Every year nearly a million people flock to Thailand’s Khao Khitchakut National Park in Chanthaburi on a spiritual journey. What is quite impressive about the number of visitors to the park, is that the park is only open to visitors for 2 months out of the year.
The journey to Khao Khitchakut is not exactly the calmest or most peaceful of trips. The journey begins with a truck ride through steep, one-laned mountain passes. While passengers hold on for dear life in the back of the pickup truck, the driver seems to do his best to give them a ride that they will not soon forget.
As you fly up the side of the mountain on what is nearly a one-lane-road, your driver will occasionally have to switch sides of the trail or pull over in order to let vehicles coming down the hill pass by safely as well. Most people begin the truck ascent as the sun is going down. The adventure would not be as fun in Thailand’s hellish heat and being at the top at night means you get to catch an amazing sunrise in the morning.
In total, the truck ride is about 8 km through the winding and twisting mountain roads at very high rates of speed. As you can probably guess, this can be terrifying for some visitors and it is not unusual to hear screams coming from the backs of the trucks. Eventually, you will reach a drop-off point and the rest of your excursion will be on foot.
On beginning the foot trek portion of the pilgrimage, you will pass through absolutely stunning surroundings. There are so many things to see and it is such an arduous journey for many, that it is hard to take in all of the sights with only one visit. We did not get a chance to see the beautiful 13-tiered Krathing Waterfalls as everyone was already pretty much exhausted by that point.
Wildlife and beautiful foliage surround you as you hike on. Shrines to Buddha and statues are all along the path which is also decorated with many other cultural items and the sound of bells ringing through the mountain was enough motivation to keep you moving. The bells rang out because as people pass them, they tap them with coins. Among the most popular sites on the trail is Khao Phra Bat, is at the peak of the mountain.
Khitchakut Temple on the peak of Khao Phra Bat is one of the locations of Lord Buddha’s footprint. It is believed that making the journey is the ultimate way to make merit and receive blessings. Some even believe that those who make the trip will be granted 1 wish per-year, as making the trip for some equates to kneeling in front of Buddha himself.
To get to Khao Phra Bat it is about a 1.2 km steep hike to get to the peak from where the truck drops you off. Once at the top, however, there are a great many things to see including awesome views of Chanthaburi and the great stone pagoda or floating stone, a spectacular natural wonder.
From the holy rock on the mountain top, it is about 4.5 km to get to the furthest part of the trek, it is here that you will find the wishing scarves. Along the narrow path to the wishing scarves, you run into several other small shrines with people praying and making offerings. You meander down the tiny forest trail as it winds up and down the mountain until finally, at long last, you come to the wishing scarves.
There will typically be black markers floating around the area that people use to write their names and wishes on the scarves. If you start your trek at the right time and are able to make it the 4.5 km before the sun comes up, this is the place where you will find some of the best sunrise views imaginable (providing it isn’t a foggy day).
After people make their wishes they generally just sit around and rest for a while and take a little bit of time to celebrate the accomplishment with family and friends, or take photos. Once you have rested as long as you need to, it is time to head back down the hill.
Now, while you may be thinking that the downhill trip is going to somehow be easier because you are going down instead of up, you’d be incorrect. As you go down you are constantly struggling against the stream of people going up. Having to continually slow down, speed up or stop going down the hill uses a tremendous amount of leg muscle and your legs become very fatigued on the way back.
Once you make it to the truck, you have completed your nearly 10 km walking adventure and can now settle in for round two of hauling ass through the mountains in the back of a truck, only this time downhill.
The trip was a long one but definitely one that everyone should try at least once if you are able. Not only do you get to visit a very unique place that not many people back home will have ever visited, for that day, but you also get to be a part of someone else’s beliefs and culture and it is a great way to show respect to both.
For those of you that are interested in making the trip, Khao Khitchakut is ONLY open until March 24, 2020, at which time it will close again until the beginning of 2021.