White Elephant mountain is the highest peak at Thong Pha Phum National Park on the western border of Thailand. I went there last year with some friends to do a really cool hike. The park is heavily protected and you can only hike for a couple months per year. On top of that, they only allow 60 people per day on the trail and you must go with a military guide because it’s right on the border with Myanmar. It’s also VERY Thai; there is almost no information about it in English online. In fact, it’s so Thai that when we got to the gate of the park, they didn’t know how to charge Neil and me to enter because the rangers had never had to deal with a foreigner. The price was supposed to be higher for us, but they were so confused that we just got the Thai price.
We spent the night outside of Kanchanaburi before entering the park and went to a little local market in the morning to watch the sunrise. The road to the park is really windy and dangerous with like one guard rail. To add to the danger factor, we let the guy with the least amount of driving experience (Bom) drive the car. The night before he hit some rail road tracks going about 75mph and kept the car in control when we landed on the other side, so we figured he could handle the switchbacks. Upon arrival, we paid our Thai entrance fee and stopped at the rangers’ station to get set up with a guide. I’m not really sure what happened here because it was all in Thai. I spent most of my time looking at the terrarium full of dead beetles and this diagram of footprints. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any wild elephants or sun bears, probably because they are all dead.
We drove to the hillside village where we met our guide, porters and a couple other people who were in our group. We saw our guide like three times on the whole hike because the other people in our group were so slow that we hiked away from them like 2 minutes into the trek.
We hired porters to carry our food, water, tents and sleeping stuff. Technically we could have carried all of it ourselves, but when it’s like $15 for someone else to carry it up and down, it’s tough to turn down. They also set up/broke down our tents. These guys were unbelievable. They carried 50 kilos each (over 100 pounds) wearing a pair of old broken Crocs and did the whole thing in about half the time it took us.
We hiked through forest, grassland, tall reeds, and scrub. The temperature was great and there was a nice breeze all day. It took us about 4 hours to hike up to our camp. In the picture you can see our camp in the small clearing on the bottom (with all the tents already set up by the porters) and the path up to the summit along the mountain ridge.
We took a short break at camp and took a nap since we’d only gotten about 4 hours the night before. We planned to hike to the summit to see the sun set. It’s hard to see from the picture, but on either side of that path, it is a steep drop off to either side, so it was fairly challenging. There were also some sections that we had to climb up the rocks. The guides had ropes tied up to the rocks so that made it easier.
The last part up to the summit was really steep and was all loose soil. Prim, Neil and I were fine, but Bom was wearing Converse with no tread. For the parts that he wasn’t crawling on his hands and knees, the guide literally had to drag him through the dirt. That guy earned his fee on this section of the hike.
We got to the top right on time and were able to watch the sun set over the Thai/Burmese mountains. It was so peaceful. Then it was time to hike back down to camp and cook dinner. Bom slid on his ass for most of the way, but we all got down safely. I brought stuff to make s’mores. These things are so American, it was even a first for Neil. I couldn’t find graham crackers, but I found something that was close enough.
Prim and I were fine in our tent, but they were definitely not made for someone Neil’s height so he had a rough night. We started the next day pretty early, and it was cold so it was nice to hike. Luckily our only job was to wake up and go. The porters took care of everything else, and then blew past us on the trail on the way back down. The return trip was obviously way easier and only took about 2 hours.
This was a really cool experience and I definitely recommend it if you can figure out how the heck to get there and arrange it.