I must admit that when the idea of visiting Doi, (“Mountain” in Thai) Inthanon, was presented to me, I was less than enthusiastic about the trip.
“Very easy, no worries, sir” said the tour coordinator, in halting English. “One road straight up and our vehicle will bring you to the top in about one hour.”
Every summit I have ever attempted since the beginning of Travelled Paths was achieved on foot. The idea of reaching a summit by vehicle seemed more like a tourism ploy than an adventure. The satisfaction of achieving a summit is to get there by your own effort.
Riding in a vehicle while someone else drives me to a summit? Maybe it would be a chance to relax. The thought of standing on Thailand’s highest point swayed me. Still – I was hesitant.
The tour coordinator must have sensed that I needed some extra motivation. “We will pass through many mountains and padi fields along the way. And, if you like, we can also arrange a home-stay at a tribal village and see hidden waterfalls.”
The conversation took 5 mins. I was sold. Let’s go trekking via vehicle instead of foot for this adventure. It wasn’t long before I found myself checking out of my guesthouse and hopping into a Toyata 4WD. I was on the way to Doi Inthanon National Park with my guide, Mr Narong.
Doi Inthanon National Park
Doi Inthanon National Park is named after the mountain Doi Inthanon, also the highest mountain in Thailand at 2565masl.
The park is located in the Thanon Thong Chai Range, in Chom Thong District, Chiang Mai Province, north of Thailand. Covering a vast 482-km² area, Doi Inthanon National Park encloses the highest peak, along with other smaller summits. Since the mountain is part of Himalayan Range, the high altitude contributes to the cold weather all through the year.
It also leads to an incredible amount of exploration opportunities if one is so inclined. Despite the cold, fruit is grown seasonally by those who live near the various peaks. Birds and gibbons sound their calls periodically and even a tiger or two has been known to make an appearance.
Info boards at the summit showing the evolution of the earth surface at 125, 65 and 25 million years ago. It is also interesting to see the Himalayan mountain range only started to develop 25 million years ago and ends at Northern Thailand.
Temperature ranges between 10-15 °C around midday. This national park is about 1000 sq. km and is surrounded by peaks, waterfalls and hiking trails. On the way to the summit, you will come across The King and Queen Twin Chedis, erected to honor the King and Queen of Thailand on their respective 60th birthdays. It is a common daytrip from Chiang Mai, yet it is also a hit with the locals and a hotspot during New Year holidays.
There are three large waterfalls in the park and each one is a sight to behold! Sirithan Waterfall is the largest and most popular, while Wachirathan Waterfall (a personal favorite of the royal princess as Mr Narong told me) and Siriphum Waterfall are smaller, but equally spectacular.
There’s a military base at the peak. Though it doesn’t boast great views like other peaks as it is mainly an forested area, there are no lack of photo opportunities for you to take home. After all you are standing on the “roof of Thailand!”
There’s a bit of history of Chiang Mai to be learnt from the mini museum at the summit.
The area was called Doi Angka until the year 1899. The name was changed to Doi Inthanon, which is also the shortened name of King Inthawichayanon. He was the the last king to rule Chiang Mai. His concern for Thailand’s forests and his drive to preserve them are the cornerstones of the park initiative, which was established in 1972. As per his request, his remains were laid to rest in the park and the forest was renamed as Doi Inthanon.
The park boasts valuable and important forests of several different types, including deciduous sprinkled amongst the mountain pine and teak. Their contribution to the local economy is significant.
An array of breathtaking flowerbeds that included phycastylis, vanda, rhododendron, and orchids decorate the park grounds. Epiphytic orchids, lianas, lichens and fern are also present here. Osmanda fern and Sphagnum Moss adorn the higher levels of the park. There are villages along the peak and agriculture is their prime occupation.
It was here I learnt about Thai’s Royal Project and appreciated why vehicle roads were placed to access this National Park. The Royal Project is an initiative of His Majesty, King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. It was founded in 1969 to solve the problems of deforestation, poverty and opium production by promoting alternative crops. It was the world’s first project to replace drug-crops with legal crops and is one of the most successful projects of this type.
With assistance and guidance from the Royal Project, natives and tribes cultivate fruits that thrive in cold climate like grapes, strawberries, apples and flowers. And in the process, accessibility to modern facilities from the outside world were enhanced.
A project sowed in love, reaped with love. I can see it from every farmer’s face.
Along the way, we passed by spectacular views of surrounding mountain range and boundless padi field plantations. The sales pitch from the tour coordinator really didn’t give this experience the justice it deserved, even though it was quite good.
We stopped by a Karen tribal village where we would be spending the night. Before nightfall, my RC drone did its work in helping me break the ice with the villagers and the experience entertained everyone for quite some time.
The idea of driving up to a summit may have seemed uninspiring at first, but I will be the first to admit that my initial impressions were 100% wrong. Doi Inthanon National Park provides visitors with an incredible experience that is more than the expanse of a vista or an encounter with local wildlife. It is a way to immerse oneself in local culture if you are willing to take that step.
I’m sure there are many that have travelled the same roads I experienced during my journey here. Thousands have seen the same views, taken the same summit pictures, and probably heard the same sales pitch I received from the tour coordinator. Even so, I’m left feeling like this journey was created just for me.
Doi Inthanon National Park is waiting. Find the journey that will be created just for you.