Guidebook for Phuket High Trail Section A
After 14 days or so of exploring and picking routes and then getting my new GPS (Garmin 60 CSX) and going out and hiking the first 15 kms., it is time to write some form of guidebook entry while it is fresh in my mind.
We went out 2 days ago (Sunday Sept 21st) with Kim from Canada and Joanne from Australia who i must say were awesome partners and real troopers to continue after some of the crazy bushwhacks we had in the few places where i forgot the exact route and were stuck in high thick grass or thick brambles and sticker bushes. They never got discouraged and always kept a smile on their faces and I believe they thoroughly enjoyed the whole hike.
We started out at 6 AM as i knew it was going to be a long day. Met Joanne for the first time at 6:15 and headed up to Leam Prom Thep which is the high point just north of the southern tip of the island of Phuket. They were not into being purists so waited for me while i ran down to the water’s edge after the steep dirt track there that is well used by tourists.
Going down there by myself at 6:30 AM brought back many memories from my old hiking days when i often did big sections alone. I enjoy being alone and have spent almost all of the time on the planning and exploring for this hike by myself. Total silence as southern Phuket gets very minimal air traffic is the norm although this day was a bit windy.
I spent some time setting my GPS and clearing everything in it so it would keep track only of what we did on this day. The new one keeps a profile map with zoomable levels that i haven’t totally figured out yet but have all the info saved. Also a computer track log which would finally tell me distances as well as elevation. Up to this point, it was only a guessing game based on time and my hiking experience. But, these mountains of Phuket are a lot steeper than anything except perhaps the Pyrenees in France/Spain but THEY had a trail built on them that often included switchbacks.
So, Kim and Joanne were waiting for me and already into the food bag until i got back up to the top of Laem Prom Thep which is a huge tourist attraction as it is the southern tip of Phuket and has some history as a lighthouse spot in the old days and wonderful views in 3 directions. But, not at 6:30 AM. Thai people don’t like that time of day any better than most of us.
Said our goodbyes to Joanne’s husband Graham and headed across the road and down a trail just to the left of the parking lot. (which is just to the left of the tourist souvenier shops on the road. So, there is a slight trail there that is not far from the road and starts the descent past a few houses on the right. We weren’t too far from the road and it wasn’t long before we had to hop or go under our first barbed wire fence. This fence is the boundary for the Phuket Bungalow Resort that was basically abandoned as it is low season and they are closed. THis resort has beautiful views of the Andaman sea to the west and is the one right on the biggest “horseshoe” bend of the road between Ya Nui and Laem Prom Thep.
So, we come in the back side of it (top side) and walk right between some bungalows, make a slight right hand turn at the black top road and then the left at the Y to continue the descent. Within a minute or two, we are in a huge nice working garden of mostly veggies and an orchard. A dog started barking but the owner didn’t come out of his small bamboo shack as he was probably still sleeping at this hour. Past the garden, we went over and under another barbed wire fence and were now in the property of the Ya Nui resort. Ya Nui is the small beach that is popular for lovers and snorkeling and my original route headed up the west side of the steep hill to the windmill. But, that was thick, nasty stickers and had no views. So, I had been thinking about it and decided it would be an awesome hike to go up the west side which was just exposed grass with fantastic views to the beach behind us and the Andaman sea to out west as well as the windmill on the hill.
This was steep going but wonderful. I coudn’t take enough pictures and we had a few photo-op moments on the way up. I was running at times to stay ahead of the girls to try to get some good pics. They both had cameras too and i am hoping to see their pictures soon. Here is one looking back. Nothing but smiles at this point of the hike for sure.
Up near the top, there is a big, deep ravine and we went pretty high to the right and then crossed above it and then had to work our way back to the left towards the big dark leafed trees. I had scouted this out beforehand but still went too far right. Got situated and found the path just feet from where we had been looking. There is really a lot to take in at this point with the views probably the most spectacular (already) of the whole journey. As soon as you get on the other side of those bigger trees, you are at the rest area at the lookout point on the windmill hill. I bring my boy, Simon up here about 3 times a week but Joanne had never been here before so was ooohing and ahhing for another 5 minutes or so.
I checked the trip computer here and it said 2.14 kms from the start to this point. Heading out from here is easy as you just start on the road that comes up to the lookout for the 30 metres until it hits the main road. Turn right for 10 metres and take the dirt track to the left that goes back to the football pitch there. The road goes for about 200 metres before it gets to the field. No cows today but they often graze there.
Head south through the field and at the other end, watch for the four-wheeler tracks to the south and follow them staying to the righ (east) until you have to work your way over into the trees. There is a very short bushwhack here until you can find a boundary marker and follow that until you see a path created there.
After about 100 metres, you will see a makeshift tower made from construction poles that i belive were stolen and carried up here so someone could build a tower to check out the sea view to try to sell some land. The land is above the 80 metre rule but some ignore that and build anyway. The 80 metre rule states that you cannot build a house above 80 metres from sealevel. I believe it is a good rule and you don’t see houses dotting the landscape all over Thailand disrupting the views. It is one of the things that keeps the place so beautiful.
Continueing past the tower, keep following the boundary markers and somewhere along the line, you must leave them and head left or west. We didn’t do this too well and anyone might have trouble so i really have to go up there and mark some trail through here because there the hills here separate into two ridges and we want the one to the west. (but the easier trail leads to the east) So, we had to do a little bushwhacking again and this time it took a bit longer but the girls were very game and not complaining at all. I was impressed.
As soon as you make the top of the western ridge, you find trail again and just continue following it north until you see Nai Harn lake. This is the lake where we hang out and jog and live near so it was like: Wow, that kind of wilderness is so close to the lake and we didn’t know it. We hit the road around the lake and turned right towards the Reggae Bar there. Our friend Big Bow was up already and calling out to us with his freindly laugh and greetings. We told him what we were doing and he just laughed harder.
I checked the trip computer again and now we were at 4.57 kms from the beginning. And for the third time, at sea level again. I believe this will be the last time we will be at sea level, until the end of the trail at the northernmost tip of Phuket at the Sarasin Bridge that we will be at sea level as this is a trail with a goal of hitting the high peaks of the mountains of Phuket and will strive to do so whenever possible. This is the end of Part 1 of Section A.
Turning left at the Reggae Bar, we cross the small bridge and go straight up the small dirt road just to the right of the new Hotel going up, up the hill. This is a steep road and once you get up there a bit, you see a yacht and have to wonder how they got it up there. We beat left on some concrete above the yacht and you’ll see a few houses that have been started but left abandoned. I would guess they were shut down becuase they are above the 80 metre line. We continue up westbound and go to the right of a small barbed wire fence heading for the corner of the trees. Turn right at the corner and continue the fairly steep ascent along the treeline and border posts there.
We were getting hungry at this point, so started looking for some shade with a view. AND a flat spot. Not so easy to find all 3 so we settled for shade, a somewhat flat spot, but you had to stand up on your tiptoes for the view looking west to the sea with Nai Harn beach off to the left. Had our breakfast of Cinnamon rolls that i had bought the morning before and some dates that the girls brought. High spirits all around and impressed with our 700 feet of elevation gain already since the lake only about a mile back.
Continuing the ascent with some decent trail along borders of land boundaries until we came to a small road that i have marked “sm road” as a waypoint. Continue north, heading for the waypoint marked “clear 1” and then you will see a better road. (the first, small one is really a 4-wheeler track), Follow the road up to the top and your high point at 820 feet.
We celebrated a bit at this high point before heading down only to see a group of about 20 4-wheelers heading up. (right) And just after that, since it was a Sunday, we saw a big group of mountain bikers doing some training or warming up with a little course they had set up on the road using coconuts for markers. We stopped and talked to them for a bit as I had hidden some water bottles here the day before and we stopped to fill our smaller bottles and get a good drink. The girls, who are also into mountain biking, spent some time finding out when they get together while i worked on the GPS as we were now within 50 metres of the end of this part 2 of section A at KATA VIEW X-ing.
I know i was only in the woods for a few hours but still almost stepped out in front of a motorbike coming up the road from Nai Harn village on the right. About 200 metres up the road to the left is a beautiful viewpoint called “Karon Viewpoint” with excellent views of Kata Noi beach, Kata beach and Karon beach. I took my family up here yesterday also. Possibly i shoud route this trail up there for the view but it is very touristy and i’m trying to stay away from that so will continue along my originally planned “red route” and cross the road, slightly to the right and jump across the drainage ditch then immedietly turn left after entering the small banana tree farm that someone has just recently planted.
From there, we head northeast following a small track but leaving it to follow the ridge that goes up just to the left of a new rubber tree plantings. Go to the left hand side of this and find some boundary markers and follow the track laid by the rubber farmers. Continueing up from the 640 foot elevation when you crossed the road. Near the top, you will have to leave the easy walking and cross the barbed wire fence up into some real jungle. When i first hiked this, i had no problems here but on Sunday, with the girls, we got off my track i guess and had to do some scrambling around and bushwhacking for a good 15 minutes before coming out on a small road leading down. I will go out today or tomorrow and fix the track on this as i know it’s not a tough route to follow. Probably i was just talking too much rather than concentrating on the terrain.
