Doi Inthanon national park is a popular Chiang Mai day trip and is usually combined with a few waterfalls and visits to the Hmong hill tribe villages. I went one such day trip to avoid the Songkran madness and it was a relaxing experience. We were a small pleasant multinational group and our day started early. The drive was very pretty and in the morning light, the hilly forested path glowed in subdued contentment. Our first stop was at the two waterfalls, Wachiratharn and Siriphum and Doi Inthanon national park has eight waterfalls with Mae Klang being the largest.
To the beautiful waterfall of Doi Inthanon Park
Wachiratharn Falls was a short, easy hike from the parking lot and it was very pretty. Misty veil of milky white cascades tumbled down granite escarpment and the water flowed deep into bamboo forests. A walkway looped around it and a boardwalk took us right in front of the cascade. Powerful spray frothed on our faces and hundreds of tiny rainbows bounced off the dazzling white water. We walked down the loop, all the way by the river and watched tiny fishes flitting about in the crystal clear stream. Fish featured as the specialty in hill tribe cuisine of the area and the local ladies sold salt coated smoked fishes from bamboo baskets.
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Siriphum waterfall and forests of Chiang Mai
Siriphum Waterfall was a 20 minutes drive from there and was accessible by a short, steep downhill walk. Named after the combination of Queen Sirikit and King Bhumibol, the waterfall looked like a river of pure silver glittering in the sun. Graceful and slim in comparison with the frothy flow of Wachiratharn, Siriphum towered above the surrounding forests. Flowers bloomed abundantly there and lilac cherry blossoms dappled the dense greenery. We walked down to the wooden viewing area, took a break under the twisting vines and gathered exotic looking fallen wildflowers. Dragonflies and stick insects flashed in dozens and salamanders ran amok busily. It was very peaceful Chiang Mai day trip and a far cry from the loud, rowdy Songkran festival madness of the city.
Lunch in the green hills
Even the air smelled green there and the soothing lull nearly made us doze off in the heat. Our guided herded us back to the car and talked non stop until we reached our lunch stop. The restaurant stood by the highway next to a local hill tribe market and was surrounded by dense forests. We walked around the local market, sampled fresh fruits, bought exotic daggers and opium pipes as souvenirs before settling down in the open, dining area for lunch. The meal was purely Thai, with hefty toning down of the spices. A fish broth, steamed rice, minced chicken with basil, peppercorn and hundred years old egg (fermented egg, not necessarily 100 years old) and whole steamed fish in ginger and chili completed our meal and we had no space for fresh fruit platters served as dessert.
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The cloud forests of Doi Inthanon National Park
Our massive meal made us very drowsy and it became extremely difficult to leave our cool bamboo grove luncheon nooks. But the dew dripping, mossy Doi Inthanon summit beckoned and we move onwards with our tour. It became cool and misty as we moved closer towards the cloud forested summit. Mist hung low like clouds and draped the mountain tops, giving a hazy, unclear view. We walked around the summit up to the chedi dedicated to the last Lanna king and followed the Ang Ka Nature Trail. Flowers, incense, and money were presented to the late king and the nature trail continued along a boardwalk. Moss and lichen hung like curtains and although it was not a full-fledged cloud forest, the park had a pretty patch of fragrant conifers, masses of blooming rhododendrons and brilliant wild orchids. We lingered there long enough to take lungs full of cool air, smell the amazing green smell of moist earth and enjoy tea under moss festooned dew dripping branches. A tiny museum, souvenir shop and restroom stood at the summit and it was intriguing to see the huge variety of birds the national park supported.
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This is a bird watcher’s paradise
Doi Inthanon National Park park is extremely popular among naturalists and bird-watchers. The higher slopes are covered with an abundance of orchids, lichens, and mosses. They support nearly 400 bird species. Most of the park’s winged beauties are found between 1500m and 2000m and the park gets very busy between February to April, the best bird-watching season. The best bird watching spots are the moss-draped beung (bogs) near the top and the summit museum gives a pretty detailed idea of the varieties of animals the park supports. For more information and birding tours visit www.wildbirdeco.net Around 75 species of animals like Assamese macaques, Phayre’s leaf monkeys, gibbons, Indian civet, barking deer, giant flying squirrel etc also call the mountain home and it is a highly protected park.
