Khao Khitchakut National Park – Home of 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 Khao Phra Bat mountain top Buddha footprint.
The temple is built atop Khao Phra Bat, 1,085 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 the mad drive or sweaty hike up the mountain, will last long in your memory.
Why is Ascending Khao Phra Bat Popular?
For many Thais in this corner of Thailand, paying their respects at the Buddha footprint at Khao Khitchakut National Park is an annual ritual. The act of ascending the steep hill to the highest point in the park, called Khao Phra Bat, is considered a very noteworthy deed.
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 National Park not being on Koh Chang. In fact it’s located in neighbouring Chanthaburi 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 at the summit of Khao Phra Bat. It’s geared up for the thousands of Thai pilgrims who go there. So there’s very little signage in English.
When to Visit Khao Khitchakut National Park
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 in Khao Khitchakut National Park on foot in June. Stunning views, but be prepared to get soaked in sweat.
How to Visit Khao Khitchakut National Park
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. Then heading to the starting point for the pilgrimage at Phluang temple near the entrance to Khao Khitchakut National Park. 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, at the foot of Khao Khitchakut, 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 to the summit of Khao Khitchakut.
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.
Assuming that you have survived the hike to the mountain top, 1085 metres above sea level, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views south over Tha Mai town an Chanthaburi city. On a clear day, the coastline and ocean at Laem Sing is visible. That’s in addition to the sight of dozens of people praying around Khao Phra Bat’s 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 Phra Bat.