Chiang Mai Province, Doi Inthanon National Park encompasses the
highest mountain In Thailand, Doi Inthanon, as well as several
lesser summits. The doi (mountain) is largely a granite
batholith intruding a southerly extension of the Shan Hills
range and forming the divide between the Nam Mae Ping river to
the east and the Nam Mae Chaem river to the west. Lower
elevations in the most easterly pant of the park are limestone
formations and contain a number of caves.
The newly instituted fee system for national parks charges
foreigners 200 baht entry and Thais 20 baht, but this one is
worth it. However, if you are simply driving through the
national park to destinations such as Mae Chaem, you do not need
to pay the fee. The village of Mae Chaem is another 45 minutes'
drive from the park entrance and is famous for its decorative
weaving, called 'tin chok'. A weaving festival is held every
February is a must visit, if you are nearby.
Formerly known as Doi Angka, the mountain now bears (since 1899)
a shortened version of the name of Chiang Mai's last sovereign,
King Inthawichayanon. During his reign, he had, with great
foresight, expressed his concern for the forests of the northern
hill country as the watershed for all of central Thailand. The
modern study of rain forest hydrology has borne out his early
convictions and given substance to Thai folklore which describes
this hill region as the home of the Phiphannam, the 'spirit who
shares water'. Before the King died near the turn of this
century, he commanded that his remains be placed at the top of
this mountain: his ashes at the summit stupa are visited by
thousands of people each year.
The park covers an area of 48,240 ha. Its lowlands below 800
meters in elevation are warm and very dry during the rain-free
season, but the summit of Doi Inthanon, at 2565 meters, has a
climate more like Canada than Thailand. The temperature has been
known to drop as low as -8 degrees C. and frosts are not unusual
during the cool, dry season. January is the coldest month: an
average nighttime temperature is 5.5 degrees C. At any season,
Doi Inthanon is a comfortable reprieve from the heat of the
lowlands. At altitudes above 1000 meters, rainfall exceeds 2500
mm, considerably more than at nearby Chiang Mai. Even in the dry
season, November to April, there is rare but occasional rain or
the summit may be shrouded in cloud for a part of the day;
persistent mist is an important factor in the maintenance of
moist forest there.
The various sub montane forest formations at higher
elevations are a unique asset of the park. They have dominant
species belonging to temperate climate families rather than
tropical. The summit area supports the only red rhododendron in
Thailand (R. delavayi); it blooms from December through
February. There are also two white-blossomed species abundant on
Doi Inthanon which are restricted to only a few other sites.
Where mists are persistent, the slopes carry a moist hill
evergreen or 'cloud forest' with many epiphytes, plants which
live on tree trunks and branches but do not receive their
moisture and nutrients from the host tree as do true parasitic
plants. Instead, they are nurtured by the accumulation of dust
particles and humus around their 'root' area and the moisture
retained there, augmented by frequent bathing in cloud and mist.
Epiphytic orchids are also abundant, along with lichens, lianas
At mid-elevations, 800 - 1500 meters, two species of pine
are present, Pinus merkusii mixed with dipterocarp in the lower
range, and P. kesiya with oak and laurel on drier slopes in the
upper range. The pines are thought to be a relic from a
prehistoric cooler climatic period when flora from the
Sino-Himalayan region migrated southward. At the mid-elevations
of the park, much of the forest has been removed by the
activities of swidden cultivators and the slopes have converted
to fire climax grasslands.
Because of its broad altitudinal
range and the cool climate of its upper reaches, the park
supports the largest number of bird species of any site in
Thailand. The Center for Wildlife Research at Mahidol University
records a present total of 362 species and expects additions;
Many at the summit are migrants from northern Asia. Species
restricted to Doi Inthanon are Ashy-throated Warbler and an
endemic race of the Green tailed Sunbird; the park is the only
site where the Chestnut-bellied Rockthrush and the
Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker are known to oversummer and probably
breed. Over 190 bird species are listed as common to abundant.
