Yesterday I had come up from Bangkok to Lom Sak in Phetchabun. Today I’m going to experience the beautiful mountains and cool climate of Khao Kho, which is a favourite with Bangkok people escaping the crowds, the smog and the heat. I’m interested in visiting the site at Khao Kho – Thailand’s forgotten war.
This mountainous area is also famous for being the battleground in the decades long combat between the Royal Thai Army and the Thai communist fighters. This sounds interesting.
On the road early
After an early breakfast, I’m picked up by a car with a smiling driver and just after sunrise we’re driving out of the Nattirat Hotel.
Initially we’ll heading south through Lom Sak then turning right onto the major highway between Khon Kaen and Phitsanulok and heading west towards the mountains.
Nui, my guide for the day, is an ex-army driver and a former monk so I’m happy to see that he’s driving with a mixture of competence and serenity which suits me just fine.
This is farming country and as we drive through the small villages, already there are people in the fields and driving farm trucks and tractors. Their day begins with the sun but as we get closer to the mountains, it becomes cloudy.
The straight road of the valley gives way to hill country and soon we’re winding up into the mountains. The farms are replaced by the dark green of lush vegetation and thick stands of trees as we gain altitude and look back on the views of the plains stretching below.
The scenery is constantly changing
It’s an interesting drive with small villages nestled amongst the dense bush and the occasional Thai style coffee shop with a few cars parked outside. We stop at one small café and enjoy a very pleasant Caffe Yen – Iced coffee.
The staff engage in a conversation with Nui while I sit outside and watch the world go by. Later he explains that they want to know where I’m from, did I have a ‘good heart’ and what did I think of Phetchabun. Thai’s are very curious people.
We’re back on the road again still getting higher, and we soon turn left, leave the highway and drive to the south. The sky clears, the views open up and we see small towns, villages and resorts scattered across the hillsides. The views around us are breathtaking.
Our first stop on the mountain is at a small collection of restaurants for lunch. It’s noticeably colder up here and the air is fresher and less humid.
As I’m experiencing in most places, the food in rural Thailand is excellent and great value for money and this place is no different.
The site of Thailand’s forgotten war
We’re near the Itti Military Museum where, between 1968 and 1981, the fight against the communists took place. It is named after Colonel Itti Simarak who led the troops that won the decisive battle and reclaimed Khao Kho back from communist power.
This was an important moment in Thai military history with about 2,000 people dying during the insurgency.
Weapons of several kinds are in the museum building including an F5 fighter aircraft, cannons, an infantry fighting vehicle and the remains of a tank.
I’m more interested in the observation post right on the top of the mountain so we head up there.
The battlements are really thought-provoking and the views from the top are quite incredible. Surprisingly there’s no one about so I’m free to wander around.
I’m curious about a small orange sign on the edge of the jungle about 50 metres down so I walk down to get a closer look.
Oops! It’s actually a sign warning of land mines so I carefully retrace my steps and pick my way gingerly back to the compound.
A really dumb thing to do. It’s time to leave before I do harm to myself. Nui just smiles and carefully drives down the mountain.
It’s time for more food
It must be meal time again so we pull off the road to (yet) another group of restaurants. Most of the visitors are Thai and food is really important to them so the food is great pretty much everywhere up here.
Phetchabun is famous for growing tamarind so this time I buy some souvenir packets to try over the next few days.
Then we’re back on the road and descending from the mountains to the valley below.
As we drive across the valley towards Lom Sak, work in the fields is coming to an end for the day. Trucks and tractors are back on the road
Soon we’re back in hot and humid Lom Sak after an interesting day in a cool climate.