Doi Inthanon National Park is the most famous in northern Thailand, partly because of its undeniable beauty, partly because it is conveniently located just 85 km from Chiang Mai, and partly because it contains the highest peak in all of Thailand, with an altitude of 2565 meters.
Intro to Doi Inthanon National Park
The mountain was formerly known as Doi Luang (Great Mountain) until its name was changed to Doi Inthanon in homage to the last king of Chiang Mai, Inthawichayanon (1817-1897), who during his reign was concerned about the conservation of forests and nature in the mountains of northern Thailand.
The Park covers a large area of 482 km2, so upon arrival it is highly recommended to stop at the National Park Headquarters to pick up a map of the area and gather information.
The natural life of the Park is especially rich in birds, of which there are about 400 species. The wide range of altitude allows many different types of vegetation to live within the Park, from pine forests in the highest areas to dipterocarps in the lower ones. The variety of mammals is not particularly extensive, but there are about twenty species including macaques, gibbons, porcupines and nebulous panthers.
Why is Doi Inthanon National Park so popular? Basically because it is easy to reach and offers a range of interesting sites and activities that can be enjoyed by everyone, since they generally only require a small physical effort.
Three Things you should know about Doi Inthanon
It’s only 1.5 hours from Chiang Mai
It is common to visit Doi Inthanon as a single day trip from Chiang Mai, either on your own or by booking through a tour agency to make the most of your time. If you visit for longer than one day, you can either sleep inside the Park in the basic bungalows or camping area, or choose a more comfortable accommodation near one of the entrances of the Park.
Roads are good, but there is no public transport
Despite being one of the most renowned National Parks in Thailand, its infrastructures -accommodation, restaurants, information center- are rather poor, although roads are in good condition. Keep in mind that inside the Park there is no public transport, so the best way to visit is by renting a motorcycle or car, or by joining an agency tour.
Entrance fee is 300 THB for foreign adults, 150 THB for children
Doi Inthanon usually satisfies all visitors, since without requiring any great physical effort it allows combining activities such as visiting spectacular waterfalls -such as the enormous Wachirathan-, hiking through the forest along rivers, rice paddies and small waterfalls, visiting tribal villages and markets, admiring panoramic mountain views and reaching the highest spot in Thailand.
🥾 Hiking in Doi Inthanon
Hiking is one of the best activities one can do in Doi Inthanon
In Doi Inthanon National Park you can hike along many mountain trails of varying lengths and levels of difficulty. But since Thais are generally not very fond of trekking, and most visitors come on a single day visit from Chiang Mai, the 3 most popular trails in the Park are short and easy walks, although really pretty.
We’ve done these 3 short hikes in Doi Inthanon, so here you have our first-hand opinion
▶️ Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail: A beautiful circular trail of just under 3 km long, which begins near the two big pagodas and takes about two hours. The path runs through a cold and humid wooded area with moss-covered trees, and offers some really beautiful views. There are numerous signboards with information about local nature. Officially it is mandatory to walk with a Park ranger as guide, who can be hired at the National Park Headquarters for 200 THB. This trail remains closed between June 1st and October 30th.
Kew Man Pae Trail offers amazing mountain views from the highest area in all of Thailand, but remains closed from June to October.
▶️ Ang Ka Luang Nature Trail: This trail is even closer to the mountain top, with vegetation very similar to the previous one, but has fewer views and is much shorter: it takes only about 15 or 20 minutes to complete. It offers an easy walk through a dense wooded area of moss-covered trees, a quite unique view. This trail can be hiked throughout the year.
⭐ Pha Dok Siew Trail is our top pick and is recommended for everyone, since is open all year long, it’s not difficult -although sometimes steep- and runs next to a beautiful river with waterfalls.
