Doi Inthanon towers above the other peaks in the mountainous northern Thailand, and at 2563 MASL, it is the highest point in the country. Its one of the most popular destinations for both local Thais and foreign tourists, offering attractions like waterfalls, bird watching (home to nearly 400 bird species), hill tribe villages, and forest trails.
It used to be known as Doi Luang ("big mountain") but was renamed in honor of one of the last kings of Chiang Mai who was a nature conservationist. It was declared a national park in 1954 and now covers more than 400 sq. km of protected area the includes cloud forests.
A big national park such as this cannot be covered in a day, but if you are in a day trip here, you obviously have to make a decision on which attractions to visit. The most popular route is to follow the main highway going up to the summit. If you are into waterfalls, you'll be able to easily see three, but (and its a big BUT!) you will miss the gorgeous Mae Ya waterfalls. Its not on the same route and about 1 hour away from the main gate of the park. Sure you can squeeze in a trip to Mae Ya, but it'll be very tight and will leave you little time to enjoy the rest of the attractions.
So here's what you can do with a short visit to the park:
(1) Chase waterfallsMae Klang
Mae Klang is located at the foot of Doi Inthanon. The entrance fee to the waterfall is already included in the admission fee for the park. But this waterfall is located before the park gate on a separate road (its very near though - less than a kilometer), so make sure you get your admission tickets first before heading here.
Siritharn Waterfall is just along the road heading up to the summit. From the road you take a cemented stairs down for about 200 meters to a viewing platform.
(2) Check out the local market
Don't miss out on the local produce, in-season fruits, fruit preserves and wines. This is also along the main road and just near the park headquarters.
(3) Visit a hill tribe villageThere are Karen and Hmong villages in Doi Inthanon. One Karen village is just off the main road near the park HQ.
You can view their traditional weaving process as well as buy their finished products (scarves, table runners, etc)
(4) Roam the gardens of the Royal PagodasKing's Pagoda
Best on a sunny summer's day. If you come late in the afternoon during the rainy months expect some fog and if you are unlucky, a heavy downpour.
the Queen's, seen from the garden in King's pagoda
The twin chedis (Phra Mahathat Naphamethanidon and Nophamethanidon), located about 3km before the summit, were built to commemorate the King and Queen's 60th birthday (1989 and 1992 respectively)
bas relief on King's pagoda outside wall
Both chedis have a beautiful adjacent garden. There is an overlooking view on a hill on the Queen's pagoda side where you can get both chedis in one frame.
(5) Summit, of course!There is no overlooking view here but you'll find a quaint shrine dedicated to King Inthanon at the summit.
shrine at the summit
The shrine was built 1915 to hold the ashes of the late king. The small chedi next to it was built by Air Force personnel in 1975.
Across the parking lot near the summit are trails where you can enjoy a quick trek through a mossy forest.
Getting thereFrom Chiang Mai city center to Doi Inthanon's peak is about 103km - that's more or less 2 hours travel time. So scratch tuktuks out of the picture. I saw songthaews (those red pick-up trucks) along the route to the peak and I think you'd be able to rent one from Chom Thong but that will still limit your mobility. Your options would be:
- Join a public day tour (plenty to choose from in Chiang Mai). This is the cheapest option but would be constrained. If you are like me who likes to take his time (I even had to shoot Siritharn twice on the same day because the light was not favourable on the first try) then this is not for you.
- Rent a car and drive there yourself. Route is not that hard to follow, especially with a GPS unit :)
- Hire a driver + car for the day. Most expensive but the best option as you can fully enjoy the sights and not worry about driving. This will set you back between 3500-4500 bhat depending on your itinerary. You can check out: http://www.thailand-private-drivers.com/, look for Joy [firstname.lastname@example.org]