Post lunch our little van held a quiet drowsy group as it trudged uphill to Doi Inthanon summit. It became cool and misty as we went higher and at the cloud forested summit, it was definitely a bit cold. Mist hung low like clouds and draped the mountain tops, giving a hazy, unclear view despite its altitude. 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 he rested peacefully at his favourite place on earth. The nature trail continued along a boardwalk and it was quiet, hushed and surprisingly empty. Moss and lichen hung like curtains and although it was not a full fledged cloud forest, it was a pretty patch of fragrant conifers, masses of blooming rhododendrons and brilliant wild orchids. We lingered there long enough to take lung fulls 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.
TRAVEL TIP – Doi Inthanon National Park park is hugely popular among naturalists and bird-watchers. The higher slopes are covered with abundance of orchids, lichens and mosses and supports 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.
Because of the cloud cover, time lost its sharp separatist quality and the day seemed to be one long stretch of stagnant hours. The cool climate was a refreshing respite from the muggy heat of CM city and we wanted to linger longer. However unknown to us, the day seemed to have magically slipped by and we were nearly past sunset. Our guide ushered us back to our car and we went downhill to the huge landscaped gardens where 2 monumental stupas dedicated to the beloved Thai royal couple towered.
The gardens were blooming riotously but were extremely crowded. Tourists, both foreign and locals, fought for space at the photo stops and there were too many excited squeals, posing with Victory signs and jostling about for me to find any peace. Thankfully my like minded group also seemed pretty peeved with the crowd and we left the beautiful gardens soon. Sunset happened somewhere over the mountains and only a faint golden glow in the sky made its presence felt.
The slower slopes arrived with rush of humidity and massive blooming of off season cherry blossoms. We stopped briefly at a Karen hill tribe village, walked around the wooden stilted cluster of huts and ogled at ladies working at looms. It was a White Karen hill tribe village with bamboo latticed walls, tin roofs and bright eyed babies. Pigs grunted from underneath the huts and hens rushed around scratching for worms. Bamboo groves dripped onto the un paved path and the village was surprisingly pretty basic, despite being a tourist pit stop.
White Karen belong to 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 were pieces of art. The village looms were busy and many bright rainbow coloured scarves were on sale. They also sold some kind of signature coffee which they grew around the village, and while it was not great, the cuppa gave a nice opportunity to rest among the Karen ladies. Children ran about excitedly and old ladies puffed away on porcelain opium pipes.
Incidentally the village was a part of Doi Inthanon Royal Project which was initiated in 1979 for 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.
But still now, illegal opium farming and smoking up is still heavily rampant among them, especially among the older generation. We finished our tour and wound our way back towards Chiang Mai, where Songkran was still in full swing. Thankfully my bags of CM local snacks which I always stocked up from Sunday Night Market visits provided me with dinner and helped me avoid getting wet. It had been a long day and I fell asleep soon, dreaming of scented pines, orchids and cool mists of Doi Inthanon National Park.
TRAVEL TIP – For those with time on their hands and nature lovers, spending a day or 2 at Doi Inthanon Park can be very rewarding. Best time to visit the park is during December to February, which is winter and Siamese sakura/cherry flowers bloom all over the area. Through out the year at the summit the air happens to be quite chilly, so take a jacket or sweater is required.
Public transportation to the park is not easy and a private tour or self driven car makes more sense. Accommodation is available inside the park, thanks to Kirimaya Paradise Ecotourism Network and some tour companies like Blue Elephant Thailand Tours www.blueelephantthailandtours.com Visitors can stay at the park guest houses or at the hill tribe villages by renting huts or in home stay facilities. Camping is also allowed inside the park.
Attractions in Doi Inthanon National Park include:
Namtok Mae Ya is one of the most beautiful cascades in Chiang Mai. Water flows from a 280-metre steep cliff onto different rock formations in a lower basin, creating a beautiful scene. Other waterfalls include Siriphum, Wachirathan, Nam Mae Klang etc. Tham Bori Chinda is a large cave located near Namtok Mae Klang, featuring dramatic stalactite and stalagmite formations.
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 kilometres and each trip needs approval from the Chief of the National Park and a trekking leader is needed.
Kiu Mae Pan is a short trail, winding through pristine forest for about 2.5 kilometres, 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 is 360 metres long, passing through wet and cold areas in a lush valley. Forest above 2,000 metres is covered with lichens and wild orchids. Indigenous plants that needs a high level of nutrition, organic deposits, and rare species of birds are seen along the trail.
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.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE