Cool weather in these stunning mountains makes this a great destination when you need a break from the beach
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Thailand is a tropical country so for a lot of people here, cold weather is a novelty. Because of this, most of the higher elevation areas in the mountainous north of the country have become tourist areas. Khao Kho (เขาค้อ – pronounced Cow-Caw) in Phetchabun Province is a perfect example of one of these areas. Most tourists here are Thai so most businesses are catering to them, but we’d recommend this place to just about anyone looking for a getaway to the mountains. Khao Kho also has lower lying areas in the valleys below where waterfalls, national parks, and river rafting can be found
How to get to Khao Kho
The nearest airport to Khao Kho is in the neighboring province of Phitsanulok. Nok Air offers a fly and ride service from Bangkok Don Meuang (DMK) to Phitsanulok and then by minivan to Khao Kho. You can find the times at the link above. Car rental is available at the Phitsanulok airport. We usually find the cheapest price using rentalcars.com. You can arrange a private transfer to your hotel in Khao Kho from other nearby cities, but it will be hard to get around once you arrive without your own vehicle.
In our opinion, the best way to get to Khao Kho is by your own transportation, either a rented car or motorbike. One of the big draws of this area is that it’s much closer to Bangkok than most of the mountainous areas further north. Driving here from Bangkok by car takes just five hours. It can get cold so if you go by motorbike, be sure to dress warm and bring a wind and waterproof layer.
What to do in Khao Kho
The biggest draw here is the sunrise over a sea of clouds in the valleys below. Waking up early for this is definitely worth it. During the rainy season from mid-May through October and cold season from November through early February, the fog should be around most days. In the hot season, it’s not always cold enough at night for fog to form. There are a number of different viewpoints around the top of the mountain to see it from. You’ll find plenty of cute signs and flower beds for Thais to take selfies with and show off their cozy hats and sweaters, if you’re into that sort of thing. A lot of hotels and resorts have their own viewpoints where you can watch the sunrise. The Weapon Museum has a great view too, as does the post office.
There are a lot of nice coffee shops and restaurants in Khao Kho, most of which have a great view. One of our favorite activities in a place like this is just finding a nice spot and chilling out for a few hours so a good cafe can be perfect. Another popular activity for Thais here is picking and eating strawberries, and you’ll see small farm plots everywhere.
Driving down into the valley 10-15 minutes you’ll find the very nice Sri Dit Waterfall (น้ำตกศรีดิษฐ์). We visited during the dry season when there was much less water and still found it worthwhile. We saw photos taken when the water is really flowing and it looks very nice. Entrance is 10 Baht. There are some shops around the entrance selling drinks and Thai food and snacks. Swimming is not allowed near the falls. The Google Maps location is correct and the turnoff is clearly marked.
Khao Kho’s famous temple
There is one pretty stunning temple near Khao Kho, and even if you’re not normally into visiting them, this one could be worth it. Wat Pha Sorn Kaew has a really nice statue of five seated Buddhas layered over one another. The temple also has some incredible mosaic work that is quirky and sort of reminiscent of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. Check out our guide to Wat Pha Sorn Kaew for more information on visiting.
Khao Kho military history
Khao Kho has an interesting history and a small museum and memorial to commemorate it. In the 1970s into the early 1980s this area was a stronghold of the Thai Communist Party. Insurgents here hid out in this mountainous area and carried out guerrilla warfare attacks. The Thai army had a firebase atop Khao Kho and today the Khao Kho Weapons Museum sits in that space.
The museum isn’t overflowing with information, but a few old planes, helicopters, machine guns, and small artillery pieces, as well as some bunkers, are displayed. You’ll also find the wreckage of a few planes and an armored vehicle. Entrance is only 10 Baht and just the views alone make it worth it. A few minutes further along the road there is a marble memorial to the Thai soldiers who died fighting in this area. Inside, around 1000 names are inscribed. We found both places to be very worth a short visit.
Activities down in the valleys
Ten minutes further down the road past the above-mentioned Sri Dit Waterfall, you’ll come to the entrance to Thung Salaeng Luang National Park. You can’t see anything more than the campsite near the park entrance unless you have a pickup truck or 4×4 as the road is too rough for a normal car. You could hike but the ranger told us it’s around 14 kilometers. This park also charges the highest price for foreigners we’ve seen anywhere in the country – 40 Baht for Thais, 500 for foreigners!
Just outside the park in Ban Nong Mae Na village, there is a much more reasonably priced rafting excursion that we accidentally stumbled upon and really enjoyed. The Khek River down in this valley is quite beautiful and runs along the edge of the national park. They offer everything from one-hour boat trips to multi-day trekking and rafting. You can find them at the Bang Rachan Islet at this location in Goole Maps. Read our full guide to rafting in Ban Nong Mae Na for more information.
Where to stay
There are lots of options for Khao Kho hotels on Booking.com We recommend you use the filters to select all the amenities you want. You should only book places with at least a 7.0 rating, and ideally at least an 8.0
When to visit
Khao Kho is beautiful during the rainy season from mid-May through October. You should get the sea of fog on most days, and generally, there should be plenty of time without rain. It’s always possible a big storm system will be moving through though, so it could rain nonstop. Cold season from November through late January is also great, with chilly weather, thick fog in the morning, and an all-around vibe that feels different from most other places in Thailand. From February into early May during dry season, agricultural burning can obscure the views and reduce air quality. The fog usually won’t form at this time as the nights don’t get cool enough. You can check air quality around Thailand at this link.
What to bring
Khao Kho gets cold, and in November through early February, it can get very cold. Even at just 12° C (53° F) you will feel cold. You might think that’s nothing in your home country, but when it hits that temperature when you’re home it’s not still getting hot during the day. You also probably use the heat when it’s that cold, but most rooms here won’t have heat. A windproof shell that at least beads away moisture is important too as the fog can soak everything if you’re out in it.