One of the oldest and most important of the protective spirits in Chiang Mai is a being known as Phor Luang Kam Daeng. It is widely believed that he dwells in the Chiang Dao Mountain, along with his spirit-wife, Nang In Lao. Largely by virtue of the marriage to his indigenous partner, the Lanna people believe him to be Lord of the Spirits of the region. His name always invoked first in local ceremonies.
Stories about his human existence, when he was a prince of Payao, are found in the famous local chronicles: the dumnarn and pongsawadan. According to these written and oral sources, the young ruler made the pledge to capture an elusive deer, but was exiled because he failed to do so. Having continued to follow the deer, he eventually reached Chiang Dao, where it turned into a bewitching beauty with whom he fell in love. Not realising how he had been beguiled, Phor Luang Kam Daeng later continued on the trail of the deer down to where Chiang Mai now stands, following the advice of a reusi, or hermit, there that this was a particularly auspicious location for settlement.
Having married into the Lua aristocracy of the locality, and fathered a large family, Suwanna Khamdaeng – as he is also known – returned to Chiang Dao cave and is still believed to be living there and protecting those who honour him appropriately, with his eternally bewitching shape-shifting (now deer, now human being) wife, Nang In Lao. (source)
Chiang Mai often welcomes hikers from all over the country and the region, in part due to their desire to hike the Doi Luang Chiang Dao. This hike takes participants up 2,225 meters and is considered one of the best mountains to hike in Thailand. It consists of several peaks that locals use as their primary water source. A hike through Doi Luang Chiang Dao exposes participants to views of reptiles, mammals and butterflies.
Modern explorers can thank European settler James McCarthy for rediscovering the beauty of Doi Luang Chiang Dao. He was traveling through Northern Thailand by mule and one day became sick. This forced him to stop and rest in what is now known as Chiang Dao. While there, he came across people living there who had been possessed by spirits and forced to remain in Chiang Dao for the rest of their lives, keeping them isolated from others in society.
How To Explore Doi Luang Chiang Dao
Hiking Doi Luang Chiang Dao can be done either on an overnight basis or as an entire day’s activity. The hike is often made by those who have a particular interest in bird watching and seeing beautiful flowers because they are available in great abundance.
Most that embark on this hike do so between the months of November and February. The reason for this is that despite the heightened crowds, the weather is more conducive to a hike than it is at any other time of the year. The Doi Chiang Dao summit often gets chilly at night.
Between March and May, the local weather is much warmer than it is between November and February, so some people choose to do the hike then. It is not unusual for tourists to arrive for the hike during the month of April because every April marks the celebration of a Thai New Year festival called Songkran. This festival fills the streets with attendees participating in water balloon fights and decorating each other’s faces with scented chalk. Many hikers will combine this festival and a hike for an all-in-one experience.
The worst time of year to make this hike is between May and November. This is because that is the rainy season for the area. It is also the time of year when the weather is at its most humid and that makes the journey particularly challenging and sometimes even potentially dangerous.
Arriving at Doi Luang Chiang Dao
Locals often drive in for this hike. Others fly into downtown Chiang Mai and drive on Highway 107 to the Chiang Dao district and through both the Muang Kong and Ban Chiang Dao. This brings them to Do Luang Chiang Dao and its nearby wildlife sanctuary. The office within the sanctuary issues the permits that hikers need in order to climb to the top of Doi Luang Chiang Dao.
Embarking On The Hike
To get to the hike’s designated starting point, participants can hire a truck or ride their bike. Those doing the hike as individuals rather than as part of a group often take a tent, sleeping bag, food, a camp stove, and other necessities up to the top of the mountain with them.
Descending from the summit, hikers often stop on the way back down to explore the Chiang Dao Cave. There are many areas within the cave that allow for an entire day’s worth of exploration if so desired.
The trip back to Chiang Mai then begins and includes a stop at the village of Mae Kampong, where some hikers do chose to spend the night. The next day they embark on the trek to Chaesorn National Park and begin the ascent to Doi Mon Lan. From here, hikers can view the Lampang, Chiang Rai, Lamphun and Chiang Mai provinces. After taking in the sights of all four provinces hikers begin the descent that takes them to Mae Kam Pong via a trail in the forest.
Hikers then come upon the Mae Kampong waterfall before making the trip to Chiang Mai. From there, hikers drive home or return to the airport to leave.
You probably aren’t visiting Doi Luang Chiang Dao to capture an elusive deer. You can, however, have a spiritual experience when the summit of this beautiful mountain is your destination. On a clear day, the horizon stretches on for seemingly an eternity, taking your breath with its simple, pure beauty.
There is nothing better.