Thailand’s tropical beaches are some of the prettiest sights we’ve ever laid our eyes on, but a last minute trip to the Doi Inthanon National Park in Chiang Mai unexpectedly redefined the word “beautiful” for us. Why we haven’t taken a day trip to Doi Inthanon sooner is beyond us, but this exquisitely green side of nature was absolutely spectacular. So much so that dare we say it’s now our favorite place we’ve ever visited in Thailand.
We’re not the first people to regularly forgo vacationing in our own backyard. We know that Chiang Mai has plenty of interesting places to visit and things to do. So naturally, we stick them in our back pockets and save the best for our visiting family and friends.
When Angela’s college friends came to our side of the world and said they were going hiking up Doi Inthanon, the tallest mountain in Thailand, we thought, “Heck, why not go, too?”
Highlights of Our Day Trip to Doi Inthanon
We didn’t have nearly enough time to go to all the recommended stops during our day trip to Doi Inthanon, but the areas of the park that we managed to see were AHHmazing!
We were also lucky the day was bright and sunny with big fluffy white clouds and clear robin egg blue skies. And even though Chiang Mai’s cool season just started in December, Doi Inthanon’s high altitude (nearly 2,600 meters) sports temperatures in the mid-teens ⁰C (mid-60s ⁰F) much of the year, which was a welcomed change from the city heat below.
Giew Mae Pan Nature Trail
Do not miss this. If there is one place you have to go while in the Doi Inthanon National Park, it’s the Giew Mae Pan Nature Trail.
At first, we were hesitant to go because hiking the Giew Mae Pan Nature Trail requires a guide at a price of 200 baht per group. But we quickly warmed up to the man who led us, a local Hmong hill tribesman who undoubtedly cared for and respected the mountain. He was a very personable and humble guide and contributed fun facts and short stories about the trail and his people that really added a special touch to our trip. If we remember correctly, his name was Pong.
The first kilometer of the trail twists its way through a towering forest made of (surprisingly) tall oak species blanketed in a variety of moss. There weren’t tropical coconut trees with a deep underbrush of ferns as we had expected. Then the trail opens up to a clearing of golden hills.
That second kilometer lead us along the mountain’s ridge and experienced some of the most gorgeous skylines we have ever seen. Much of our photos captured rolling blue-green mountains and a kaleidoscope of green forests down in the valley below.
The last half of a kilometer took us back into the cool forest where we walked by several small waterfalls and over bridges that spanned crystal clear streams, all which eventually feed into Thailand’s mighty Chao Phraya River.
|TIP: This 2.5 km trail requires a moderate level of physical activity. It has a significant number of both gentle and steep stairs to climb and descend. Make sure you’re in good health (with good knees!) and can withstand a moderate level of activity for 2+ hours.
Royal Twin Pagodas
Our first glimpse of the Royal Twin Pagodas was actually while hiking the Giew Mae Pan Nature Trail. Roughly two-thirds way through the trek the trail opens up to a clearing on a hillside just opposite of the Royal Twin Pagodas. What an incredible view!
We knew we were going there next and get a closer look at these immense structures.
These Royal Twin Pagodas, known as Naphamethinidon and Naphaphonphumisiri, are two Buddhist structures that contain important relics. The mirrored structures were built to honor Their Majesties The King and Queen of Thailand. We walked around some of the surrounding landscaped gardens and up the stairs of the pagodas for more mountain views.
|TIP: Although the national park’s entrance fee is 300 baht per person, the Royal Twin Pagodas has a separate entrance fee of 40 baht per person.|
The Summit: Highest Point in Thailand
We made a quick dash to the very top of the mountain, known as The Summit. There isn’t much to see here aside from some interesting wooden trails that take you to a shrine that holds the ashes of King Inthanon (for whom the mountain is named.) It only requires a short walk from the parking lot to the sign. Of course, we had to take a picture as proof of our visit!
We had only an hour or so left before the sunset, but we still wanted to visit at least one of the many waterfalls on Doi Inthanon. We randomly chose Suriphum Waterfall and spent some time exploring the interesting gardens at its base before snapping a few shots of the falls.
It’s actually an extremely tall waterfall and you can appreciate its height much more on the approaching drive. It’s possible to hike up to near the top of the waterfall (a strenuous hike we may add) but there were no safety restrictions such as handrails to prevent us from tumbling into the waterfall. To be honest it was a little intimidating, especially with the approaching darkness.
How to Get to Doi Inthanon
It takes about an hour and a half’s drive to get from Chiang Mai to Doi Inthanon National Park. The best way to get there is by hiring a local driver or tour guide. We like that Take Me Tour offers a few different tours (group or private) and that the guides know where the best sightseeing spots are and when to go to beat the crowds. They’ll pick you up in an air-conditioned car or van, wait for you at each spot, and stop for a Thai lunch, too, before returning you to your hotel in Chiang Mai.
Otherwise, you can hail a songthaew (red truck taxi) from the main streets of Chiang Mai’s Old City. It’s not uncommon to hire the driver for the day and negotiate a price. After you’ve come to an agreement on the cost, the driver will take you there, wait while you explore, and then bring you back. Pay your driver in cash Thai baht at the end of the day.
Or, you can rent a car or motorbike and drive yourself. The drive is surprisingly easy. The road is wide, well maintained, and isn’t very curvy or very steep. To begin your trip, leave Chiang Mai Old City by turning south off the moat at Saen Pung Gate onto Thipanet Road (Route 108). Continue toward Hang Dong for 50 km and then turn right onto Route 1009. The entrance to the park is another 8 kilometers away, where you’ll have to pay to get in.
Cost of Our Self Guided Trip
The four of us decided to rent a car and take a day trip to Doi Inthanon on our own. We spent 888 baht or about 25 USD per person for the entire day.
The fee to the park is 300 baht per foreigner, even for those who have a Thai driver’s license. Otherwise, the fee for Thai people (or anyone who looks Thai) is 50 baht per person.
It’s worth mentioning that the regions of the park we explored were very well maintained. The Giew Mae Pan path was in excellent condition and alternated between quality concrete steps and packed dirt paths that progressed up and down through the forest. The roads up the mountain were free of potholes, too.
|TIP: Get a car with at least a 1.5L engine. We rented a Honda City (1.49L) and with the four of us and day packs (weighing about 600 lb or 275 kg total) we were using low gears to get up the hills a lot. If we had to do it over again, we’d get a more powerful vehicle.
We Can’t Wait to Go Back
Now that we’re home and flipping through the pictures we took, we can’t believe we’ve waited this long to go. No sooner had we gotten in the car to begin our drive home we were chatting about what we would do during our second visit.
In fact, we would suggest to others interested in visiting Doi Inthanon to go on a two-day trip instead of trying to fit everything into one day. There’s just too much to see such as more waterfalls, a second nature trail, and an interesting cave. Luckily the park headquarters rents out camping gear to visitors but there is also the option to spend the night in a Thai style bungalow within the park.
Have you ever been to Doi Inthanon? If so, what was your favorite part?
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