Chiang Mai Travel : Doi Inthanon

Doi Inthanon Chiang Mai

I recently had the chance to visit Doi Inthanon during the rainy month of July. It was the first time in several years. The beauty and calm of the nature on the way up reminded me of how stunning Doi Inthanon really is, even before reaching the main attractions.

We were greeted by heavy fog that severely limited our vision, but luckily, our driver knows the road well and skillfully navigated us safely up the hills.

The trip inspired me to write this blog in hopes that it would bring useful information to travelers who are planning to visit Doi Inthanon during their time in Chiang Mai. Doi Inthanon is a beautiful nature destination that is well worth the trip if you have several days in Chiang Mai.

Background

Let’s dive in to the history and background information of Doi Inthanon.

Doi Inthanon is the highest peak in Thailand. It is actually part of the Himalayan mountain range. At the highest point, it is 2,565 meters above sea level.

Doi Inthanon was originally known as “Doi Luang” and “Doi Anka”. Doi Luang simply means “Big Mountain” while the name Doi Anka came to be because there was a body of water nearby which, in the past, a herd of crows would often gather there. “Anka” translates to “lagoon of crows” and “Doi” is mountain.

Doi Inthanon was renamed after Chao Intawichanont, one of the last kings of Chiang Mai who saw the importance of the forest and wildlife. He had a special liking for Doi Luang and wanted to preserve its abundant nature and wildlife. He instructed that part of his remains be interred on the mountain. The renaming took place after he passed.

Doi Inthanon National Park covers an area of 482 square kilometers. It is the source of many rivers and tributaries, including the Ping river that flows through Chiang Mai and is one of four rivers that form the Chao Praya river in Bangkok.

Nature and Wildlife

Due to the vast size and elevation, a variety of flora types exist including moist evergreen forest, sphagnum bog, dry evergreen, mixed deciduous teak, and dipterocarp forests.

There are approximately 65 mammals in the national park, half which are species of bats. Other species include wild boars, gibbons, deer, and serows. If you’re lucky, you might able to catch a glimpse of the serows along the Giew Mae Pan Nature Trail.

Doi Inthanon has been recorded with a total of 362 species of birds. It comes as no surprise that it is a popular birder’s paradise. The bird migration happens around March to May, which is when a birder might want to visit the park.

Several waterfalls and nature trails are located in the park. A few of these are considered to be some of the best in Thailand, which brings us to the next topic: attractions.

Attractions

The Royal Twin Pagodas

The two Chedi named Phra Mahathat Nophamethinidon and Phra Mahathat Nophaphonbhumisiri were built to honor and celebrate the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 60th birthday and Her Majesty the Queen’s 60th birthday. Nophamethinidon means ‘by the strength of the land and air’ and Nophaphonphumisiri means ‘being the strength of the air and the grace of the land’.

The two structures have become a symbolic landmark for visitors, especially for Thais and others who wish to pay respect to the sacred buildings.

The Chedi are built on two hills opposite each other, with stairs leading up to each. Since we were there in the rainy season, the fog covered everything, but you can expect to see far into the mountains in certain conditions.

Giew Mae Pan Nature Trail

Located at kilometer 42, near the Chedi, is a popular nature trail of about 3 kilometers in distance. Giew Mae Pan is 2,000 meters from the sea level which makes it an excellent spot for watching the sunrise and the sea of fog in the morning.

The first part of the trail leads in to a moist forest covered with mosses and ferns. Then the path clears out to rolling hills of grasses, which leads to the highest viewpoint. After that, you’ll have to walk on the mountain ridge with only a width of 1 meter so walking single file is necessary.

The Giew Mae Pan Nature Trail is open during November to May.

Although we didn’t get to see it on this trip, since we were there during July, it is undoubtedly a recommended attraction on Doi Inthanon.

Royal Agricultural Station Inthanon

The Royal Agricultural Station on Doi Inthanon was King Bhumibol’s personal project in eliminating opium farming. It was established in 1979 and served as a research center to help improve the livelihood of the hill tribe farmers and communities. It is also used for teaching and spreading knowledge of new innovations for sustainable highland farming.

Some attractions inside the station includes Siribhume Waterfall & Royal Garden, Rhodedendron Garden, Ferns Greenhouse, Flower and Ornamental Plants Greenhouse, and Hydroponics Vegetables Greenhouse.

The Royal 80th Anniversary Garden which brings a variety of winter flowers such as roses and orchids is also another highlight in the area.

The restaurant here sources ingredients from the project, especially the fresh vegetables and will definitely satisfy your appetite.

Villages

Baan Mae Klang Luang

Home to the hill tribe of S’gaw people, Baan Mae Klang Luang is where you can experience and learn about the authentic, rural lifestyle of hill tribe living.

Spend a few hours at a local cafe, sip on fresh brewed coffee, amidst the picturesque rice terraces and chilled weather, or spend a night at one of the homestay in the area.

Although this website is in Thai language, it has a lot of good photos and contact information for several local businesses there. Feel free to give it a look if you’re interested.

Baan Pha Mon

Not far from Baan Mae Klang Luang, is a mid-sized village called Baan Pha Mon. The highlight of this village is private villas and eco stay like the famous Bamboo Pink House.

Travelers can learn about the daily lives of Karen tribe which includes weaving, pesticide-free farming, and more.

The best time to go is mid-September to early-November, as it is the rainy season and you will be able to see the rice farming in full.

Mae Ya Waterfall

Several waterfalls exist within Doi Inthanon Nation Park area. One of the most notable is Mae Ya Waterfall. With a total of about 30 levels and a height of 260 meters, Mae Ya Waterfall is the largest and tallest waterfall in the park.

During the rainy season, the current will spread up to 100 meters wide, creating a beautiful water curtain.

Before the discovery of Thi Lo Su Waterfall, Mae Ya Waterfall was known as Thailand’s most beautiful waterfall.

How to be a Responsible Tourist (Simple Guide)

Water market responsible tourism

[3 min read]

In our previous blog article “Responsible Tourism in Chiang Mai”, we discussed what responsible tourism is and the main aspects that you should be aware of as a traveler.

In this article, we’ll be giving some simple tips and guidelines that you can easily put to use to become a more responsible tourist or traveler for your next trip.

Simple Rules

  1. Being aware of your choices is the most important rule. If you know how your actions can affect the host community, then you can choose not to contribute to the negative effects.
  2. Secondly, do the research yourself. This way you are in control of the activities you choose and you can gather as much as information as necessary. This goes hand in hand with the first rule.
  3. We understand that some might prefer to have professionals plan their trip, if so, choose travel agencies who promote responsible and sustainable tourism with the goal of helping locals earn their living. If you’re not sure, just ask them directly!
  4. Choose local, independent accommodations rather than 5-star hotels, even if it means sacrificing a few modern comforts. (More often than not, there will be alternatives that provide just as much modern comforts as a 5-star hotel.) Besides, you’ll have a much more unique and memorable experience!
  5. Eat at local restaurants. Every place has their local eateries.
  6. Book activities that are eco-friendly, culturally sensitive, and employ locals!

Responsible Tourism in Chiang Mai

It is not difficult to be a responsible tourist in Chiang Mai. Since Chiang Mai has been a travel hot spot for many years, there are many local businesses that cater to tourists, whether it be accommodations like bed and breakfast and small hotels or food and drink cafes and coffee shops.

The province has also been thriving even before the tourism boom. There are many authentic, cultural places to visit like museums, historical sites, temples, and nature sites. You will not be out of choices for what to do when you’re in Chiang Mai, and it won’t be hard to differentiate between responsible tourism activities and the rest.

Just look for signs about the nature of the business. The easiest is to see if they are a family-run business or not. Simply ask about the history or the origin of the place.

Look at the scale of the business. It’s often easy to tell a business apart by its size.

You can also observe the employees. How many are there? How do they interact? There is usually a difference between employees of a small, local business and a big, commercialized business. However, there are also local-owned independent hotels that train their staff to interact just like a five-star hotel.

How does Baan Orapin support responsible tourism?

Baan Orapin support responsible tourism in many ways.

In the environmental aspect, we’ve always had sustainability in mind. We always choose reusable materials over plastic when possible. We use glass water bottles and reusable plastic water bottles (not the same as normal plastic water bottles). Our bathroom amenities are also reusable bottles. We use electrical appliances that have energy-saving standards, including light bulbs and air conditioners.

We employ local and hill tribe villagers who come to Chiang Mai city to find jobs, teaching them the necessary skillset to perform their duties to a high standard.

We source materials such as furnitures, decorations, and ingredients from small, local businesses while ensuring the materials are as high quality or better than typical mass manufactured items.

We hope this simple guide gave you some useful information on how to be a more responsible traveler wherever you go! We really believe it’s well worth the effort to know you’re helping the community that you’re traveling to and create memorable experiences with the locals along the way!

Responsible Tourism in Chiang Mai

Responsible Tourism

[5 min read]

What is Responsible Tourism?

Responsible tourism is about making places better for locals to live in and others to visit.

The European Alliance for Responsible Tourism and Hospitality (EARTH) states:

“Responsible tourism complies with the principles of social and economic justice and exerts full respect towards the environment and its cultures. It recognizes the centrality of the local host community and its right to act as a protagonist in developing a sustainable and responsible tourism. Responsible tourism actuates to foster a positive interaction between the tourist industry, the local communities and the travelers”.

Put simply, responsible tourism takes into account the effects and implications of touristic activities. It does not only aim to minimize and eliminate negative effects of these activities, but to foster and develop positive ones between the local communities and the tourists.

These effects can be grouped into three main categories; economical, socio-cultural, and environmental.

Economic Aspect of Responsible Tourism

The economic aspect is obvious. If you recount how you spend your money on your recent annual vacation, or the last family holiday, you can see where your money went.

If the money ends up with the local communities, then you’re already partaking in responsible tourism. If, however, it went to large brands, then you can be sure the local communities are not receiving any.

How do you know if the local communities are benefiting from your consumer choices as a traveler?

This can be answered by asking yourself some questions. How did you plan your trip? Did you use a travel agency with their own network? Did you search for local activities and tours run by local people? Did you eat at local restaurants or in hotels and shopping malls? Did you stay at a five-star chain hotel or a small, independent hotel bed & breakfast?

By answering those few questions, you can see how your actions affect the local communities in the economical aspect.

On a bigger scale, responsible tourism can promote social development by creating jobs for the local residents, redistributing income, and alleviating poverty.

Socio-Cultural Aspect of Responsible Tourism

Socio-cultural effects are more subtle. It refers to the changes in host communities’ everyday experiences, including their way of life, values, perception, and cultural products.

When foreigners enter a local community, there will be interactions between them and the locals (either direct or indirect) and interactions with the tourism industry.

These interactions can bring changes to the local value systems, which affects behavior and in turn changes the indigenous identity. The impacts occur in community and family relationships, collective traditional lifestyles, traditions, ceremonies, and morality.

Some forms of impact include commodification, staged authenticity, and standardization.

Commodification occurs when tourism turns local cultures into commodities. Such as when religious, traditional, or ethnic rituals and ceremonies are changed to conform to tourist expectation or to meet a market demand.

When a destination is “discovered’ and tourism demand emerges, the market for cultural products such as souvenirs, arts, and entertainment can influence and change local values. Sacred objects may no longer be respected when they are perceived as an item for sale.

In Thailand, the object that has been severely affected by this change in perception is the statue image of the Buddha’s head. The Buddha’s image, in whichever form, is the symbol of highest virtue, to remind people not to stray from the path of good and the teachings of the Buddha himself. It is not a piece of furniture or decoration. Many hotels have Buddha statues as decorations which is inappropriate.

Staged authenticity is similar. When tourism becomes a big market, locals may try to capture tourists as customers by tweaking and adapting their cultural products to satisfy the tourist’s taste. Taken literally, this can mean food recipes at restaurants are modified to please tourists. In traditional dances and shows, this can mean adding more excitement to generate interest, rather than keeping the traditional performance accurate to history.

Standardization occurs when there is tourist demand for familiar facilities. This includes hotel chains, fast-food franchises, supermarkets that sell familiar products, among other things. Although it can improve convenience and make life easier, when done excessively, it can cause local communities to lose their identity.

There are also positive socio-cultural impacts.

Positive impacts of tourism include sympathy and understanding, strengthening communities, revaluation of culture and traditions.

Through interactions between tourists and host communities, sympathy and understanding is created as people learn more about one another. This can help promote the “citizen of the world” mindset where people regardless of their race and ethnicity are willing to offer help to fellow human beings.

With opportunities created by the tourism industry, communities are strengthened, emigration is reduced, and professional training is developed.

Positive tourism can enable and promote preservation of cultural and historical traditions, which contribute to the protection of local heritage, cultures, arts and crafts. In other words, old traditions that may be overlooked (without tourism) can become valuable and preserved.

Environmental Aspect of Responsible Tourism

Environmental impact caused by tourism has been in the spotlight many times. Tourism can cause an influx of people at a scale unnatural to the environment. This can be seen clearly with snorkeling and scuba diving at coral reefs. Coral reefs have been dying at an alarming rate partly due to unregulated tourist activities. Some destinations have limits on when they allow tourists and when they close for environmental rehabilitation, but it is not enough to reverse the negative effects of tourism on the environment. Promoting responsible tourism is a solution that can remedy these issues for the long term.

Wildlife is also affected by tourism. One case that we’ve discussed before is elephant tourism in Thailand. If you haven’t read our article, be sure to check it out if you want a deeper insight specific to elephant tourism in Thailand. Other animals are also affected, sometimes indirectly — clearing forests to build infrastructure to support the economic growth facilitated by tourism.

Conclusion

Tourism is an effective tool that can radically boost growth for a region that might be lacking development. However, it must be done correctly to preserve a region’s identity and culture, while creating opportunities for a better future for both locals and tourists.

Responsible tourism is a simple principle that is vital in helping a destination achieve its growth optimally. With the knowledge given above, anyone can put these principles to use and travel responsibly.

Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand

Elephant Sanctuary

[5 min read]

As you may know, elephants are very popular in Thailand and many people come to Thailand wanting to spend some time up close with elephants.

Chiang Mai is a province that has many elephants and elephant camps, because of the vast jungles surrounding Chiang Mai city and Chiang Mai’s past in the logging industry, which required elephants to transport logs.

In this blog, we will be discussing Elephant Tourism, its ethical complications, and how to choose an elephant camp that is credible and ethical as a responsible traveler.

Background

Long time ago, elephants were used by villagers to move large, heavy logs.

They were valuable tools in helping people’s livelihood. In many cases, they were well-respected and well-taken care of, forming deep bonds with their caretakers, known as mahouts.

Mahout, or elephant caretaker, was considered a respectful profession that people were proud of and others admired.

It is not easy to take up the career of a mahout. A mahout spend many years bonding with the elephant which nourishes a unique relationship like no other.

The mahout will have compassion and understanding for the elephant like a close family member. They become sensitive to the elephant’s feelings, moods, and health conditions.

Some qualities that a mahout would have are high self-confidence, empathy, observation skills, and perseverance.

Traditionally, the knowledge and skill of a mahout is passed down from generation to generation, when a young boy goes to work with his father.

Elephant Tourism

The popularity of elephants in the tourism industry created a sudden demand for elephants and elephant caretakers (mahout) that is unlike any seen before.

Elephant tourism started out rough. There were elephants roaming the street, forced to walk all day and night on concrete, “begging” for tourists to buy fruits and feed them. Usually they are baby elephants as they are smaller and wouldn’t be as hard to maneuver in smaller streets.

This practice is inhumane and abusive. It is not natural for elephants to walk on hard surfaces like concrete, as they would normally walk on dirt, mud, or grass in the jungles. Fortunately, this practice is much less prevalent now than 10 years ago.

However, there is another downside to the rapid increase in demand; the quality and legitimacy of mahouts. Whereas mahouts would normally train for many years, the sudden increase in elephants for tourism also increased the demand for mahouts. And genuine, quality mahouts cannot be trained in a matter of days. But this is exactly what happened.

Many came into the industry for the money. They do not possess the skills and knowledge (which takes years to master). Since the elephant camps also need employees, they are trained within a few days and start working as mahouts.

When the mahouts are not really knowledgeable, the elephant’s wellbeing is affected. They might not actually care about the elephants or understand how to care for them. This can be harmful to the elephant’s physical and psychological health.

‘True’ mahout can still be found within the hill tribe villages and rural local communities, although rare and mostly inaccessible to outsiders.

Recently, both tourists and locals have become more aware of the crisis related to elephants’ well-being in Thailand. Elephants roaming the street ‘begging’ for food no longer occurs as commonly as before.

Elephant riding is no longer encouraged and advertised, being replaced with “no riding” as the new advertisement, which is a good thing. A lot of activities and entertainment such as elephants doing tricks have been abandoned. Taking care and nurturing elephants in a healthy and natural way is now promoted.

The rapid spread of information through the internet and social media quickly facilitate change throughout the tourism industry. Elephant tourism is at the forefront of this change. It is easy and much more accessible than ever to participate and be involved in responsible and ethical elephant tourism.

Before committing to a booking with any elephant camp, follow our simple guide below to make a responsible and ethical choice in supporting a credible, trustworthy operation.

Guide to Choosing an Ethical Elephant Camp

The first step in choosing a responsible and ethical elephant camp is research.

There are many ways to find information about how each places treat their elephants.

The simplest and most convenient method to get you started is buy reading online reviews. Review websites like TripAdvisor can be a resourceful place as many reviews are available from many different perspectives.

However, we also recommend finding reputable sources like online magazines and publishers. This is because journalists can provide deeper insights that the average tourist might not pick up during a typical one-day visit.

After doing this, your options should be narrowed down considerably. Note: In addition to reading online reviews, also try asking your friends and families if they’ve ever had any first-hand experience with any elephant camp.

The next step will take time, but crucial and we strongly recommend you to follow through.

Ask the elephant camp operators directly.

How and where do the elephants sleep at night?

Elephants naturally sleep 4 hours per day, and spend the rest of the time roaming and foraging in the forest. Elephant camps that chain them up in concrete enclosure should be avoided.

What does a typical diet look like?

Elephants’ natural diet consist mostly of plants such as grass and bamboo. Bulk feeding high sugar fruits like banana, sugar cane, and pineapple should not be the long term diet for elephants.

What’s a typical day for the elephant?

If they start answering a typical day for the tourist, tell them you want to know about the elephant, not the tourist activities. What you’re looking for in the answer is whether there’s time for the elephant to roam around freely and time for elephants to socialize with other elephants. Elephants are social animals and they benefit from reduced stress by having time to socialize.

Elephant riding allowed?

The short answer you’re looking for is no. But if they do have elephant riding, bareback riding is the only option that should be considered. Although, choosing no-riding is the best option. Any riding that puts a seating structure on the elephant’s back, if any still exist, is inhumane and must be avoided.

Once you get all the answers to these questions, evaluate and see how they match up. If the answers satisfy and they show concern in their communication, then it is likely that they are ethical in treating their elephants, and you can book with them without worry.

So now you’re ready to experience the beauty of elephants and engage with them in natural activities in their natural habitat. You’re fully aware of what to expect and can enjoy your day comfortably, knowing that you’re not perpetuating unethical tourism. However, while you’re there, keep in mind the pointers given above about how the elephants should be treated so you can spot any red flags, if they come up.

Observing the elephant itself can really tell you whether they are being treated well or not. Here are some things to look out for.

Eyes should be clear and bright with no debris or pus. Elephants do not have tear ducts so tears simply slide down their cheeks, but it should not be flowing to their mouth.