Bird lists are available at the Visitor Center and at Park
Private transportation is the recommended way to visit Doi
Inthanon. The main attractions are spread over a distance of 40
kilometers and only a private vehicle will allow flexibility in
planning your itinerary. Motor cycling is the best mode since it
allows travel on some of the rough and narrow dirt roads which
lead to hill tribe villages.
Mae Klang Water fall is located 66 km southwest of Chiang Mai.
From Chiang Mai, take Highway 108 to Km 57 (just 1 km before the
village of Chom Thong). Turn right onto Highway 1009 and
continue 8 km to where the road forks. Mae Klang is 300 meters
straight ahead. The summit road forks to the right, reaching
Park Headquarters near Km 31 and the summit of Doi Inthanon at
The 14 kilometer route to Mae Ya Water fall begins in Chom Thong
village. A minibus can be hired in Chom Thong for about 500 baht
for the return trip. Mini-buses labeled in English Doi Inthanon
Park can be hired at either Chom Thong or Mae Klang for the trip
to the summit; the cost is about 500 baht for the return trip.
These mini-buses have a regular touring route which includes the
main points of interest along the summit road. Per-person costs
will be lower it you can share the tour with others. Unmarked
mini-buses also leave Chom Thong frequently for Mae Chaem
(decreasing in mid-afternoon). The fare is 20 baht to the point
where the Mae Chaem road intersects with the summit road at Km
38, or 30baht to Mae Chaem. If you request it, this mini-bus
route will drop you at Park Headquarters, Km 31. If you arrive
at Km 31 or 38 in the morning hours, you may be able to flag
down another vehicle to reach the summit.
Accommodations: 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.
Campsites are Iocated at the Headquarters area and at the Mae
Pan Ranger Station. Two-person tents can be rented at
Headquarters. No sleeping bags or mats are available, but a
number of blankets are available for rental. Firewood is
provided and campfires are permitted throughout the year. Please
use caution during the dry season.
Food stalls serving meals and snacks are located at several
places in the park (see maps). Stalls at Mae Klang Water fall
and in the Headquarters area are open during daylight hours
every day. Bottled water is widely available in the park, along
with other drinks.
A new information and interpretive center is located at Km 9.5
on the summit road. There is an excellent slide show of the
park, plus assistance, maps and other interpretive displays. The
Visitor Center can also be reached by a short walk from the Mae
Klang Ranger station. The trail follows the river up stream,
passes the waterfall and reaches the Visitor Center in a few
As a result of long occupation by hill tribe people, Doi
Inthanon has many footpaths. Some of the main tracks have
evolved into single-lane, motorcycle and truck roads providing
access to villages. Most walking trails in the park are not
signed at the trail head nor marked along the route. If you want
to do some walking, please contact the Park Headquarters.
Halfway up is Wachiratan waterfall which plunges over a 40m drop
and cascades down through some suitable swimming pools. The
final waterfall, Siriphum, can be seen from the road near the
ranger station and campsite and is also a tall wisp of white
water and usually less busy. However, the water level varies
greatly from dry to rainy season.
There is also a Karen weaving village, Ban Pha Mon, which is
well worth a visit for textile lovers. For those bird-watching
enthusiasts, there are several signs for bird-watching sites
before you get to the ranger station or park headquarters. There
are also plenty of well-signposted walking trails to enjoy in
the park as well.
Right by the ranger station is the Royal Project, which is a
centre for the development of highland agriculture alternatives.
Here visitors can stroll around the beautiful flower gardens and
learn about the agricultural development activities of this
programme which was introduced as an alternative to poppy
Just up 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 colourfully
Mae Klang Waterfall
Because of its easy access, this unusual waterfall has been
visited by Thai people for many years and they continue to come
in large numbers on any sunny day in the year to swim, picnic
and relax in this beautiful setting. The rapids and waterfall
spill over a wide exposure of granite and can be approached
closely. Visitors are asked to exercise caution around the
waterfall area and while swimming either above or below the
falls. A well-maintained trail leads up the side of the
waterfall, and continues to the Visitor Center and beyond.