Gaining the track, we passed the highpoint here and headed down to an excellent road that crosses the mountains here and forms a link between the main road at Kata Hill, and the windy, back road, to the west that is the shortcut road from Nai Harn to Kata. This Nai Harn road has gotten some bad reviews lately as there were a few muggins late at night (after 2 AM) here including one Norwegian man was killed about a year ago. It is not travelled as much as before but is perfectly safe in the daytime.
Now, we turn right on the good gravel road and it bends to the left at a steep descent with great views of Nai Harn and Chalong Bay off to your right. We continue on to a low point where there are 2 rubber tree shacks up to the left and a good dirt track off to the right. I have this point marked as “NOOGO” on my GPS because THIS is the spot where i really want to turn right and head up to the top of the steep mountain there.
The first time I came here, there was another shack at the junction and a woman was bathing there and when i asked her if it was ok to go through, she said No! I was a bit persistant as i had never had anything but smiles from these farmers of the rubber, but she kept saying MiDai! which means: Cannot! Now, my Thai isn’t very good but I could tell she didn’t want me going through there. So, i’m thinking they must have something illegal growing up there or something and i left it alone and continued on the road which lead me all the way (another mile or two) to the KATA Hill road. But, i don’t like roadwalks, especially if they can be avoided so, went back 4 times to try exploring this valley and mountain where i really wanted the route to go. Each time, she was there and said “Mi Dai” and I had hoped to bring a Thai person who is bi-lingual along to ask why but never did.
But, today I had Kim who speaks pretty good Thai. So, we had to go search the woman out at the huts and Kim then asked her if we could go up there. Again she said no. But, this time when Kim asked her why, she said: “Because there’s nothing up there and if you go up, you will come back and be mad at me because you got lost” Well, we all had a good laugh over this. (Thai people love to laugh, especially at stupid farangs) Obviously she didn’t know about GPS and Google Earth and what we could do.
These are rustic rubber tree farmers who live in small corregated metal shacks with no electricity, no power tools of any kind, getting their water from the roof when it rains and using only machete’s and plastic buckets for collecting their rubber. They use coconut shells for collecting the rubber that drips from a cut they make in the tree. They have to make this cut (not sure why) at 4 AM. Then the cups (shells) fill up with the dripping rubber and they come back and dump them into the bucket. The pay is about $6 a day from what I hear and many of the workers are illegals from Myramar. Then they take the liquid and run it through a machine run by a hand crank that looks like the old style “wringer washer” we had in the 50’s. This gives them a flat piece of rubber about 1 foot by 2 feet rectangular that they can then stack on the back of their motorbikes and get them to market. I understand that they work for a commission with the landowners and can negotiate pay sometimes. But in a tourist area like Phuket, it is not easy to be able to afford food and clothes.
So, yesterday (Sept 25) I went out and went back to my exploring mode and made the right turn here and went up the track and, well it was incredible. AFter about 100 metres, there were no more rubber trees and i was in real jungle with footpaths worn in and I found paths going almost exactly where i wanted them. I wrote this up already in another entry and will paste it here:
Today, Sept 25th, 2008 I was out to do a piece of section between the NOGO waypoint, (where the woman told me I couldn’t go ) and Kata Hill near Pub Pla. It turned out as I thought and was beautiful with trail thru real jungle almost all the way.
I saved the track as “Sept-25-08” on MapSource and saved the profile screen and trip computer screen shot using “x-image” under Garmin/screen shots/profile nogo to kata and tripcomputer nogo to kata.
So, turning right off of the good road at the NOGO waypoint, I parked my motorbike on the left where the entrance to the two shacks with rubber tree workers living in them. I started up to the trail heading southeast on a very well worn footpath. 50 metres in, there were two girls sitting in a nice spot chatting and I continued straight as there was a possible right (disregard)
Then I got to another Y and made a left. There were 2 or 3 guys over there and I attracted the interest of all of these folks. Remember, I had asked 4 times before to explore this section to all negative answers, only finding out once Kim came and asked them why, and they told her that they were afraid I would get lost or hurt and the trail went nowhere!
