Khao Khitchakut – The Buddhist Stairway to Heaven
Khao Khitchakut National Park, 28km north of Chanthaburi, is one of the smallest national parks in Thailand. Whilst the park is home to wild elephants and there’s also a very nice, 13 level waterfall, Nam Tok Krathing, it’s claim to fame is the hilltop temple and Buddha footprint.
The temple is built atop a hill, over 1,000 metres above sea level. It is here, next to a giant boulder, that Buddha is said to have left a footprint. Reaching the peak is seen as an act of devotion and perseverance. The views from the top and also the experience of getting to the top of the hill will last long in your memory.
For many Thais in this corner of Thailand, paying their respects the the Buddha footprint is an annual ritual. The act of ascending the steep hill is considered a very noteworthy deed. And visiting the footprint is the nearest you can get to meeting the Lord Buddha. As a reward for your perseverance, it is also believed that Buddha grants people who make the trek one wish.
Remember to use it wisely. Wishing for a cold beer and sunscreen probably isn’t what he had in mind.
Because of the spectacular nature of this trip, I’ve added it to the site, despite Khao Khitchakut not being on Koh Chang or even in Trat province. You’ll need to arrange a Thai guide / driver to take you there. A guide is better, as very few foreigners visit the Buddha footprint. It’s geared up for the thousands of Thai pilgrims who go there. So there’s very little signage in English.
But you’ll also have to plan to visit between late January and mid-March. As the easier way to get to the top, a combination of pick up truck and on foot, is only permitted for a couple of months a year.
Hence very large crowds, especially at weekends and early in the visiting season. However, the temple is open 24 hours a day during this period. Many people choose to go up late night, make merit and then see the sunrise before coming down.
Having said that, it is possible to visit at any time of year. Which isn’t often mentioned. The catch is that you have to walk the entire way to the top, around 10km (or 14km to the very end of the trail) and then all the way back down again.
Which is why very few people visit outside the main opening period. The video below is of a group who were in Chanthaburi for a fruitarian retreat and did the trek on foot in June. Stunning views, but be prepared to get soaked in sweat.
How to Visit Khao Khitchakut
You’ll have to go during the peak season, mid January to late March, as there isn’t enough time to visit if you just plan on walking up the entire way and getting back to Koh Chang the same day. Tour agents on Koh Chang will be able to arrange private transport for you. Or contact my friend Teerasak (Thomas) the tour guide who runs private tours on Koh Chang.
Doing the trip in a day means taking the first ferry off the island and then heading to the starting point for the pilgrimage at Phluang temple. It’s around 90 minutes drive from the mainland pier, including time to stop for a coffee on the way.
4WD and Hike to Buddha’s Footprint
A large car park at Phluang temple, just outside Khao Khitchakut National Park, is the setting off point for the hair raising 8km uphill drive. Passengers sit in the back of open topped 4 wheel drive pick up trucks. These are 100 Baht per person and can seat between 8 – 12 people in the back. It’s like being on a dusty roller coaster and the driver hurtles around bends, often on the wrong side of the road, but somehow manages to miss fellow drivers coming in the opposite direction.
The pick up trucks stop around 1.2km from the Buddha footprint, and a further 4.5km from the very end of the trail. From here you go on foot.
There are plenty of food and drink stalls here and also lining the footpath. Many Thais will happily do a tough walk providing there’s a plentiful supply of snacks en-route.
This is a steep walk. Most people will need to stop and take frequent breaks. And you’ll pass Thai families almost carrying elderly members up the hill – such is the importance of reaching the top.
As you walk you’re accompanied by the sound of bells. The trail is lined by hundreds of bells that devotees will tap three times with a small stick. If that wasn’t enough your sense of smell will be overpowered by the burning incense sticks and thousands of fragrant carnations and marigold flowers that are strewn beside the path.
Having survived the hike, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views over Chanthaburi city and, on a clear day, south towards the sea. That’s in addition to the sight of dozens of people praying around the Buddha footprint and hundreds, if not thousands, queuing patiently to take their turn.
The footprint lies at the base of a huge boulder. You’ll see people kneeling, praying and offering yellow marigold flowers. Nearby are huge money trees. People will also donate money to the temple by placing banknotes on their branches.
Make at Wish at the Red Cloth
Having reached Buddha’s footprint and paid your respects, you have been granted a wish. However, in order for the wish to become reality you now need to undertake a further, tougher, 4km hike to the red cloth ‘Pa Daeng’. This walk is on an undulating trail through the jungle. On the way you’ll pass numerous small shrines where devotees will take a break and make offerings or pray.
The red cloth is just that. A long piece of red cloth that runs between trees and is covered in the wishes of visitors. You can find an empty space and write your wish on the cloth. Or use one of the smaller pieces of red cloth that are on hand. Write it on this and ties it to the branch of a nearby tree.
Having made your wish it’s time to retrace your steps and head back the same way down Khao Khitchakut.