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Phu Shee Fah
Showing the Way to Heaven

HAVE YOU EVER had a dream of just driving off into the sunset to wherever you want, without the worry of getting back to work to meet yet another deadline? Well just once in a while it's good to follow this dream. That's how you can see places you may never have thought of visiting such as the place where the mountains point towards heaven. One of those perfect picture postcard places is Poo Shee Fah, literally the mountain pointing to the sky. This remarkably photogenic natural phenomenon features on some of the Tourism Authority of Thailand's beautiful posters. But where is it? Nobody you ask will recognize the name, or even the area it's in. Even when located on a map Poo Shee Fah seems almost too remote to reach sitting as it does in the far east of Chiangrai province on the international border between Thailand and Laos.

A major part of the adventure of the mountain is just getting there. Chiang Khong is the most convenient town of any size to leave from, but the drive quickly takes one deep into the countryside. In August the hilltribes and the descendants of the former KMT militia are harvesting Loog Plup fruit and picking their coffee beans. The arrow straight lines of the vegetable gardens in the rich brown earth of the lower slopes of the hills speak of hours of backbreaking toil and make you all too grateful for your cushy job in an air-conditioned office.

Driving is hard work in the hills and the pangs of thirst and hunger make a stop at a noodle stall for a pick-me-up a welcome necessity. And what noodles they are! The noodle soup is a whole world, an entire culture apart from that served in the Chiangmai corner shop just a few hours back down the road.

As the afternoon grows late and the sun slides towards the western horizon, it's time to decide where to spend the night. Back to Chiang Khong or wait to see what may be around the next bend. That's when the sight of a small Mazda pickup truck bogged down in the mud of a steep access road draws the eyes on to a row of modest bamboo huts. Are we adventurous enough to stay here? And then suddenly you see the entrance to Poo Shee Fah. The steep rocky pathway tempts and beckons the traveller onwards towards the top. But it's darker now, one can hardly see what lies ahead. Tomorrow morning then, with an early start, and anyway there are those luxurious bamboo residences so conveniently close at hand.

Within an hour a 4 course Thai meal was prepared and gratefully devoured, and the resort's owner told us about the history of the area. The hut had an ong, the traditional Thai jar for bathing water, and a squat toilet. There was a coconut fibre mattress, pillows and quilts and a mosquito net. The coolness of the Poo Shee Fah Resort was a welcome change from the sweaty August heat of the city.

The next morning we were up and away at 6.30. The sturdy little Mazda truck took us part of the way up the rocky trail, but for the last 800 meters the trail became almost perpendicular and we had to walk. It sounds no distance at all but that last 800 meter stroll took over an hour. The mountains are hard places for the pampered lungs of city folk, but what a marvellous walk it was. The morning sun rose and strengthened painting the view below in a constantly changing palette of colors.

August is the off-season for visitors to Poo Shee Fah because of the almost daily downpours and in consequence the grass along the trail was lush, at shoulder height and wet from the night's moisture. We literally had to wade through it drenching our clothes which was fun. The mountain peaks all around were quite stunning as they poked enticingly through their veil of cloud only to disappear again. There are two paths to the top of Poo Shee Fah, and the most awesome of these approaches the final 50 meter high cliff with some staggering prospects of the valley below. And then, before we knew it we were atop Poo Shee Fah, on the very pinnacle of rock pointing up to heaven. Heaven seemed pretty close too, perched up there at 1,700 meters.

We sat on the black boulders that make up the summit and gazed down over the stunning drop into the void. There right below us was Lao, deep valleys and steep cliffs aswirl with the clouds and mist of morning. This part of Laos was sparsely inhabited and supplies hard to come by and our guide told us of the annual pilgrimage to Poo Shee Fah by the inhabitants, with pack mules, to barter or buy the dry goods that they could not obtain in their own remote countryside.

We had a great feeling having made the climb to the top of Poo Shee Fah, but we couldn't linger much though we hated leaving the fresh sweet air of the mountains. There may be better times to visit Poo Shee Fah than in the rainy season, but we loved the feeling of being rugged mountaineers, fighting through the jungles of tall grass and reaching the top without falling off the cliff!

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