I started the ascent now and continued on the trail. It wasn’t far off my original red trail track line that is on my GPS. I was just to the west of that line most of the way up that first climb. I had marked a few points that I was striving for on Google Earth and then transferred them to my new GPS. I had to do this the old fashioned way of entering each number but I will figure out an easier way one of these days. The first point I was going for, I had named “Try 1” and I got very near that point by staying right on trail. (I was perhaps 40 metres to the east when I passed it) Then I put the next point in as my “goto” and it was named “Try 2” I noticed I crossed my original Red Trail line while going up to this one but I was still on a slight trail through beautiful real Thai forest and not rubber trees for a change. (not knocking rubber trees, they are easy walking but so was this trail)
I crossed the red line again right before I came onto “try 2” waypoint. Just after reaching that waypoint, I continued on decent trail but found that I was going too far west and away from my planned route. So, I backtracked a bit, and headed back to the red trail line and found some good trail again. Continuing up the ridgeline, I came to a big tree which was near the top of a knob. Excellent. So, I stopped for a few minutes and got a drink and marked this waypoint as “top bigtree”
Then I kept following the ridge and trail but found once again, that I was going too far west and decided I must be following the wrong ridge. So, I backtracked BACK to the “top bigtree” point and found a slight trail leading northeast. My next point I had in there was “try top” but it really wasn’t on the ridge so I kept following the ridge which was leading me slightly east.
After a few hundred metres from here, I had to do a little bushwhacking but stayed on top and sure enough , a trail (slight) appeared here and there and I continued following it. Finally after about 15 minutes or maybe 20 from the big tree mark, I came to an OLD rubber tree plantation with big trees.
Up until this point, it has been all REAL JUNGLE and I wasn’t used to that and it felt great. I had trail most all the way too and this is what hiking is all about. So, now, I followed these big old rubber trees easily although they didn’t last too long and then the ridge dropped downhill pretty fast and there was a bunch of high grass. I had to backtrack again one more time as I was getting way west of where I really wanted the trail to go via the red trail line. But, the ridge wasn’t where the red trail line was so I was going the only way I could I guess.
I came to a small road that I marked “road 2” and it turned into a bigger one and I then put in the waypoint “pub pla” and headed towards it. But the road seemed to go to the west of the pub so I cut up through some steep hillside and got on another small ridge coming down and got to the pub pla. Then I decided I’d better go check out where that track came from so I headed southwest again. I then saw the way I should’ve come and marked the spot Ideai (with an I) so that I could find it easily next time.
In walking down the pub pla road, I went too far south and got on another road. Next time I should go to the west of the restaurant at the top and go down their driveway, to near the bottom I found the perfect spot to cross the hiway and marked it “come out here” . So, next time when I’m walking down their beautiful driveway (pub pla’s) near the end, I will head down a small gully or track to this waypoint and that is the end of this section “NOGO to KATA HILL”
This brings us to the end of Part 3 of Section A.
From this new exit point (“Come Out Here” waypoint). Be careful and cross the busy highway here. They are working on widening the road to 4 lanes. This is a busy connecting road between Kata/Karon/Patong with Chalong/Raiwai/Nai Harn areas.
Crossing the road unto a driveway just to the left and a big open dirt parking lot. Follow the lot over to the right where it goes up through some decent track/road although becoming overgrown. This leads up around and to the left passed some old temporary construction worker’s huts now abandoned. Go right past these huts and the bear right to where you can see a spot where a ‘dozer flattened out a spot for a possible house but never finished it.
From here, my original track went around to the right a bit and then up a fairly steep band heading up to the ridge. BUT, on this day I hiked with the 2 girls (Sept 21) I wasn’t remembering well and we started bushwhacking a little and saw a rock boulder field that was actually a stream bed in rainy weather. I should’ve known better but it was suggested we go that way. I have tried walking streambeds before and it is never much of a good idea. Too many big drops, waterfalls, and trees (blowdowns) blocking the way. This one was no different and it was slow going with me in front.
After about 100 metres of this, i climbed up a steep boulder and looked up to see a hord of the dreaded “Tor” or Large Poisonous Wasps that i had been warned about from the Hash House Harrier guys. They told me this was their number one worry out there. I had an encounter with one before on an exploratory hike and bitten on the finger. That time, my first immediate thought was “cobra” as it hurt really bad. The pain lasted 24 hours and really throbbed and hurt. I went back to the Hash House guys and told them i now know what they were talking about.
So, on this day, when i saw about 30 of them, I immedietly turned around, yelled “wasps, go down, FAST” I don’t think the girls believed me at first but then they saw a few of them circling my head. I was trying to swat them away and the two of them (i considered to be scouts or sentries) attacked and hit my thick ball cap 7 times. I knocked one down and hit it with my walking stick. It didn’t faze it and it got up again and came after me. Finally it got through and achieved it’s intention. It got me on the neck just below my hair and then the other one got me a few seconds later on the back of my head. I really started running then and so did Kim and Joanne.