Feet is an important telling spot. The toenails and pad should be smooth with no lumps or visible abnormalities. Cracked toenails and bruised foot pads can mean they are not being cared for properly by their mahouts or routinely forced to walk on hard surfaces like concrete.

The tongue and mouth should be pink color.

Healthy elephants rarely stay still. Tail and ears flap. Trunks sway. Always smelling and touching things.

Skin should be soft and smooth with elasticity, with no bumps or deep cuts. Especially not dry and itching.

So there is our guide to choosing an ethical elephant camp. It can seem a little overwhelming with all the details, but it is important to be aware of these things. Awareness is the first step in solving hidden issues like these.

If you found the information useful and wish to spread awareness, please share this post with your friends and families!

Elephants in Thailand’s History and Culture

Solo Elephant in the Forest

[2 min read]

If you’ve ever traveled to Thailand, there’s no doubt that you would’ve seen the Thai elephant at some point or another during your Thailand trip, whether it be a real, living elephant, a drawing of an elephant, a photograph of an elephant, or the elephant’s image on some type of canvas such as wood carving or fabric.

You can probably guess that Thai elephants have significant meaning and value to the Thai people. But you might not realize how important elephants are to Thailand’s history and culture, which is why, in this post, we will be giving a brief history and the cultural background of Thai elephants.

Elephant in History

Elephants are majestical creatures that have always been closely tied with Thailand’s (formerly Kingdom of Siam) history. From 1820 to 1917, throughout 3 flag designs, the Kingdom of Siam’s flag was symbolized with an elephant.

Elephants are highly respected as they are considered to be the king’s animal. Elephants are used in royal ceremonies as they are considered virtuous creatures. They are dressed elegantly with luxurious ornaments that reflect their appropriate rank, like different uniforms in an army. The most revered kind of elephant is the white elephant because it is extremely rare, so they are used for royal duties. Because of its rarity, a king’s status is also determined by the number of white elephants in his possession.

In war, elephants were ridden by high-ranking military officers to go into battle. The elephant rider uses a weapon called “Khor Ngao” which is a blade attached to a long hilt, with a shorter blade attached perpendicular to it. The elephant uses its tusks to suppress the other elephant during battle to allow its rider an opening to slash the weapon across the other rider. The elephant’s feet are vulnerable. An attack at the elephant’s foot can cause it to fall, endangering the rider. Because of this, there are guards assigned to protect each one of the elephant’s feet.

Elephants were also used in transportation such as carrying logs because of their strength and endurance.

Elephant in Culture

The elephant is so important that it is widely symbolized in Chiang Mai’s and the Northern region’s art and culture. Elephants can be seen in many drawings and paintings. You can see hundreds of elephant drawings at the walking street in Chiang Mai by Thai artists who are often drawing it right there on the street, as people walk by.

Elephant images are carved in wood murals and all kinds of furnitures. They are made into statues of all sizes. Elephant keychains are  very popular as souvenirs to buy from Chiang Mai. Of course, there’s also the infamous tourist elephant pants that are very affordable and perfect for the sunny, tropical weather of Thailand.

Elephants are highly revered in the northern region. They are the symbol of the north. Chiang Mai University’s symbol is a white elephant holding a torch and walking forward, against a backdrop of the color purple. The stepping of the elephant symbolizes moving forward, never stopping or staying still, continuously progressing. The torch symbolizes wisdom and intelligence that lights the way.

We hope this gives you some context about Thai elephants so that the next time you’re visiting Thailand, you can understand more about why there’s so many elephants everywhere! Traveling is awesome, but we believe that in addition to enjoying the novel sights of another country, learning about its history and culture can really make your trip much more memorable!

Summary

  1. Elephant was symbolized on the Thai flag through 3 designs.
  2. Elephant is considered the king’s animal and used in royal ceremonies.
  3. White elephant is the most rare.
  4. Elephants played an important role in Thailand’s battles.
  5. Elephant is the symbol of the North.