The best in nature and culture Thailand has to offer
When it gets too hot to stay in Chiangmai city, no worries,
just go to Doi Inthanon National Park a short 90 kilometers away. Bring
a jacket, believe it or not, you will need it.
We load the pick-up
truck and head to the highest mountain in Thailand at Doi Inthanon National
Park. The park is very large with no public transportation so if you want to visit the park best to rent a motorbike or better yet take a 2 or 3 day tour or trek.
Before I tell you more about the park I need to mention that I speak Thai and live in Chiang Mai since 1989. I have visited the park hundreds of times through the years. Many in the park do not speak English, their are local guides available but only a few speak English.
My suggestion if you do not speak Thai is to do the 1 or 2 night Home Stay at the home of a local Karen Hill Tribe English Speaking Guide who speaks perfect English. The guides village is away from the normal tourist areas in beautiful setting. As this is a private Home Stay with local Karen hill tribe guide, you will have lots of time to discuss with your guide the local hill tribe life and the surrounding forests. You will meet his family and partake in daily life. Your guide will also discuss with you the different trails and their difficulty and you can then decide which trail to hike and for how long. This can all be discussed with your guide once you arrive at the bungalows in the park. You can then work with your Karen guide picking and roasting coffee, feeding fish at the trout fish farm, learn weaving with a back strap loom, plant or harvest rice in the fields or hike in the forest for 2 to 6 hours with you guide. The itinerary can be changed to meet your desires.
Guests with Karen host family
WARNING: If going by motorbike DO NOT rent a automatic transmission motorbike. This is because when you go down the steep hills the automatic motorbike goes into nutural. You will not have back pressure from the motor to slow you down and only the brakes will slow you down. Brakes may overheat and fail. Rent a automatic clutch motorbike so you can down shift gears to help slow you down. A Honda Dream or Wave works great.
Soon after entering the park gate, the road climbs steeply through a
cutting before leveling out, passing the Doi Inthanon National Park Information
Center, overlooking the Mae Klang river on the left. The road passes
through open dry forest and after crossing over to the left bank, follows
the course of the river, overlooking it. In the dry season, the leaves
of the trees become yellow and red, before being shed.
As the road climbs gradually, an evergreen gallery forest begins develop
along the banks of the river, supporting many tall and stately trees.
Soaring birds of prey can sometimes be seen over the steep ridge on the
north side of the road. The more level areas in the vicinity of the river
are now cultivated and support small areas of orchard or vegetable gardens.
Above the waterfall, the road once again crosses over the Mae Klang
River and continues to ascend the mountain, following the north bank.
The surroundings change very abruptly in character, and pines predominate
in many areas.
The next area supports Hmong and Karen villages, there are many government
offices and residential buildings, including the headquarters of the
National Park and various highway and construction works. Here is where
the campsites are but you first must check in at the Park Headquarters.
There are also cabins for rent however most are rented well in advance.
Here we are above 1500 meters and the temperature is like a beautiful
spring day. Time to find a camping spot. Its lunchtime, so we travel to the Karen hill tribe village area of Baan Mae Klang Luang at the 26 Kilometer roadmarker Here there are several restaurants and a coffee and waffle shop in a beautiful setting.
From here the road winds uphill sharply and past a park checkpoint.
Just a little further is a mountain ridge with excellent vistas on both
sides of the road. If the weather is clear, at one spot you can see the
city of Chiangmai on your right. Just a little further on your left is
the twin Chedi dedicated to the King and Queen. These beautiful Thai
structures are a must visit. You will need to walk up several flights
of steps to reach them but well worth it.
Next stop is the summit. Here we get out of our vehicle and walk up
the steps to the shrine dedicated to the Lanna Thai King who first designated
this area as a national park. Walk behind the shrine to a concrete pillar
and stand on it. You are now on the highest point in Thailand.
We departed Chiangmai at 9 am it was already 35 degrees C. and started
the short 1 1/2 hour drive to the park. We left Chiangmai by highway
108 through Hang Dong and Sanpatong and then about one kilometer before
Chom Tong turned right on highway 1009. There is a big sign in English
stating "Doi Inthanon" where you turn so it's easy to find.
Continue 8 kilometers to where the road forks and then keep to the right
where you will see the park entrance. The entrance fee is 300 baht and
they have free maps and information for you that you will need. A copy
of the park map can be seen online and might be a useful reference as
you read this article.
to know the park rules that levy stiff fines if broken (such as for picking
flowers); these rules are written on the back of all the maps and brochures.
A local guide is required for all trails in the park and availabe at the Gew Mae Pan trail and Baan Mae Klang Luang. If you are cought on the trail without a local guide the fine is 2000 Thai baht each.
After getting all the information we needed we headed straight to Baan Mae Klang Luang at the 26 Kilometer roadmarker
for accommodations reservations where we both noticed a thermometer and found
it was a perfect 26 degrees C. We decided to spend our first night in
a tent and second night in a bungalow. We made our reservations for the
bungalow with All Thailand Experiences a week ahead of our trip to the park. Since we were going to ride around the park the Coffee and Waffle shop
kept our bags for us and we proceeded to the camping area next to a beautiful stream in a garden setting to pitch our
tent. Here they have hot showers and toilets close by to use for free Tents can be rented for 200 baht and blankets at 20 baht each.