Landscaped summit gardens and hill tribe villages
Doi Inthanon summit has lovely landscaped gardens, which tend to get crowded. The emptier slower slopes, though more humid come with the mass seasonal blooming of Himalayan cherry blossoms. That area has many tribal villages and we stopped briefly at a Karen hill tribe village. It was a very pretty habitat with a wooden stilted cluster of huts in which busy indigenous ladies worked at the looms. Bright-eyed children ran about excitedly and old ladies puffed away on porcelain opium pipes. Pigs grunted from underneath the huts and hens rushed around scratching for worms. Bamboo groves drooped onto the dirt tracks and the village was surprisingly very basic, despite being a tourist pit stop. The White Karen belong to a minority group and have very strong traditions. Their women sport only white until they get married (hence the name) and after marriage, they wear colourful hand woven sarong skirts which are sold as souvenirs.
The White Karens of Doi Inthanon
That White Karen village was a part of the Doi Inthanon Royal Project which was initiated in 1979 for the upliftment of the hill tribes. Introduction to the benefits of cultivating cash crops instead of opium and training them on modern agricultural practices were the main highlights of this program and this helped curb the infamous opium ring. Today most of the hill tribes follow modern agricultural trends and their patches of terraced farming and horticultural beds are interspersed inside the park. Many still now, however, indulge in illegal opium farming and smoking up remain very popular among the older generation.
Doi Inthanon National Park Travel Facts
Best Time to Visit
From December to February (winter), the Siamese sakura/cherry flowers bloom all over the area. Throughout the year at the summit the air happens to be quite chilly, so take a jacket or sweater is required.
How to Reach
Public transportation to the Doi Inthanon park is not easy and a private tour or self-driven car makes more sense.
Where to Stay
Accommodation is available inside the park, thanks to some tour companies like Blue Elephant Thailand Tours Visitors can stay at the park guesthouses or at the hill tribe villages by renting huts or in homestay facilities. Camping is also allowed inside the park.
The attractions of Doi Inthanon National Park
- Waterfalls – Namtok Mae Ya is one of the most beautiful cascades in Chiang Mai. Water flows from a 280-meter steep cliff onto different rock formations in a lower basin, creating a beautiful scene. Other waterfalls include Siriphum, Wachirathan, Nam Mae Klang etc.
- Caves – Tham Bori Chinda is a large cave located near Namtok Mae Klang, featuring dramatic stalactite and stalagmite formations.
- Nature Trails – There are plenty of nature trails on Doi Inthanon, each providing different views of the diversity of plants, reforestation, the importance of tributaries, the origin of caves, hill tribe agriculture, and bird watching. Walking trails range from 1 to 8 kilometers and each trip needs approval from the Chief of the National Park and a trekking leader is needed.
- Kiu Mae Pan trail – Winding through the pristine forest for about 2.5 kilometers, this is a short hike of a 3-hour walk. The Rhododendrons, commonly found in the Himalayas, are found along the trail and they are in full bloom during December-February. Trekkers on this route need permission from the park headquarters at Km. 31 for safety reasons. This nature trail is closed for reforestation from June 1 to October 30 annually.
- Ang Ka Luang Nature Trail – It is 360 meters long, passing through wet and cold areas in a lush valley. Forest above 2,000 meters is covered with lichens and wild orchids. Indigenous plants that need a high level of nutrition, organic deposits and rare species of birds are seen along the trail.
- Bird Watching – Winter is the best time for bird watching at Doi Inthanon because of the migration of Eurasian Woodcock, White Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Citrine Wagtail, Forest Wagtail, Chestnut Thrush, Scarlet Finch, Little Bunting, and Crested Bunting.
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