Brichinda Cave (Km 9)
This impressive limestone cave has a gigantic entrance chamber
and tower and a second huge chamber with a skylight opening to
the surface. It can be reached in about one hour from the main
road, or in less time if the beginning portion of the route is
Vachiratharn Waterfall (Km. 20.8)
The falls are reached by a short, easy trail from the parking
area. Vachiratharn waters tumble down granite escarpment,
creating a misty veil of great beauty. Visitors should be very
cautious: three people have fallen to their deaths while taking
photographs. Just a short distance on the main road beyond
Vachiratharn is the small Karen hill tribe village, Ban Sop Had.
Turn right just past the bridge and you will find the village a
few hundred meters up the dirt access road.
Park Headquarters (Km 30.8)
The headquarters building has a small camping space nearby, and
staff will provide assistance. Access to the Hmong village Ban
Khun Klang, the guest house compound, and Siriphum Waterfalls
via road intersecting with the main summit road at Km 30.4. A
excellent view of Siriphum can be enjoyed by walking or cycling
along the track which forks left from the main road just beyond
the entrance to the guest house compound. The falls are actually
twins: two parallel plumes named for King Bhumipol. and Queen
Napamaytanidol Chedi (Km 41)
Continuing north of the main summit road, turn left at km 41.8
over a bridge on a paved road which leads to a magnificent chedi
completed in 1989 to honor the 60th birthday of King Bhumipol.
Gew Mae Pan Trail
One of the most beautiful 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.
Summit of Doi Inthanon (Km 48)
The drive to the summit offers some fine views, especially
during November and December, before the dry season haze has
become well established. On your visit to the summit stupa
containing the remains of King Inthawidhayanon, be sure to read
the English translation on the back of the marble plaque nearby.
Photographing any part of the radar station is forbidden, but
visitors may take pictures freely of any other subject.
On the top of Doi Inthanon are the Royal Chedis, from where you
can have sweeping views of the valley below, especially Mae
Chaem. However, cloud cover is the norm and visibility may be
poor. The chedis commemorate the 60th birthday of the King and
Queen and contain Buddha images and tiled murals. There is a
good photo opportunity at the peak in the form of a giant sign
proclaiming "The highest point in Thailand".
On the main road and opposite the summit Ranger Station is a
sign in Thai marking a short, self-guided nature trail which
descends to a sphagnum bog in a small karst depression The bog
area. which displays the red blossomed Rhododendron delavayi,
comes nearest to a true montane forest formation and is a good
location for bird-watching. If you continue around the bog and
down a short distance, you will reach a memorial shrine marking
the site of a helicopter crash which occurred in the
mid-seventies and killed the first superintendent of this park.
Mae Ya Waterfall (14 km from Chom Thong)
Thought to be the highest in Thailand and is well worth the
extra effort to get there. Park officials estimate that the Mae
Ya River plunges more than 250 meters at this point. It is a
beautiful, fanning cascade, dropping down an ever-widening
series of steps -- without a doubt, a photographic favourite.
The Mae Chaem road
A scenic pleasure. From the start at Km 38 on the main summit
road, the first kilometers travel through some of the most lush
forest on the mountain. Then the road comes out into the open
and follows a descending ridge with fine views.
Mae Pan Area
At Km 6.6 on the Mae Chaem road is the turn-off to Mae Pan
Waterfall, marked by a sign in Thai and English. The dirt access
road descends about two kilometers to the Ranger Station and
campground and is suitable for any vehicle although the road can
be slippery on the uphill return after a heavy rain. The area is
quiet, off the beaten track, and can be described as the back
country of Doi Inthanon Park. It offers a rewarding loop hike of
1.5 to 2 hours through untouched terrain with small waterfalls
and tumbling creeks along most of the route. Visitors can walk
the 800 meters to Mae Pan Falls and back again, as well as the
200 meters to Huai Sai Luaeng Falls just beyond the campground.
Both of these trails are clear and well-maintained.
There are not many options for overnight stays in the national
park itself. Either you can rent a chalet at the ranger station
or use the campsite (a little farther back down the main road,
turn left at the signs). However, advance booking is advised
during high season, as Doi Inthanon is a popular destination for
both Thais and foreigners. For those wanting more modern
comforts, there are plenty of guest houses and resort-type guest
houses in Chom Thong, Hot and Mae Chaem.