Choice of several bungalows from rice field view to stream side. Each bungalow has 2 queen sized beds, hot shower and western style toilet. 3 bedroom bungalows available.
After putting up the tent we were getting hungry and headed back to
see our friend
and birding guide Boontom and went to eat at a restaurant serving delicious Thai food at great
prices near the hydroelectric plant. While having lunch we were told that a 7- man soccer match was
being played this afternoon on the soccer field next to the restaurant
on the Park Headquarters grounds. The match was between a Karen hill
tribe village and a Hmong hill tribe village located in the park so we
stayed and watched the action under the shade trees drinking ice-cold
beer. We made plans to do some hiking on the Gew Mae Pan Trail near the
Doi Inthanon summit (above 2000 meters tomorrow) so today was for relaxing,
which I myself am very good at doing.
Just before dark we ate our dinner, again at the bungalowsa at Baan Mae Klang Luang, got our
things from the Coffe and Waffle Shop and went to our camp. In May there
aren't many people in the park so a secluded place to put our tent was
easy to find. We built a nice campfire and I spent the evening reading
while my wife did her crochet. The only sound was that of the crickets
and with the smell of pine and clean fresh air drifting off to sleep
was a total pleasure I haven't experienced in many months while living
in the crowded city. The next morning we awoke early and packed up the
tent and returned to the Coffee and Waffle Shop for a great cup of coffee and delicious waffle and again he kept our bags for us.
I checked the thermometer and it was a cool 18 degrees C.
The bungalows have a Thai food restaurant, fresh coffee and waffle shop plus a general store for beer and snacks.
We had our breakfast at the Coffee and Waffle Shop at Baan Mae Klang Luang headed toward the summit
passing fruit and flower stands owned by Hmong Hilltribe people. Here
we stopped to have a look and across the street were green houses filled
with beautiful flowers. The growing of flowers is a Royal Project so
the hill tribe people can live in harmony with the park's conservation
plans instead of doing their traditional slash and burn farming.
The 2.5-kilometer Gew Mae Pan Trail begins about half a kilometer past
the twin Chedis at kilometer marker 42. We decided to leave our vehicle
at the Chedi and walk the horseshoe shaped trail to the end and return
the same way. This turned out to be a good idea as the mountains were
covered with mist and clouds and the view although beautiful was limited
on our way out. On the way back the clouds had lifted and the view was
The trail begins through dense forest with lush ferns and moss covering
the tree trunks. Wild orchids and colorful birds are plentiful. It's
uphill most of the way, crossing streams and climbing over and ducking
under logs. The temperature is perfect for hiking and the sounds of the
many birds and creeks are very enjoyable. After about an hour you come
upon a clearing looking toward the west. When we arrived clouds were
rushing up from the valley floor to meet us.
The next portion of the trail is through dense forest again crossing
several streams. The park has provided small bridges to make crossing
the streams easy. The last part of the trail is through a lovely evergreen
forest with pine trees much different and larger than those found at
We returned the way we came following the trail to the clearing and
this time the clouds had lifted leaving a spectacular view of the valley
floor and surrounding mountains. Two hawks were circling above, diving
to the valley floor then lifting again on the air currents along the
cliff edge, their screeching echoing through the canyon below.
We spent a total of six hours on the trail and saw only two other people.
They were Thai photographers doing a story for a nature magazine. We
could have stayed longer but hunger was setting in so we returned to
the restaurant at the Baan Mae Klang Bungalows.
This evening was spent in our comfortable bungalow. We made reservations
the day before. The bungalow has electricity and is equipped with a king
size bed in the bedroom and a single bed with table and chairs on the
porch. It has simple bathroom with shower and western style
The next day we spent visiting the many waterfalls in the park. The
first one was very close to our bungalow and actually two waterfalls
named after the King and Queen and called Siriphum waterfalls. The next
two waterfalls were also close together and the road getting there was
a little difficult but worth the effort. We went just past the second
check point at kilometer marker 38 and turned left toward Mae Chaem and
traveled about 8 kilometers. Here there is a sign where you turn right
and travel the dirt road for 2 kilometers to the ranger station. From
there it's a 500-meter walk to Mae Pan waterfall and 200 meters to Huai
Forest hike at Doi Inthanon Nationap Park video
Our last stop was on the way out of the park at Mae Ya waterfall. To
get there you need to go back to Cham Tong and just before you get to
highway 108 you will see the sign Mae Ya waterfall. Follow the signs
for about 14 kilometers from here. There will be a checkpoint where they
collect a 200 baht fee to enter. Just tell them you have been staying
in the park and show them the receipt and they will let you in for free.
This waterfall is great for photographs and over 250 meters tall. Try
to go on a weekday, as the weekends are very crowded with Thais picnicking
We had a great time although we didn't see everything such as Brichinda
cave. We would also like to spend some time bird watching. The Park staff
was a great help and very friendly and I would recommend this trip to
Karen hill tribe villagers geting the rice fields ready for planting video