Exploring Doi Inthanon National Park, Thailand

Doi Inthanon view from Kew Mae Pan trail

Coffee! I’d love to do another post about the awesome coffee available in Doi Inthanon, and just leave it at that, but it turns out there’s a lot more to do in this national park than drink coffee and hang out with coffee growers.

Today I’m going to tell you about everything else you can do in this fantastic national park in northern Thailand (and maybe suggest that coffee again. Read on to find out!)

Found not too far from the northern city of Chiang Mai, Doi Inthanon National Park is famous for being home to Thailand’s highest mountain, also called Doi Inthanon.

That big mountain means all sorts of things. It means there are micro climates up here that you won’t find anywhere else in Thailand. There are waterfalls that are both accessible and magnificent. And there are some fantastic buildings to visit. Let’s take a look at some:

Highlights of Doi Inthanon National Park

The Waterfalls

A big mountain surrounded by forest in a part of the world that has a rainy season means that you are likely to find some spectacular waterfalls, and Doi Inthanon doesn’t disappoint in that regard.

We visited a number of them, but the ones that stick out as being most impressive include Mae Ya (260m fall), Vachrithan (70m fall), Siritharn and Mae Klang.

Waterfall Doi Inthanon National Park

Mae Ya requires a bit of a side trip as it is not on the main access road to the park, thus requiring a specific journey, so if you are only in Doi Inthanon for a day trip you might miss this one. The other three are all on the main access road up to the peak, and are easy to get to, often with the viewpoint right next to the car park.

In some cases you can walk to the top of the falls for an alternative perspective, and to feel that you’ve earned the view. I don’t know about you, but pulling up in a carpark and hopping out always feels a bit like cheating. Speaking of driving to a sight….

Visit Doi Inthanon peak

The highest mountain in Thailand isn’t going to win any awards for height. Nor, if I’m honest, for spectacularness (I may have just made that word up) – the main peak is surrounded by forest, so doesn’t even offer a view, other than of some trees, which are admittedly very nice. It’s also decidedly easy to get to, with the main road going pretty much all the way to the top.

The top is home to a shrine, in memory of the last King of Chiang Mai, after whom the park is named. There is also a lovely walking track through some cloud forest with explanation panels about the flora and fauna which is worth doing. This is, after all, the start of the Himalayas!

Tree cloud forest walk Doi Inthanon peak

Overall though, after taking in the walking track and taking a picture of yourself with the sign that proves you are at the highest point in Thailand, I’d suggest moving on to some spots that really are spectacular, and maybe:

Take a hike along the edge of the world

If you only do one walk in Doi Inthanon, then the 3km Kew Mae Pan trail is the one you have to do. You have to pay extra for the privilege – it’s 200 baht per group to hire a guide for the trail, which isn’t optional.

It is totally worth it though, and the guide knows all kinds of things that you probably don’t, so the two or three hours that the walk will take you (I know, it seems unlikely that 3km will take three hours, but trust me, the views are so epic that you’re going to take this long!) will also be stuffed full of knowledge. And knowledge is good!

The wonderful thing about this walk is the variety it offers. You will walk through cloud forest, past waterfalls, then up out onto a plain that offers incredible views across northern Thailand. Well worth the effort and tiny cost, I assure you!

Visit the Royal Pagodas

Built in honour of the King and Queen’s 60th birthdays by the Royal Thai Air Force, these two massive pagodas command perhaps one of the most impressive views in all of Thailand. Certainly the best pagoda view at least.

Royal Pagoda Doi Inthanon Thailand close up

You can visit and go inside both pagoda’s, and also wander around the beautiful gardens outside them. But the real draw has to be that view, as they are perched on the side of the mountain, with fantastic views across the park and parts of northern Thailand.

Visit a hill tribe and drink some coffee

Oh wait, I did a whole post about this already. Well, one of the things you are able to do in Doi Inthanon national park is to visit a hill tribe, and many tours include this as an activity.

Your mileage may vary – we had a great visit where we met some awesome people and drank locally grown coffee. We enjoyed it so much we went back the next day and took a guided walk with one of the locals, and bought some of the coffee, which was superb.

Not everyone reports having such a positive experience visiting hill tribes though, feeling that it is a little contrived and artificial, so read up before you go and ensure that where you are visiting is going to work for you.

How to get there & around

There are a few options for exploring Doi Inthanon. The easiest is probably to take a tour from Chiang Mai, which will include transport to, from and around the park, as well as take in the main sights, which will likely include most of the above except perhaps the hike. Expect to have to pay the entry fee to the park on top of the tour fee – this is currently 200 baht for a foreigner.

If you want a more independent voyage, then hiring a car or scooter for a day or two will certainly give you more freedom, and let you spend more time in the bits you want to visit.

You could also consider getting a group together yourself, and hiring a Songthaew (covered pick up) for the day. Ensure you negotiate with the driver as to the cost up front, and check if it includes fuel.

There isn’t really any public transport in the park, although you can get to near the park entrance by public transport from Chiang Mai, and then try and hitch if that’s your thing.

Where to stay

The highlights of Doi Inthanon can easily be covered in a day, but if you wanted to explore a little more, perhaps with a hike, or to visit some more waterfalls, then staying for longer is a good option.

Doi Inthanon waterfall close up

One way to do that is with one of the aforementioned hill tribes, many of whom offer home stay options. Alternatively, the National Park service offers both camping (with tent and equipment rental if required) and bungalow accommodation options. The latter tend to book up well in advance, and camping is also very popular with locals, so if you are interested in these, do check they are available well before turning up!

We hope that you enjoyed today’s post on the Doi Inthanon National Park. If you’ve got any questions, or experiences to share, or just some thoughts, do fire away in the comments below. And thanks, as always, for reading!

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