8 Scenic Nature Parks Around Chiang Mai

Hiking around Chiang Mai's countryside
Hiking around Chiang Mai's countryside.

Santi Sukarnjanaprai/Getty Images

The rugged mountain climate of Thailand's Chiang Mai makes it the ideal setting for a back-to-nature romp. The many national parks close to Chiang Mai city are ready to oblige, with an endless series of forest canopies, scenic waterfalls, and Thailand's tallest mountains bar none. Tear yourself away from Chiang Mai's shopping streets, and throw yourself onto a hiking trail for a change! 

01 of 08

Doi Inthanon National Park

The royal pagodas at Doi Inthanon

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

119 Tambon Ban Luang, Amphoe Chom Thong, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50160, Thailand
Phone +66 53 286 729

It should be no surprise that Thailand’s tallest mountain is surrounded by one of the nation’s largest, lushest national parks: a 180-square-mile expanse of forest, waterfalls, and two chedi dedicated to the previous King and Queen.

Several hiking trails snake through Doi Inthanon. Start at the ranger station and set off on foot to see the park’s gorgeous natural wonders for yourself—waterfalls like the 330-foot-high Mae Yai; several biospheres’ worth of rainforest; wild orchids; and over 300 species of birds hiding amidst the treetops.

The mountain trails may end at the two chedi (temple spires) near the peak of Doi Inthanon, located on facing hills some 300 feet from one another. These chedi commemorate the 60th birthdays of the late King Bhumibol (Rama IX) and his consort Queen Sirikit—the views from these chedi can be absolutely amazing if no clouds or fog obscure your sightline!

Getting There: Take a hired car or ride a motorbike to the ranger station, located a 90-minute drive from Chiang Mai City. Campsites and chalets allow overnight stays, as do homestays in the villages of Chomthong, Hot, and Mae Chaem.

02 of 08

Doi Suthep-Pui National Park

Doi Suthep–Pui National Park

Korkusung/Getty Images

Soi Sriwichai, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
Phone +66 53 210 244

Full of waterfalls and home to two signature Chiang Mai destinations (Wat Phratat Doi Suthep and the Chiang Mai Zoo), Doi Suthep-Pui National Park is a major local draw for nature-loving tourists.

Forget the temple and the zoo for a moment: go deeper into nature by walking on one of the 30-plus trails that lead through the Park’s heavy forest cover. Most experts recommend hiring a guide to help you find your way around, particularly if you want to visit local villages or farms.

The waterfalls are a favorite stop for tourists, particularly the scenic Mae Sa Waterfall. You can even climb to the peaks of the park’s namesake mountains—Doi Suthep and the towering Doi Pui, rising some 5,500 feet (1,680 meters) above sea level.

Getting There: Take a hired car or motorbike from the western side of Chiang Mai. Rot daang (shared taxis) from nearby Chiang Mai University can be chartered for half-day stints to explore the attractions.

03 of 08

Mae Wang National Park

Mae Wang National Park

Tuayai/Getty Images

GQG3+JPC, Santi Suk, Doi Lo District, Chiang Mai 50160, Thailand
Phone +66 53 106 759

The Grand Canyon-like formation in Mae Wang National Park is its most scenic attraction. Still, despite the park’s smaller size and relative obscurity, there’s more to find if you decide to visit and explore the local pine forests.

Several waterfalls can be found around the park, namely Mae Puai, Pha Mon, and Pla Duk Daeng. Pha Cho, the Grand Canyon-like formation, looms a hundred feet above the Ping River, looking like an otherworldly ancient wall carved with vertical formations.

Getting There: due to the bad roads heading to Mae Wang, visitors should expect to take an hour and 15 minutes minimum to get to the park from Chiang Mai.

04 of 08

Ob Khan National Park

Ob Khan National Park

Apisit Wilaijit (CC BY-SA 4.0)

อุทยานแห่งชาติออบขาน Tambon Nam Phrae, Amphoe Hang Dong, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50230, Thailand
Phone +66 86 181 1068

The local karst landscape has made Ob Khan National Park a favorite of geology spotters. (Its proximity to the Ban Tawai handicraft market also helps.)

