At 2,565m, Doi Inthanon is the highest mountain in Thailand and its surrounding areas are designated as the Doi Inthanon National Park. The park is located roughly 90 minutes’ drive southwest of Chiang Mai and is a popular day trip for locals who appreciate its cool climate. Doi Inthanon has numerous attractions, including several jaw-dropping waterfalls, plenty of trekking trails, a pair of contemporary chedis in honour of the King and Queen, some great viewpoints and a nature boardwalk at the summit.
The best way to explore Doi Inthanon National Park is by rental car or moped. If you don’t want to drive yourself, you can hire a minivan or taxi for a daytrip and there are also plenty of tours on offer. Should you want to stay over, there’s a campsite and chalets near the park HQ in the upper reaches of the mountain, as well as some private resorts at the base near Chomtong. Trekking is a major activity on the mountain, often to inaccessible areas that the day-trippers do not get to – a short trek is often included in day tours. Hill tribes also inhabit the mountain, adding a further interest and it is also noted as a good birdwatching area.
The park HQ is about halfway up the mountain, and the centre of activity. A food court here is the most popular place for visitors to get a bite to eat. Right beside 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 cultivation.
There is also a Karen weaving village in this area, Ban Pha Mon, which is worth a visit for textile lovers. Aside from being a typical example of a hill-tribe village, you can see the traditional hand weaving of colourful cotton sarongs in action. 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 embroidered clothing.
Doi Inthanon waterfalls
There are several decent roads leading to the park HQ; however, the most practical way (from Chiang Mai) is via Chomtong, which also leads you past all the best waterfalls. The most spectacular of these, which can be found near the base down a 15-kilometre detour, is Mae Yai Falls, which drops 100m in cascade form. Also near the base is Mae Klang waterfall, found right beside the park entrance, which is hugely popular with picnicking Thais on weekends. It’s certainly worth stopping for.
Halfway up is Wachiratan Waterfall, which plunges over a 40-metre sheer drop and cascades down through some pools that are suitable for taking a dip. A little further up the road, on the left, is the far less visited Sirithan Falls; another great sheet of tumbling water. The final waterfall, Siriphum, can be seen offset from the road near the ranger station and campsite. It’s best seen from a distance.
Five kilometres farther up the steep road is the summit, where there is a good photo opportunity in the form of a giant sign proclaiming: ‘The highest point in Thailand’. A couple of shops sell basic food as well as coffee and tea, and do a surprisingly brisk trade in selling sweaters! The grave of Chao Inthawichayanon – the last ruler of independent Lanna and after who the mountain is named – is found here.
Don’t miss the long boardwalk through the delicate eco-system found here. There are several other accessible walking trails on the mountain but you would need a guide to show you where they are. Alternatively, take one of the many roads leading off the main road; park up, and then walk a bit into the forest to get a sense of the lovely natural environment.
Near the summit of Doi Inthanon are the Royal Chedis, from where you can enjoy sweeping views of the valley below, especially Mae Chaem. However, cloud cover is the norm and visibility may be poor. The Naphamethaneedon Chedi and Napapolphumsiri Chedi were erected to commemorate the 60th birthdays of the King and Queen respectively and contain Buddha images and tiled murals. A restaurant here is probably your best bet for food on the mountain.
Accommodation in chalets is found at the park HQ, with advanced booking on weekends recommended. These can sleep up to eight people and food is available nearby. There is also a campsite nearby which is pleasant. Otherwise, all other private resorts are found at the base of the mountain just before the park entrance, and offer mixed comfort of a three-star level.
Bird watching on Doi Inthanon
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, too. The best place to start is perhaps Mr Dang’s birding centre, a restaurant/guesthouse/information centre. More than 350 species have been recorded in this park to date.
If you have time, you can descend to Mae Cham; a windy and view-laden route starting at the second park gate (a few kilometres higher than the park HQ). This will take you on a roundabout valley route via the intriguing Ob Luang gorge, enroute to Chom Tong and back to Chiang Mai. Adventurers can also take the route over the back side of the mountain from the park HQ to the Mae Wang district of San Patong, which is a picturesque drive that eventually meets HWY 108, connecting Chom Tong with Chiang Mai – both roads are sealed.
- Trekking in Northern Thailand
- Serviced apartment in Chiang Mai
- Chiang Mai Night Safari
- Chaweng beach guide
- Thong Sala Koh Phangan travel guide