▶️ Pha Dok Siew: to hike along this trail you must hire the services of a local Karen guide, for 200 THB. The tour, which is less than 3 km long and usually takes about 1.5 hours, can be done in both directions, starting or ending in the Karen village of Mae Klang Luang. In this village, the ancient traditional cultivation of opium has been replaced by tobacco since decades ago, in addition to rice and many other agricultural products. Much of the trail borders a beautiful small river that forms several waterfalls. Despite the language limitations, the company of the local guides greatly enriches the experience, since they know in detail each tree, bush and animal in the area, and make an effort to show it to visitors, cutting tree barks to smell, opening old bamboo poles to catch the worms that live inside them -a delicacy for the local cuisine!- or to point out animals that would easily go unnoticed. This trail can also be hiked throughout the year.
ℹ️ Things to do in Doi Inthanon (other than hiking)
Doi Inthanon: the highest peak in Thailand
One would take for granted that reaching the highest peak in Thailand must invlove a good pair of boots and lots of sweat… but nothing is further from the truth! Actually you won’t need to walk more than a few steps, since there is a road that leads to the very top, and temperatures up there range from cool to cold, so if you don’t wear warm clothing you could easily catch a cold.
Seriously: don’t forget to bring warm clothing!
The summit itself is surrounded by forest without panoramic views, so it is not particularly interesting. All you’ll find right there is a sign that congratulates you on having reached the highest point in Thailand, an astronomical observatory and the starting point of Ang Ka Luang Nature Trail.
But what no one wants to miss are the two huge chedis -Buddhist conical shaped monuments- at km 42, about 6km before reaching the peak. They were built to commemorate the 60th anniversary of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit, in 1987 and 1992 respectively.
The terrace that surrounds the two giant chedis is the highest panoramic viewpoint in all of Thailand.
These modern pagodas -there are even escalators to climb up to them!- are surrounded by beautiful flower gardens, and on clear days offer amazing views over the surrounding mountains and plains… although very often -and especially in the rainy season- there are low clouds that partially or completely block the view.
There are many waterfalls scattered among the almost 500 km2 of Doi Inthanon National Park, and some of them are easily accessible by road. Here we highlight 3 of the most popular:
▶️ Wachirathan: accessible by car in a detour at km 21 you’ll find huge Wachirathan waterfall, one of the most spectacular in the entire Park. There is a trail that allows you to explore the surroundings of the waterfall and reach its top, as well as visit some caves in its vicinity. Bathing is prohibited throughout the year. Next to the waterfall parking lot there is a good cafe and a few local restaurants offering tasty food.
Massive Wachirathan Waterfall is truly impressive in the rainy season.
▶️ Mae Klang: although it belongs to the National Park, Mae Klang waterfall is located just before reaching the eastern access gate, so it has its own booth where you can also buy the Park ticket. It is also a large waterfall (although not as high or beautiful as Wachirathan), but it is very popular among the inhabitants of the area especially during weekends, when many come here to have a picnic and bath in the small natural pools.
▶️ Siriphum: also accessible by road, at km 31, it is another of the most spectacular waterfalls in the Park, with a huge main water flow that splits into many small waterfalls, which break over the rocky bed of the river before continuing their course through the jungle.
🏨 Where to stay in Doi Inthanon
Most travelers visit Doi Inthanon on a day trip from Chiang Mai, usually with an agency. But if you decide to go on your own and spend more than one day, you have several accommodation options both within the Park and next to its west (Mae Chaem) and east (Chom Thong) entrances, although the latter is more popular as it has a wider offer and is closer to Chiang Mai.
Inside the Park
Bungalows In Doi Inthanon
The bungalows are located about 7 km from the main (west) entrance of the Park, and 23 km from the east entrance, the most convenient if coming from Chiang Mai. The Hmong village of Khun Klang is at walking distance. They are equipped with a fan and a bathroom with hot water, can accommodate up to 3 people and are priced at 1,000 THB/night, although for larger groups there are also chalets with capacity for 6 (2,500 THB) and 8 people (3,000 THB). You can book them online through the Department of National Parks website (http://portal.dnp.go.th).