Multiple rivers trace their source to the waters flowing from this park, and water certainly figures in many of the park’s top views—including the Mae To hot springs; Morakot, Khun Win, Mae Wang, and Mae Tien waterfalls; and several caves carved out of the limestone. The park’s namesake geological formation is a sinuously-carved riverside cliff, created by eons of erosion from the Mae Kan River flowing past.

Getting There: Ob Khan is a 50-minute drive west of Chiang Mai proper. Visit at any time except for the rainy season between May and October; risks of flash floods are high in those months.

Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08

Pang Ung Royal Development Project

Pang Ung Royal Development Project

Run Kanchano/Getty Images

9/9 หมู่ 5 ปากคลอง Tambon Pak Khlong, Amphoe Pathio, Chang Wat Chumphon 86210, Thailand
Phone +66 82 961 7603

The gorgeous landscape around the reservoir called Pang Ung may have been lost forever had it not been for the late King Rama IX (Bhumibol Adulyadej). The local forest cover was restored on his orders, replacing the former opium crops planted by farmers with flowers, fruit trees, and orchids.

The reservoir is the key attraction: its misty morning beauty draws many campers to its pine-shaded shores and invites comparison with the Swiss countryside. Camping areas and guesthouses around the reservoir permit overnight stays; because of the elevation, nighttime temperatures can drop to freezing point, so pack your warmest clothes!

Getting There: Pang Ung is a four-hour drive west from Chiang Mai; you’ll come pretty close to the Myanmar border when headed there.

06 of 08

Sri Lanna National Park

Si Lanna National Park, Thailand

TorriPhoto/Getty Images

Sri Lanna National Park, Tambon Ban Pao, Amphoe Mae Taeng, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50150, Thailand
Phone +66 53 317 495

This off-the-beaten-path national park works magic through its surprisingly gorgeous rock formations, including the Mon Hin Lai Waterfall, a nine-tiered waterfall in Mae Ngat Forest; the Nong Pha Cave: and Mae Ngat Sombun Chon Dam, an artificial reservoir where rafting activities can be conducted.

The lakeside environments around the reservoir are almost supernaturally relaxing; taking your ease next to the river is quite a popular activity around these parts. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot big cats like the Asian tiger lying in wait along the paths!

Another waterfall, the Bua Tong “sticky” waterfall, gets its nickname from the calcium-coated rock that allows visitors to walk up the rock face without slipping.

Getting There: Hired cars can cross the distance to Sri Lanna; the drive there takes an hour north of the city.

07 of 08

Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden

Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden

frankix/Getty Images

100 หมู่ 9 Tambon Mae Raem, Amphoe Mae Rim, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50180, Thailand
Phone +66 53 841 234

Located around the Mae Rim loop near Chiang Mai, this botanic garden named after the Queen dowager sprawls across the Thai countryside. Its 560 acres of lush space are divided into several zones with different attractions; you can easily spend half a day just wandering through the park, seeing everything there is to see!

Walk around the Garden’s paths to see a snapshot of Thailand’s best plant life, contained in eight themed conservatories and four main trails leading to attractions like a Museum of Natural Sciences for kids and the Flying Draco Trail, Thailand’s longest canopy walkway.

Getting There: Ride a yellow songthaew (minibus) from Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 1 to Mae Rim and disembark at the gate.

08 of 08

Chiang Dao National Park

Chiang Dao National Park

Mumemories/Getty Images

273 หมู่ 5 Tambon Chiang Dao, Amphoe Chiang Dao, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50170, Thailand

Chiang Mai’s third-highest peak casts a shadow over the Thai-Burmese border; its jungle cover is a favorite destination for caving, camping, and hiking. Day trippers enjoy visiting Chiang Dao’s five caves—a series of karst openings filled with electric lights and Buddha images.

Beyond the caves’ lows, you can go high—up to the summit of Doi Luang, some 7,200 feet above sea level. Hire a guide, porter, and a ride to the start of the hiking trail from the cave opening; then make your way up to the summit, past forest and fog to an unbeatable view of the roof of Thailand. It’s best to take camping equipment to make a two-day hike out of the visit, so you can catch the sun rising from the mountain’s peak.

Getting There: You can ride either orange buses and VIP buses, which both depart from Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 1.

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8 Scenic Nature Parks Around Chiang Mai