Doi Suthep-Doi Pui National Park

The Doi Suthep Doi Pui National Park is just north of Chiang Mai. This National Park was established in 1981. It was not only to protect the surroundings of the temple but also the diverse forest ecosystems of the mountain. Doi Suthep provides a magnificent green backdrop to Chiang Mai.

Doi Suthep, Doi Buakha and Doi Pui are the three main peaks in the park. The highest peak, Doi Pui, rises to 1,685 meters above sea levels. The park covers roughly 261 square metres. The park boasts several waterfalls: Huay Kaew, Montathan, Mork Fa, Tad Mok, Mae Sa and Mae Yi waterfalls.

aerial view of city with skyscrapers and mountains
View from Doi Suthep

History of Doi Suthep-Doi Pui

I have been looking for the earliest mentioning of Doi Suthep in books and other records. Research is ongoing. The German botanist Carl Curt Hosseus (1878-1950) visited Northern Siam between 1904 and 1906, the first European botanical expedition to Siam. In his book ‘Through King Chulalongkorn’s Kingdom (1904-1906): The First Botanical Exploration of Northern Thailand’, published in 1912, he describes his trip to Doi Suthep. The first botanical collections from northern Siam were made by him,as he himself did not forget to stress.

Arthur Kerr, the father of Thai botany

Irish botanist A.F.G.Kerr (1877–1942), a medical doctor turned botanist, lived in Chiang Mai from roughly 1903 until 1913. He appears on a group picture which adorns the wall of the members section of the Gymkhana Club in Chiang Mai. Kerr is recognised as the ‘founding father’ of Thai botany.

Group of people long time ago
Christmas meet at the Gymkhana Club, Chiang Mai. Sitting on the right is Arthur Francis George Kerr

In the early days in Chiang Mai he was the Medical officer of Health for the Siamese government. Gradually plants and flowers became his first passion. Later he lived and worked in Bangkok. In the Directory for Bangkok and Siam of 1925 he appears as the Director of the Botanical Section of the Ministry of Commerce. He traveled extensively through the whole country and came back to Chiang Mai regularly.

The Kerr collection at Kew Herbarium

Kerr built a hut at about 650m at a place called Hui Chieng Kien, which might be near the location of the current Hmong village Ban Chiang Khian. He also spent time at the Chawngcheng Sanatorium, a resort for missionaries in the hot season. Missionary Dr James McKean was a good friend of Kerr.

Kerr left an enormous legacy of trip reports, photographs, drawings and high quality dried plant specimens of plants and flowers. You can find the Kerr collection at Kew Herbarium at Kew Gardens in London. Many of his plant and flowers specimens can be found online. An ambitious plan to digitise all his more than 3,000 photographs and itineraries has never materialized. I visited Kew Herbarium in August 2019 and copied many of his photographs.

Bungalows on Doi Suthep before World War Two

It is not easy to find out how many and which structures there were on Doi Suthep before World War Two. The Wat Prathat Doi Suthep had been there for centuries and Wat Palad, the forest temple, as well. Kerr built his little hut probably around 1910. There was the Chawncheng Sanatorium at an elevation of 1650m, well above the Doi Suthep temple.

Just above the temple, where now the national park bungalows are, were the bungalows of the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation and of Edward Hutchinson, a BBTC employee who retired in 1925. Arthur Queripel, another BBTC employee, has his own bungalow on Doi Suthep but we are not sure where. Close to the BBTC bungalows was a missionary bungalow but it was the not sanatorium that I mentioned earlier.

Man and woman in front of bungalow
Evelyn and Kathleen van Millingen in front of their BBTC Bungalow above Doi Suthep

Bungalows on Doi Suthep

The British Consulate had at least one bungalow on Doi Suthep. This is where British Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary Robert Greg stayed for one night in 1922 when he visited Chiang Mai. The story of Greg’s visit you can find here.

Some of the British employees of the BBTC stayed for up to six weeks on the mountain. In the early 1930s Peter Pointon, the BBTC forest manager in Lampang, invited Bill and Ursula Streatfeild to stay in a bungalow on Doi Suthep. Bill worked for the BBTC in Bangkok. You can find Ursula’s story about that trip here.

Wat Doi Suthep staircase in the early morning
Dragon staircase to Wat Doi Suthep

Dara Rasami’s Rose Garden

Dara Rasami (1873-1933) was one of the princess consorts of Chulalongkorn, King Rama V of Siam. After the passing of the King in 1910 she returned to Chiang Mai in 1914. Until her own death she spent time in her rose garden which probably was close to or at the location of the current Bhubing Flower Garden, next to the Bhubing Palace. King Rama VII visited Chiang Mai in January 1927. The King and Queen visited the rose garden of Dara Rasami during their stay.

Several pink roses
Bhubing Flower Garden Rose

Trekking in the National Park

At this moment we offer a great one day trek. The forest is beautiful, and the views are amazing. Everyone who is in reasonable shape can do this trek. Our hike starts in Doi Pui Hmong village and ends in Ban Mae Sa Mai village, which is the largest Hmong community in Northern Thailand. Before we start trekking, we visit Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, the most famous landmark of Chiang Mai. We also offer a great two-day tour that gives an insight into daily life in Ban Mae Sa Mai.

This includes the same day trek from Doi Pui village to Baan Mae Sa Mai with an overnight in Baan Mae Sa Mai. Even though the Doi Suthep/Doi Pui National Park is close to Chiang Mai, we seldom meet other tourists on the trails. We have organized several educational tours to Baan Mae Sa Mai for exchange students from the United States for the non-profit organization USAC.

Hmong women walking to the New Years festivities at Baan Mae Sa Mai Hmong Hill tribe
Hmong New Year at Baan Mae Sa Mai. Picture by Sabine Frijns

Other activities near Doi Pui-Doi Suthep

It is possible to combine Doi Suthep Doi Pui National Park with a visit to the Mae Sa Valley. In this valley, you can find the Mae Sa Waterfall, Thai Elephant Care Center and the Eagle Track zipline. The Mae Sa Valley has a variety of activities and tourist sights, including bungy jumping, orchid farms, snake shows, etc.. Visiting the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden is also an option.

Green rice fields with mountain
Doi Suthep from Sankamphaeng district

The Hmong Villages on Doi Pui-Doi Suthep

There are several Hmong villages in the national park: Baan Doi Pui, Baan Khun Chang Khian and Baan Mae Sa Mai. There are in total 12 Hmong communities in and around the Doi Suthep-Doi Pui area. I have found no evidence that there were Hmong villages on Doi Suthep-Doi Pui before World War Two. Likely the Hmong people moved into this area in the 1950s. I have spoken to some villagers who told me their parents came from the Doi Inthanon and moved to Chiang Mai.

The Hmong have lived a rather independent and undisturbed life on the mountain. They practised slash-and-burn agriculture and cultivated opium. Thailand made opium illegal in 1958. Things changed on Doi Suthep when the Bhubing Palace was finished. The Royal Family would stay here and also foreign dignitaries such as Indonesian president Sukarno and King Frederick IX and Queen Ingrid of Denmark.

Hmong textiles Ban Mae Sa Mai
Hmong textiles

The Royal Project on Doi Suthep

It was the Thai monarch, Rama IX, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who initiated development projects on Doi Suthep that became known as the Royal Project. The Hmong people were living in abject poverty, grew opium and destroyed the forest on Doi Suthep. Under the guidance of the king the government started an opium eradicating program, moved the Hmong people to a new location lower on the mountain and started experimenting with cash crops.

In the Hmong villages Baan Mae Sa Mai, Baan Doi Pui and Baan Chang Kien people hold the King in very high esteem. He helped them build a good life and allowed them to stay in the national park under conditions.

Tourists hiking Ban Mae Sa Mai Hmong Village Hmong Trekking
Ban Mae Sa Mai Hmong Village trekking

Doi Suthep Temple

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is a Theravada Buddhist temple. It is a prominent pilgrimage spot for the devout and a legend featuring a white elephant is connected to this revered site. The viewdeck of the temple offers spectacular views of Chiang Mai and its surroundings. The temple attracts a huge number of local visitors and features in every Chiang Mai tour.

Panorama of a village, forests and fields
Ban Mae Sa Mai village

Forest of Doi Suthep Doi Pui National Park

There are two types of forest on the mountain: Deciduous forest below about 1,000 m elevation and evergreen forest above. There are two kinds of deciduous forest in the park: deciduous dipterocarp-oak Forest in the driest areas and mixed evergreen, deciduous forest along streams and gullies. Common species are trees of the families Dipterocarpaceae, Fagaceae and Magnoliaceae. In November you can observe the rare Sapria Himalayana, related to the Rafflesia.
(Elliot, The National Parks and other Wild Places of Thailand)

Fauna

Wildlife in the Doi Suthep Doi Pui National park includes common muntjac, wild boar, macaque and other small mammals. Wildlife in the park is rarely seen. The park is a paradise for bird lovers. More than 300 species of birds can be seen here, including red junglefowl, pheasants, eagles, parrots, bulbuls and minivets.

The forest restoration activities of FORRU, the Forest Restoration Unit of Chiang Mai University, seems to have resulted in the return of a number small mammals. Villagers of Baan Mae Sa Mai told me there were four “tigers” living in the protected forest above their village. These are probably small wild cats.

Green Trails offers these tours to Doi Suthep/Doi Pui: