Doi Inthanon National Park: The Complete Guide

Sunset behind stupas in Doi Inthanon National Park, Thailand


 wichianduangsri / Getty Images

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Doi Inthanon National Park

Address
119 หมู่ที่ 7 Tambon Ban Luang, Amphoe Chom Thong, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50270, Thailand
Phone +66 53 286 729

Located just 37 miles from Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, Doi Inthanon (pronounced doy in-ta-no-n) National Park is home to the country's tallest and most prominent mountain, Doi Inthanon, standing at 8,415 feet (2,565 meters) high. This 186-square-mile (482-square-kilometer) park is actually one of the few places in Thailand where you can see and smell pine trees, as the high altitude provides a cooler climate than what is typically experienced in the rest of the country. The mild weather pattern makes the park the perfect sanctuary for diverse species of birds, reptiles including brown tree dragons, and mammals like clouded leopards. Of Thailand’s many national parks, Doi Inthanon National Park, established in 1972, is one of the busiest, attracting both local residents, as well as tourists, due to both its proximity to the city and its natural wonders. Take a self-guided car trip to the top of the mountain, hire a guide, and hike one of the park's nature trails or swim and picnic beneath a glissading waterfall on your visit to this park.

Things to Do

Many people visit Doi Inthanon National Park to escape the city and get in touch with nature. Doi Inthanon's hiking trails allow you to do just that. While shorter trails can be accessed on foot by yourself, longer trails, like the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail, can only be tackled by hiring a guide. Guides hang out at the trailhead, making themselves easy to hire. Multiday treks that take you to the Karen village, a village rarely visited by travelers, can also be arranged through an outfitter.

Two sacred stupas, called the "Two Chedis" are a popular focal point for day-trippers. The well-manicured monuments are situated on the main road, 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the summit of Doi Inthanon. One was constructed in 1987 in honor of King Bhumibol’s 60th birthday. The other was built in 1992 in honor of Queen Sirikit’s 60th birthday. Escalators make the chedis accessible for people who can't climb the many stairs to get the best views.

You can also drive up the main road to the top of the highest peak, and then get out and snap some photos at 8,415 feet. At the top, there are paved trails, making it easy to get around. You may even encounter a Buddhist monk on your stop-off.

The park is home to several waterfalls, including the easiest to get to, the Mae Klang Waterfall. This large waterfall is located near the park gate, where you can swim in the pool below or picnic on its banks. Numerous other waterfalls are scattered throughout the park and can be driven to or hiked to, accompanied by a guide.

During late January and early February, a seasonal attraction turns the park pink. For only a few weeks, the native Siamese sakura trees show their blossoms. Combine this sight with a birdwatching trip to round out a full visit to the park.

Best Hikes & Trails

A few nature trails in Doi Inthanon National Park will lead you along mountain ridges and through dense, lush forests. These trails are well-built and maintained by the locals and most of the longer hikes require hiring a guide at the trailhead.

  • Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail: The most popular trail in the park, this 1.5-mile (2.5-kilometer) loop can only be tackled with a local guide. It's an easy to moderate walk on a well-maintained path that offers expansive views. This trail traverses the home of the rare Chinese goral (a goat-like undulate), though sightings are rare. Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail is closed during the monsoon season, from June through November, for reforestation.
  • Pha Dok Siew Waterfall Trail: This 1.6-mile (2.6-kilometer) trail takes you by a multi-tiered waterfall and is easily accessed off of the main road. The trail ends at Mae Klang Luang Village, lending you a view of the rice fields on the hillside during the rainy season. A local guide can be hired to hike alongside you at the trailhead.
  • Angka Nature Trail: A short, circular boardwalk trail lies just under the summit of Doi Inthanon peak. It offers a very easy hike through lush fern forests and is the highest hiking trail in the park. During the rainy season, this trail can be surreal and also very slippery.

Where to Camp

There is one designated campground located near the park headquarters that provides tents sites. It's well equipped with clean bathrooms, hot showers, picnic tables, and power sockets to charge your electronics. Also located throughout the campground are coolers stocked with ice for the taking. You can rent tents, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, and pillows at the park headquarters, or use your own gear and simply reserve your site. Don’t expect backcountry forest camping here, as the campground is located only about a third of a mile (500 meters) from the headquarters area. The convenience of a restaurant is located nearby.

The campground area also offers the option to sleep in rustic bungalows of various sizes, however, reserving them before arrival is difficult for tourists. The reservation requires payment via direct debit, more easily accomplished if you have a Thai bank account. You can always take a chance by asking about availability at the park headquarters when you arrive, and just pay on the spot. Weekends are usually full.