Finally we were clear of them and we stopped to regroup. We then found my original way up there and went up into a spot and stopped to rest, talk about the attack, and have a drink. The pain didn’t lessen much at all in this time. Continueing up the ridge through old rubber trees here that are becoming overgrown and taken back to jungle. we had to cross a thicket where there was a boundary line to a small clearing the i had marked on my GPS before as “Small Road 1”
At this point i remember someone asking me how i knew where the heck i was going all the time. I explained that i originally drew my preferred route on Google Earth and transferred it to the GPS as a red line. (still on there so i could show them) Then, i came out again and came up with this route that we were on and placed waypoints where i thought they were needed. And after today’s walk, would have a track log of the actual walk to follow. This is a grey line on the kmz or kml file that i have created. I haven’t figured out yet how to upload that file to a downloadable place on the web yet but will eventually.
Ok, the small road, leads up to a bigger road that you must turn right on. That road goes over to an elephant riding camp. Today it was deserted except for a cook or two but last time i was here, there were many elephants and “mahouts” around.
A Mahout is a man who trains the elephant and they are together for life. The elephant listens to only him. He uses a small stick with a metal hook in it as a sort of whip to tell the elephant (or “Chang” if you speak Thai) when it is doing wrong. The Mahout made the elephant bow to me on one knee and told me i was going the wrong way as the road was over to the right. I said i didn’t want a road, and was going up to Big Buddha by the shortest possible route, in other words, straight up the ridgeline. They got a good laugh over that and told me to watch out for snakes. Now that got a good laugh from me as i had now been out about 14 or 15 days and saw 2 snakes and both were on a road, about 20 metres away and going as fast as they could away from me. I had yet to see a snake in the jungle and the Hash House Harriers told me that in their clubs 18 years of exsistance, no one had ever been bitten by a snake. So, rest assured it would be a rare occurance.
We followed a small road or track to the left of the elephant camp and came up to a small building or concrete tank and turned hard right here unto the ridgeline again. Now the going got a bit steeper although it was always in or near rubber trees which are easy to walk through. Finally the rubber trees ran out about 3/4 of the way up this big mountain. So, we had to bushwhack again. At this point, we were all pretty tired as we had been out walking/climbing/bushwhacking/hiking for about 8 hours with only 2 breaks. We got into some thickets that were pretty tough and again, i have to give these to women a lot of credit for staying positive and joking about things along the way.
Keep going up and up and eventually you will come to a Buddhists monks camp in the jungle complete with about 4 huts and a campfire area for cooking. 1st time through here, they were occupied and i think i scared them as i came right out of nowhere in the thick bush. This time there was no one around as it was a Sunday and a busy time for the Wat or Temple up at the top just below the actual statue of the Big Buddha.
Continuing up through their camp and you come out just below the toilets built for the tourists who come up to the top to see one of the best views in all of Phuket and the almost finished “Big Buddha” statue. It is 5 or 6 years in the making and should be completed within a year.
I have been up here many times with both Kim, whom i used to hike the road climb every Saturday for about a year with. And also my son Simon loves coming up here.
On this day, we saw a monk or two that we knew and told them about the wasp. They told us we really needed to see the big monk who would give us some protection from these terrible stinging wasps. So, we went and did the religious bowing and Sawadee Krups and were blessed by the monk who put a bracelet on each of us for protection. Then someone got the girls to go speak to the president of the Big Buddha statue association or something like that and I didn’t see them for about 1 1/2 hours while i took a badly needed rest.
This completes our trail and Part 4 of Section A and Completes Section A from the southern tip of Phuket at Prom Thep point to Big Buddha.
The Author “Fiddlehead” on one of the more scenic climbs.
In conclusion, Section A, from the southern tip of the island at Prom Thep to the top of the mountain at Big Buddha is broken up into 4 parts:
Part 1: The sea at the tip of the island to the Reggae Bar at Nai Harn lake: Distance 4.57 kms.
Part 2: Nai Harn Lake to KATA View X-ing: Distance from beginning: 7.8 kms or 3.23 from the end of Part 1
Part 3: KATA View X-ing to the road at KATA Hill: Distance from beginning: 12.45 or 4.65 kms from Kata View X-ing
Part 4: KATA hill road to Top of Big Buddha: Distance from beginning 14.47 kms or 2.02 very steep kms.
Here is a link to where you can download the .kmz file I created in Google Earth and you can look at the trail from above.
or, if you have the latest version of Google Earth, and you hold down the shift key while scrolling with the mouse wheel, you can see the climbs in 3D.
If you have any problems with the above link for the .kmz file, please comment so i can fix it. Thanks
Here is a link to Section B (next section) from Big Buddha to Patong.