Located just 37 miles from Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, Doi Inthanon National Park is home to Thailand’s tallest and most prominent mountain, Doi Inthanon.
Doi Inthanon National Park is one of the few places in Thailand where you’ll see and smell pine trees — and maybe feel the cold that often accompanies them. Along with a cooler climate, the national park is sanctuary for a large number of species, particularly birds, that come to take advantage of the diversity.
Of Thailand’s many national parks, Doi Inthanon is one of the busiest. Both the close proximity to Chiang Mai and the opportunity to stand on the highest point in Thailand attract plenty of locals and tourists.
Doi Inthanon National Park at a Glance
- Pronounced: doy in-ta-no-n (the h is silent)
- Total Land Area: 186 square miles (482 km2)
- Elevation of Summit: 8,415 feet (2,565 meters)
- Founded: National park status was made official in 1972
- Park Entrance Fees: 300 baht for adults (150 baht for children); 30 baht per car
- Official Contact: +66 53 286 729
Doi Inthanon was originally known by the indigenous hill tribe people as Doi Ang Ka or Doi Luang, simply “big mountain” — a fitting description of Thailand’s tallest mountain. It’s one of the country’s few ultra-prominent peaks.
Inthawichayanon, the last ruler of the Kingdom of Chiang Mai before it was annexed into Siam around 1899, was known for his love of nature. The big mountain was renamed to Doi Inthanon in his honor. The national park was later established in 1972.
How to Get to Doi Inthanon National Park
Although the national park has several entrances, the nearest is a little over two hours of driving southwest out of Chiang Mai. The distance is only around 40 miles, but as expected in a mountainous region, the road is plagued with plenty of twists and cutbacks.
The easiest, laziest, and safest option is to simply hire a car and driver from Chiang Mai. The downside is that you’ll need to negotiate in advance for stops within the park and perhaps for interesting sights along the route. If you feel comfortable enough driving yourself, doing so allows a lot more freedom for choosing between the many waterfalls and scenic overlooks.
Cars and drivers range from US $75 – 100 for a day trip; try inquiring at one of the many travel agencies around Chiang Mai. You should not have to pay the driver’s entrance fees, however, all other details (food stops, itinerary, etc) should be discussed and agreed upon in advance. Group tours are also available, but book these at your own risk. Many involve being crowded into minivans for hours with potentially carsick strangers.
When driving from Chiang Mai’s Old City, exit the moat at the southwest corner and continue past the airport on Highway 108. Go south on Highway 108 all the way to 1013. Turn right to go west, following signs to the national park entrance. If driving during rush hour, some traffic can be bypassed by using Highway 3035 south, the same road used to visit Chiang Mai’s “Grand Canyon.”
Way too many drivers pass in a hurry around the blind turns — keep to the left! If you're driving a motorbike there, be prepared for a freezing windchill. Wear gloves.
Visiting the National Park
Exploring Doi Inthanon National Park isn’t just about driving to the top of the mountain, snapping some photos, then leaving — although you can do so. There are enough natural attractions within the park to occupy more than one full day, depending on time and energy. For instance, getting to the biggest cave in the national park requires around two hours of hiking.
Visiting Doi Inthanon is best enjoyed with an early start 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 big holiday periods can be a frustrating experience. Traffic sits in gridlock along the main road, inevitably causing some visitors to run out of fuel!
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. Doi Inthanon is also home to the Thai National Observatory, which houses the largest telescope in the region.
There are two options for sleeping within the national park: “civilized” camping and rustic bungalows. For camping, tents and gear (including sleeping bags) can be rented at the park headquarters, subject to availability. Don’t expect wild camping in the forest; the campground is only around 500 meters from the headquarters area.
Bungalows of various size and budget are available, 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 at headquarters if anything is available and just pay on the spot. Weekends are pretty well always full.
The top of Doi Inthanon is probably the only place you will feel really cold outdoors in Thailand. Temperatures range between 40 – 50 F during the dry season and can easily drop below freezing. Make no mistake, you will feel chilly standing on Doi Inthanon in your flip-flops — particularly after sweating in Chiang Mai or Pai!
The national park sees a lot of rain during the monsoon season months between May and November. Temperatures will feel more temperate, but clouds obscure the views more often. One concession is that the many waterfalls within the national park are far more impressive during the wet months.
Things to Do in Doi Inthanon National Park
If you’re on a self-guided trip to the national park, go to the Tourist Service Centre first for a map and advice. Pick and choose some sights to see based on the amount of time you have.
- The Chedis: Two sacred stupas are a popular focal point for visitors. The well-manicured monuments add additional beauty to pictures of the surrounding mountains. 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 more accessible for people who can't climb the many stairs to the best views. You’ll need to pay another small fee for access.
- Waterfalls: Mae Klang Waterfall, the easiest to get to, is also unsurprisingly the busiest. The large falls are located near the park gate. Swimming and picnicking are options. Numerous other waterfalls are scattered throughout the park; Mae Ya Waterfall is also popular. Many are large enough to still have some water during the dry season.
- Hiking Trails: The easiest trail is the short walk from the Tourist Service Centre to Mae Klang Waterfall. It’s a paved walkway with nature exhibits and signboards along the way. To go a little deeper, consider walking the two-mile loop of the Kew Mae Pan trail. Views are impressive from the meadows. Guides are compulsory (200 baht per group), and the trail is closed during monsoon season (June to November).
Other Nearby Places to Visit
- Pha Chor Canyon: Due east and part of Mae Wang National Park, the Pha Chor “tourist point” attracts a trickle of people who come to hike stairs down into the canyon. Interesting rock formations carved by the Ping River and cliffs around 100 feet tall make Pha Chor an interesting diversion if you’re not in a hurry to return to the city.
- Chiang Mai Grand Canyon: Unlike Pha Chor Canyon, this “grand canyon” is man made. Formerly a limestone quarry, the Chiang Mai Grand Canyon filled with water and was turned into a water park. Locals and backpackers go to jump off things into the water, hang out, and find some relief from the heat during the dry season. The park is located off of Highway 3035; you’ll pass near it when driving from Doi Inthanon back to the Old City.