Tents in Doi Inthanon
The camping area is located just 300 metres south of the bungalows. At the entrance of the camping area you can rent small tents, with a maximum capacity of 3 people, for 225 THB/night, as well as a variety of camping equipment (sleeping bags, mats, pillows, etc.) for 60 THB/item.The truth is that sleeping inside the Park does not offer any great advantage, since the immediate natural environment here is not more beautiful than what you’ll find in many resorts around Chom Thong, and the only advantage is the closest location to the main Park sites.
Outside the Park
Spread between Chom Thong (east entrance) and its surroundings, and especially around Highway 1009 (which leads to the eastern entrance of the Park), there are about twenty accommodations, mostly resorts from basic to mid-range. A good option among the cheaper ones is Little Home Inthanon Resort, which offers bungalows for between 400 and 1,000 THB/night.
Mae Cham is the town next to the west entrance of Doi Inthanon National Park. There are hostels, hotels and bungalows, all of them basic and inexpensive, such as the very popular Mae Chaem Hotel, a small resort that, among other room types, offers wooden bungalows surrounding a garden, for a price between 400 and 600 THB/night.
2 good resorts and hotels outside the Park
Doi Inthanon View Resort
A large two-star resort with good facilities and nice wooden bungalows next to a large garden, with rooms priced around 2,500-3,000 THB/night.
Suan Sook Homestay
A small modern hotel in a rural surrounding, with rooms more modern than the previous one, also priced 2,500-3,000 THB/night
☀️ Best time to visit Doi Inthanon
The ideal time of the year to visit Doi Inthanon National Park is between November and February, when there is no rain and the cool temperatures are perfect for hiking… But in the coldest of the year they drop down to around 6℃ or even less, an extremely cold temperature for Thailand! If you visit between late January and early February, you will have the chance to enjoy the beautiful Siamese Sakura bloom.
The rainy season between May and October has some upsides: vegetation is at its lushest, rivers and waterfalls flow full of water, and temperatures at Doi Inthanon are still cool enough. But rainy season clearly has its downsides as well: humidity levels are high (read sweaty), terrain can be slippery, and if you are so unlucky that you catch hard rain it might ruin your visit. But even in rainy season it is rather uncommon that hard rain lasts for many hours, so you better check the weather forecast and cross your fingers.
The worst time to visit Doi Inthanon is between March and April, when there is no rain but vegetation is drier, rivers and waterfalls flow with little water or even get completely dry, and the smoke from slash and burn agriculture can get to ruin both the views and your lungs.
!!! Even in the hot season, do not forget to bring warm clothing to visit the peak of Doi Inthanon! If you are lucky enough to have a sunny day, you may not need it, but better be on the safe side. During the winter, especially between November and January, wearing a coat is absolutely essential, since sub-zero temperatures are not uncommon.
🚇 How to get to Doi Inthanon from Chiang Mai
The best way to visit Doi Inthanon National Park is either to rent a car/motorcycle or to join a tour organized with an agency, since getting there by public transport is difficult and slow, and within the Park there is no public transport at all.
🚍 BY BUS
Getting to Doi Inthanon by public transport is a bit complicated and quite slow, but the main problem is that inside the Park there is no public transport at all, so you will be extremely limited to move around. In any case, leaving from Chiang Mai, you would first have to take a bus to Chom Thong –58 km–, the town closest to the eastern entrance of the Park.
Buses depart from Chang Puak Bus Station, located about 500 meters north of the north gate of Chiang Mai’s Old Town. Once in Chom Thong walk to the nearby temple Wat Phrathat Si Chom Thong, in front of which minibuses (140 THB) and songthaews (180 THB) depart to the top of Doi Inthanon, stopping as well at Wachirathan waterfall. Vehicles depart when full, so waiting times are unpredictable.
🚕 BY CAR OR MOTORBIKE
Driving from Chiang Mai to Doi Inthanon is very easy: just follow road 108 for 55 km until just before reaching Chom Thong, then take a right turn (road 1009) for 9 km until you reach the East entrance of the Park. From there you’ll have to travel another 20 km inside the Park to get to the information office. The roads are in perfect condition, and overall by car it usually takes around 1.5 hours to complete the journey, a little longer if you ride a scooter.