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.
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.
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.
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.