Doi Inthanon National Park – “The Roof of Thailand”

When you get off the beaten track you will find a rare vacation site that tempts you with its natural wonders – Doi Inthanon National Park in Northern Thailand, is a good example, as it is a rare gem of scenic beauty with the wonders of nature and of man. Doi Inthanon (2,565m – 8,415 ft.) is the highest mountain in Thailand and its surrounding areas are designated as the Doi Inthanon National Park. The park itself lies roughly 90 minutes’ drive southwest of Chiang Mai and is popular for its magnificent waterfalls, flora and excellent views. You can trek all the way to the top, where stately chedis (a domed shaped Buddhist memorial shrine) have been erected in honor of the royalty.

Doi Inthanon National Park is a true jewel of natural beauty, consisting of rugged mountainous terrain blanketed by lush tropical forests and dotted with mighty rivers and majestic waterfalls. The trek up Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain peak in all of Thailand provides breathtaking views as well as many interesting and unique sidepaths where you’ll see and enjoy aspects of nature (and some of man) which would be difficult to find anywhere else in the world.

This National Park is also home to a wide variety of animal species. Although many of the large animals are no longer found in the park, but it is still home to a number of different animal groups. Asiatic Black Bears, Barking Deer and Chinese Flying Squirrels can be seen, living alongside a large variety of primates including Gibbons, Macaques, Leaf Monkeys and over 30 species of bats.

Napapon Chedi - dedicated to the Queen of Thailand

Napapon Chedi – dedicated to the Queen of Thailand

Doi Inthanon National Park is also the best area in Thailand for bird watching, with over 300 different species making their homes among the trees The Park’s protected status makes it perhaps the best place in Thailand for bird watching. The summit area, which is higher than any other in site in Thailand, provides some of the most memorable bird watching on the mountain, perhaps even the whole country; Chestnut-tailed Minla, Green-tailed Sunbird, Rufous-winged Fulvetta and Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush are very abundant in this area and both Speckled and Ashy Woodpigeon are frequently seen.

The National Park is home to many scenic waterfalls, including one of the country’s most beautiful waterfalls – Mae Ya, Mae Glang, Wachiratharn, Siripoom and Huay Zai Luang. Visitors to the park can swim or picnic at some of these falls, and they are quite popular in the summer months. The park is the source of many rivers including Mae Klang, Mae Pakong, Mae Pon, Mae Hoi, Mae Ya, Mae Chaem, Mae Khan where boating, swimming and surfing can be enjoyed by experienced sportsmen. , There are numerous caves in the National Park. Not too far from the first check point, Km. 8, then is the huge cave, “Borrijinda”, with several kilometers deep, many beautiful stalactites and stalagmites called “Nom Pha” – milk of the cliff — in the northern Thai language, underground stream of such purity that light sparkles from the surface like a million diamonds.

On the summit of Doi Inthanon Mountain is the Royal Chedi, from which you can have a sweeping and scenic views rich natural valleys below. This chedi (stupa) –  (Napapon Phoom –siri-Chedi erected in 1992) near the summit of Doi Inthanon is dedicated to the Queen of Thailand commemorating her 60th birthday The chedi contains a 3m tall Buddha image and is decorated with interesting tiled murals. Nearby a similar chedi was built for the king and contains Buddha images and murals. However, cloud and mist cover is the norms and visibility may be poor which would hamper your sighting and the possibility of a good photo opportunity.

Buddha image in the Queen's chedi

Buddha image in the Queen’s chedi

One of the most scenic and rewarding walks in the park is a new trail which begins a short distance up the main summit road from Napamaytanidol. The path leads for a kilometer or more through dense, moist evergreen forest, then emerges and follows the top of a steep slope bordering the canyon headwaters of the Mae Pan River. Dotted with red rhododendron, the trail proceeds southward for another kilometer with fine, open views to the west, then re-enters the forest and eventually terminates at Napamaytanidol Chedi. Two hours would allow a leisurely walk with camera stops.

There is also a Karen weaving village near the park, Ban Pha Mon, which is well worth a visit for textile lovers. Also on the road from the ranger station is a Hmong market, which sells produce from the Royal Project and Hmong villages around Mae Chaem. Actual Hmong hill tribe people live there and it is worth a stopover to see and photograph their colorfully embroidered clothing.

The most convenient and advisable way to go to Doi Inthanon National Park is to participate in a guided tour with helpful guides that would make your trip more interesting.  But getting there by yourself is also enjoyable. Follow Highway 108 from Chiang Mai. At Km. 57 just 1 km. before Chom Thong District, turn right to Highway 1009 for 8 km. to the fork and turn right to the summit. The total distance is 106 km. As some sections of the road are steep, a good car and an experienced driver are needed.

Also, from Chiang Mai town, you may also take a bus to Chom Thong which leaves regularly from just inside the Chiang Mai Gate at the south moat. From Chom Thong, there are regular songthaeos (mini-buses) to Mae Klang Waterfall, where you can take another songthaeo to Doi Inthanon.

There are fully furnished log cabins, or bungalows for rent at two sites in the park and at least one formal campsite. Bookings can be made up to 60 days in advance, with payment due three days after booking. Adjacent to the Hmong village, Ban Khun Klang, behind Park Headquarters, is a large compound with 11 guest houses available for public rental. Electricity, beds and bedding are provided in all units. Arrangements for guest house rental should be made at Park Headquarters.

The temperature in the park itself averages a pleasant 23 degrees Celsius all year round – But, since the Doi Inthanon Peak  is located at 2,565 meters (8,415 ft.) above the sea level, the summit at the mount has cold weather and high humidity throughout the year. In winter, the temperature there can be below zero. And in summer, despite hot weather in central Chiang Mai and nearby districts, it is still freezing on the top of Doi Inthanon peak and visitors should be prepared with proper and suitable clothing.

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