Where to Stay Nearby

Most accommodations located near the park are situated just on the outskirts of the city of Chiang Mai. Choose from glamourous bungalows to simple room stays, with lodging options that offer additional activities, making them more than just a sleeping place.

  • Hot Coffee Guest House and Resort: The Hot Coffee Guest House is a backpacker's style resort, complete with a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can choose from accommodations like a deluxe room with a king-size bed, private flush toilet, and refrigerator; a river view bungalow with a queen-size bed, private flush toilet, hot water shower, refrigerator, and terrace; or a tent site. A stay at this guest house supports the Rain Tree Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of impoverished communities in Thailand.
  • Chai Lai Orchid Nature Bungalows: At Chai Lai Nature Bungalows, you can stay in an enclosed glamping-style bungalow, complete with handmade bamboo furniture, a thatched roof, ensuite bathrooms, and open-air showers. Each bungalow has its own balcony, and Wi=Fi is available in the common area. This stay also has an on-site restaurant and offers in-room massages and elephant excursion experiences.
  • Inthanon Highland Resort: This resort-style stay offers bungalows of various sizes, as well as rooms with free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, a television with cable channels, a balcony, a safe, and a minibar. Various activities are offered on-site, like jogging, bird watching, hiking, mountain biking, fire building, and camping. The resort also has a seminar room and offers complimentary tea and coffee.

How to Get to There

Although this national park has several entrances, the nearest one to Chiang Mai is situated about two hours southwest of the city and can be reached by driving the 40 miles of mountainous roads by car. You can rent your own car, but take note that the route is full of plenty of turns and switchbacks. If you feel comfortable driving yourself, doing so allows you the freedom to stop at one of the many waterfalls and scenic overlooks along the way.

To get to Doi Inthanon National Park from Chiang Mai’s Old City, exit the moat at the southwest corner and continue past the airport onto Highway 108. Go south on Highway 108 all the way to Highway 1013. Turn right to go west, following the signs to the national park entrance. If you're driving during rush hour, traffic can be avoided by using Highway 3035 South, the same road used to visit Chiang Mai’s “Grand Canyon.”

The easiest and safest option for transport is to hire a car and a driver in Chiang Mai. You’ll need to negotiate your trip in advance if you want to stop at sites in the park or other interesting spots along the route. A car with a driver costs approximately $100 USD a day and can be booked through one of the many travel agencies in Chiang Mai. You should not have to pay the driver’s entrance fees, but all other details (food stops and itinerary) should be discussed and agreed upon in advance. Group tours are also available, but may involve riding in a crowded minivan with strangers.

Tips for Your Visit

  • If you’re on a self-guided trip to Doi Inthanon National Park, stop at the Tourist Service Centre to get the lay of the land and pick up a park map. This information will allow you to pick and choose what sights to see based on the amount of time you have.
  • Visiting Doi Inthanon is best enjoyed on a weekday. The park gets busy with locals on weekends, particularly during the high season, from December to March. Attempting to visit during one of Thailand’s holidays can be frustrating, as you may sit in traffic gridlock along the main road.
  • The top of Doi Inthanon is probably the only place you'll experience cold in Thailand. Temperatures range between 40 degrees F and 50 degrees F during the dry season, and can easily drop below freezing.
  • The national park sees a lot of rain between the months of May and November, during the monsoon season. Temperatures will feel temperate, but clouds obscure the views on most days. That said, the many waterfalls within the national park are far more impressive during the wet months.
  • Doi Inthanon is also home to the Thai National Observatory, which houses the largest telescope in the region.
  • The greenhouses you see on the mountain are part of an initiative by King Bhumibol. The royal project strives to teach indigenous people about profitable alternatives to growing opium poppies.
  • Many drivers pass in a hurry around the blind turns on the roads leading up to the park—keep to the left!
  • If you're driving a motorbike to the top of the mountain, be prepared for a freezing wind chill and wear gloves.
  • Just east of Doi Inthanon, and part of Mae Wang National Park, the Pha Chor “tourist point” attracts people who come to hike its stairs down into the canyon. Interesting rock formations carved by the Ping River, and cliffs around 100 feet (30 meters) tall, make Pha Chor a great stop, if you’re not in a hurry to return to the city.
  • Formerly a man-made limestone quarry, the Chiang Mai Grand Canyon filled with water and was turned into a water park. Locals and backpackers head here for relief from the heat during the dry season. The park is located off of Highway 3035; you’ll pass it when driving from Doi Inthanon back to the Old City.
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Doi Inthanon National Park in Thailand Is Worth the Effort