kho, make it a point to wake up early to see the sunrise; and then find time to relax after a whole day of sightseeing to enjoy the sunset. It’s just so romantic!
10) Short Trips from Khao Kho
And lastly, head out of Khao Kho and discover more places around Central Thailand. If we had done a road trip to Khao Kho from Bangkok — we would have made it a point to spend several days visiting the other towns en route. But since we flew directly into the region, we didn’t get to do that.
Still, we made it a point to do a little exploring around Phitsanulok, the gateway town to Khao Kho and one of the bigger cities in the area. While in the city, we visited its largest temple, the mid-14th century Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat and its highly revered image of Phra Buddha Chinnarat. We also had lunch of Rimnan Noodles, where we got to hang our legs over the restaurant verandah while dining (the whole row of restaurants along this road next to the Nan River has a ‘hanging legs’ dining concept)!
And during our stay in Khao Kho, we also made a trip to the nearest town of Lomsak to visit its night market for some eating and shopping. It is one of the biggest night markets in the area, and only opens every Saturday nights.