The Doi Suthep-Pui National Park

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Doi Suthep-Pui National Park

The Doi Suthep-Pui National Park is just north of Chiang Mai. This National Park was established in 1981. It was to protect the temple’s surroundings and 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 meters. The park boasts several waterfalls: Huay Kaew, Montathan, Mork Fa, Tad Mok, Mae Sa, and Mae Yi waterfalls.

Tourists at Mork Fah Waterfall Doi Suthep-Pui National Park
Mork Fah Waterfall in Doi Suthep Pui National Park

History of Doi Suthep-Pui National Park

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.

Ferns in the morning fog Doi Suthep-Pui National Park
Ferns on Doi Suthep mountain

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 that adorns the wall of the Gymkhana Club members in Chiang Mai. Kerr is recognized as the ‘founding father’ of Thai botany.

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.

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

The Kerr collection at Kew Herbarium

Kerr built a hut at about 650m elevation at a location called Hui Chieng Kien. This might be near the current Hmong village, Ban Chang 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 flower specimens can be found online. An ambitious plan to digitize his more than 3,000 photographs and itineraries have never materialized. I visited Kew Herbarium in August 2019 and copied many of his photographs. I am not allowed to share them, though.

Red and white flowers Doi Suthep-Pui National Park
Bhubing Flower Garden

Bungalows on Doi Suthep before World War Two

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

Above the temple were the bungalows of the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation (BBTC) and Edward Hutchinson, a BBTC employee who retired in 1925. The Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation was a British company involved in the teak industry in North Thailand.

Arthur Queripel, another BBTC employee, owned a bungalow on Doi Suthep, but I am not sure where. Close to the BBTC bungalows was a missionary bungalow, but it was not the sanatorium I mentioned earlier. More research is needed.

BBTC Bungalow on Doi Suthep. Picture courtesy of Oliver Backhouse

Staying on the mountain

The British Consulate in Chiang Mai had a bungalow on Doi Suthep. British Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary Robert Greg visited Chiang Mai in 1922 and spent two nights in the consular bungalow. 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.

Two bungalows of Doi Suthep-Pui National Park
Doi Suthep-Pui National Park bungalows

Dara Rasami’s Rose Garden

Dara Rasami (1873-1933) was one of the princess consorts of King Chulalongkorn, Rama V. After the King’s passing 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 current Bhubing Flower Garden location, next to the Bhubing Palace. King Rama VII and Queen Rambai Barni visited Chiang Mai in January 1927. They also visited the Rose Garden of Dara Rasami during their stay.

Pink rose Doi Suthep-Pui National Park
Rose in the Bhubing Flower Garden

The Road to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

In late 1934 followers of the monk, Kruba Srivichai, started constructing a road to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. The road opened for traffic on April 30, 1935. Chin Ngow, a businessman of Chinese descent, drove the car that brought Kruba Srivichai and Luang Sri Prakad, the mayor of Chiang Mai, to the base of the stairs to the temple.  A famous photograph that was taken on that day shows Kruba Srivichai with both men and his followers at the stairs’ base.

Kruba Srivichai with followers at the base of the stairs to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep on April 30, 1935

Trekking in the National Park

Doi Suthep-Pui National Park is a fantastic destination for trekking and hiking. There is a network of trails that probably is centuries old. It is not easy to find the trails on your own. National Park authorities are not keen on visitors hiking in the park on their own. In the dry season, the park is usually closed for trekking to prevent forest fires. The most popular trail is the well-known Monk’s Trail that starts behind Chiang Mai Zoo. The trail leads to Wat Pha Lat, from where you can easily find the trail leading all the way to the temple.

Trail through the forest Doi Suthep-Pui National Park
The Monk's Trail to Wat Pha Lat

Green Trails trekking in Doi Suthep-Pui 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, the largest Hmong community in Northern Thailand. Before we start trekking, we visit Wat Pra that Doi Suthep, the most famous Chiang Mai landmark. We also offer a great two-day tour that gives insight into Ban Mae Sa Mai’s daily life.

This includes the same-day trek from Doi Pui village to Baan Mae Sa Mai 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.

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

Other activities near Doi Suthep-Pui National Park

It is possible to combine Doi Suthep-Pui National Park with a visit to the Mae Sa Valley. You can find the Mae Sa Waterfall, Thai Elephant Care Center, and the Eagle Track zipline in this valley. The Mae Sa Waterfall is within the boundary of the National Park.

The Mae Sa Valley has various activities and tourist sights, including bungy jumping, orchid farms, snake shows, etc… Visiting the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden is also an option.

Hmong guide with guests on Doi Pui
Hmong guide with guests

The Royal Project on Doi Suthep

The Thai monarch, Rama IX, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who initiated development projects on Doi Suthep, became known as the Royal Project. The Hmong people lived in abject poverty, grew opium, and destroyed the forest on Doi Suthep. Under the king’s guidance, 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 as a substitute for opium cultivation.

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

Mr.Sowme Green Trails Hmong hill tribe
Mr. Sowme, Ban Mae Sa Mai.
Panorama of a village, forests and fields
Ban Mae Sa Mai village

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is the most famous Buddhist temple of Chiang Mai and North Thailand. It is a significant pilgrimage spot for followers of Buddhism. The temple’s view deck offers spectacular views of Chiang Mai and its surroundings, if you are lucky with the weather. The temple attracts a huge number of local and foreign visitors and features in every Chiang Mai tour. The naga staircase of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is famous and appears in many photos.

Wat Doi Suthep golden chedi at night Doi Suthep Adventure
The chedi of Wat Doi Suthep after dark.

Forests of Doi Suthep-Pui National Park

There are roughly 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)

Tourists hiking Ban Mae Sa Mai Hmong Village best doi suthep trail
Ban Mae Sa Mai Hmong Village trekking

Fauna in the park

Wildlife in the Doi Suthep-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, seem to have resulted in several small mammals’ returns. 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. The chance that you will see wildlife in the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park is slim.

View from Doi Pui Calm before the storm Hmong Trekking best Doi Suthep trail
Doi Pui before the rain started

Green Trails tours in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park

Below are the tours we organize in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. Our sister brand offers more tours to the park that are more cultural and historical such as The Doi Suthep Almsgiving, Temples and Hmong tour, and the Chiang Mai Temple tour. We can also, of course, customize your tour to the National Park.