Great Doi Inthanon Trekking and Hiking

Index

Short introduction of Doi Inthanon National Park

Doi Inthanon Trekking and hiking in the forest

The Best Doi Inthanon Waterfalls

Karen and Hmong tribal villages

Other places of interest

Flora and Fauna of Doi Inthanon

A bit of history of Doi Inthanon

Short introduction of Doi Inthanon National Park

Doi Inthanon National Park is without a doubt North Thailand’s most popular national park. It has become one of the main tourist destinations in Chiang Mai province. Doi Inthanon tour are our bestsellers, especially our two Doi Inthanon day tours. It is a place for nature lovers. In the cold season, Doi Inthanon attracts many visitors. Doi Inthanon is nicknamed the Roof of Thailand because it is the highest mountain in the country. Doi Inthanon trekking and hiking are popular activities for visitors of North Thailand. Doi Inthanon day tours are more hiking than trekking tours. For trekking you need to spend at least one night in the national park.

The summit of the mountain is 2565 meters above sea level. The park is known for its biodiversity, prolific birdlife as well as  its many different natural habitats. It is also a place of historical and cultural importance.Doi Inthanon National Park is about 70 km southwest of Chiang Mai.

Doi Inthanon became a national park in 1972. It covers almost 500 square kilometres.

Tree trunk with moss
Doi Inthanon mossy forest

Doi Inthanon Trekking and hiking in the forest

How to be prepared

You will go to an environment that is prone to unpredictable weather conditions. Even in the very hot dry season months March and April the weather on Doi Inthanon can be very different from where you started your trip, which is most likely Chiang Mai. In the rainy season you can have blue skies and hot, sunny weather in Chiang Mai but on Doi Inthanon it might be foggy and cold. Sometimes there is hardly any visibility near the summit. It can be very atmospheric and mystical. So be prepared and take a raincoat and a warm shirt with long sleeves with you.

If you do hike one of the more popular trails such as Kew Mae Pan, Pha Dok Siew or Angka you will not encounter that much difficulty: these trails are well maintained so fairly easy. If you go on one of our Doi Inthanon trekking tours it is different. There are trails but sometimes not maintained. You really need good hiking boots with good grip. Depending on the tour the hiking becomes real jungle trekking. We usually don’t meet other trekkers on our Doi Inthanon trekking tours.

Guests on Kiw Mae Pan Trail trekking Doi Inthanon
Kiw Mae Pan Trail trekking Doi Inthanon

Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail

The Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail is the most popular trail in the park. The trail is only open in the dry season from November 1 until May 31. It can become quite busy on this trail especially on weekends and holidays in the cool months November, December and January. The Hmong people manage and maintain the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail. If you want to hike the trail you will need to hire a guide from the Hmong community.

The trail is well maintained and not difficult. You start hiking through the forest to the famous viewdeck, the ideal place for selfies and other pictures if the skies are clear. The most spectacular part is the stretch through grassland that offers amazing views, unlike you will find anywhere else in the park. This grassland area is probably due to forest clearing by hilltribe people prior to the establishment of Doi Inthanon as a National Park.

After you have arrived at a point that offers great views of the two Royal Chedis it is back into the forest and back to the starting point. The Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail is a circular walk doable for everyone in reasonable shape. You can hike the trail in under two hours but take your time: it is really a fantastic hike.

viewpoint Doi Inthanon Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail
The famous viewdeck of the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail on a beautiful day

Pha Dok Siew Nature Trail

The Pha Dok Siew Nature Trail is the second most popular trail in Doi Inthanon National Park. This trail is open the whole year. The start of the trail is on the left side of the road between the Karen village Ban Mae Klang Luang and the Park headquarters. This trail is not a circular trail. It ends in the Karen village Ban Mae Klang Luang so you will need transportation to get back to the start of the walk. Villagers maintain and manage the trail. You have to take a Karen guide along. This is compulsory just as with the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail.

The trail descends along the Pha Dok Siew Waterfall, clear water cascading gently down. Everyone in reasonable shape can do this lovely hike. You need to wear good shoes though. There are some great views over the mountains and rice fields along the way. You can do this trail easily in under two hours but take your time and enjoy nature. The trail ends in Ban Mae Klang Luang where they serve great village grown coffee. There are also some small restaurants in this Karen village.

Doi Inthanon rice fields Pha Dok Siew vista
Some very nice views along the Pha Dok Siew Nature Trail

The Angka Nature Trail

The Angka Nature Trail is a short trail just under the summit of Doi Inthanon. It is very interesting because the vegetation is very different from that of the Kew Mae Pan and Pha Dok Siew nature trails. The Angka Nature Trail is the trail at the highest elevation in the park. The mossy forest is extremely lush with beautiful ferns. It is a very easy hike mostly with wooden walkways. In the rainy season it can become very spooky and cold up there.

Ferns on Angka Nature Trail Doi Inthanon
Angka Nature Trail ferns

What more has Doi Inthanon to offer?

Doi Inthanon National Park has fantastic waterfalls, tribal villages, great forest trails, a Royal Project, amazing views, rice paddies and more. Most visitors book a Doi Inthanon day tour but it is worth spending an overnight on the mountain. There are more and more small lodges and homestays to choose from. Doing a Doi Inthanon day tour from Chiang Mai still involves approximately four hours driving on the day. If you are really into trekking you should take at least two days. We offer great Doi Inthanon trekking tours.

The best Doi Inthanon waterfalls

Vachirathan Waterfall

The Vachirathan or Wachirathan Waterfall is the most popular waterfall on Doi Inthanon. It is close to the main road, has a large parking facility and coffee shops and restaurants. It is an impressive and really thundering waterfall. There is a good trail on the left of the falls that allows you to hike up to the top of the falls. This trail ends at the main road. Everyone visiting Doi Inthanon stops at the Vachirathan Waterfall, a must-see.

View on Vachirathan Waterfall Doi Inthanon
Doi Inthanon Vachirathan Waterfall

Beautiful Mae Ya waterfall

Visitors on a Doi Inthanon day tour usually skip this waterfall. The Mae Ya waterfall is not on the main road to the summit of Doi Inthanon. Visiting these falls will take at least two hours and there simply is not enough time if you go for a Doi Inthanon day tour. The Mae Ya Waterfall is very impressive. The water splashes down along a rock wall. You can’t swim at the Mae Ya falls.

Waterfall in a forest
Mae Ya waterfall

Mae Pan and Huay Sai Lueang Waterfalls

These waterfalls are off the beaten tourist track. People on a day tour from Chiang Mai usually don’t have the time to visit the Mae Pan and Huay Sai Lueang waterfalls. They are about 1km off the main road no.109 to Mae Chaem. The Huay Sai Lueang waterfall is easily accessible. To get to the Mae Pan waterfall you have to follow a trail through the forest. This trail can be tricky in the rainy season. The Mae Pan waterfall is the highest waterfall in the park.

Waterfall in the forest
Huai Sai Lueang Waterfall

The elegant Pha Dok Siew Waterfall

The Pha Dok Siew Waterfall, also sometime spellt Pha Dok Sieo, is a rather narrow, long outstretched cascade close the road no.1009. It gave its name to the nature trail that starts at the falls and ends at the Karen village Ban Mae Klang Luang.

Doi Inthanon Pha Dok Siew waterfall
Pha Dok Siew waterfall

The lovely Sirithan Waterfall

This small but beautiful waterfall is on the left side of road no.1009 if you come from Chom Thong. Many people don’t bother to stop at the Sirithan Waterfall but we think it is worth it, especially in the rainy season.

Waterfall in a forest
Sirithan Waterfall

The popular Mae Klang Waterfall

The Mae Klang Waterfall, named after the Mae Klang river, is right at the entrance of the national park. It is very popular with local people and there are lots of food stalls and restaurants. We think there are more beautiful and interesting falls further into the park.

Three tourists at a waterfall
Relax at Mae Klang waterfall

Karen and Hmong tribal villages

When the park was designated in 1972 not much attention was given to the fact that there were Hmong and Karen hill tribe villages living within the boundary of the national park. There are also a number of Thai people living in the park and there are 14 Thai villages within 5 km of the boundary of the park. It is hard to say how many people live in the park at this moment. The Karen make up the majority of the tribal population and are in general poorer than the Hmong. King Bhumibol Adulyadej initiated the Royal Project in 1979 on Doi Inthanon. The Hmong have been the beneficiaries of the Royal Project, more so than the Karen. They used to grow opium and now grow cash crops such as cabbage, cut flowers, fruit, peaches, avocados. The Karen only grow coffee.

The Karen people on Doi Inthanon

Over 200 years ago, Karen tribesmen started to settle in today’s park area, particularly at lower elevations, to pursue their traditional subsistence rice farming. in his account of his 1921 trip Kerr mentions the village Ban Nong Lom, which he spells as Ban Nawn Lom: “Soon after the main path along the Me Kang was left and a branch path to the right taken, this led to the fairly new Karen village, Ban Nawn Lom, conveniently situated for the last part of the ascent of Angka.”1

He described Ban Nong Lom as follows: “Ban Lawng Lom is a small village of about 20 houses, the Karens inhabiting it belonging, apparently, to the Sgaw division of the race.”2

Ban Mae Klang Luang

After the government declared the area a national park they were allowed to stay there. The most visited Karen village is Ban Mae Klang Luang. The Karen of this village manage the Pha Dok Siew Nature Trail. This nice trail ends in this village. The trail is open the whole year. There are some very nice rice fields around this village and, besides homestays, there are some basic but nice bungalows in Ban Mae Klang Luang. The village is famous for its coffee as well.

Besides Ban Nong Lom and Ban Mae Klang Luang two other Karen villages Ban Phamon and Ban Angka Noi joined and formed a local organization called “Ban Mae Klang Luang Tourism Alliance” in 1999. The alliance was meant to operate as a community-based tourism business. Objectives were to provide supplementary income to the villagers and to reduce illegal use of forest resources, especially land encroachment and hunting for wild animals

They also wanted to provide genuine knowledge about the Karen people and rectify any misunderstandings among outsiders about the Karen people and to build environmental awareness of the local Karen people and visitors.

Two women in a field
Karen women in a good mood

The Hmong on Doi Inthanon

Hmong people moved into the area about 100 years ago and established settlements at higher elevations. Today there are several thousand Hmong and Karen living in villages which are situated within the park boundaries. Rather than moving the hilltribe people from the national park, his Majesty King Bhumibol initiated projects to stop them from their slash-and-burn practices and from growing opium. In the framework of the Inthanon Royal Project, hilltribe people now grow vegetables, flowers, coffee and fruits apart from their staple foods such as rice. The Hmong people sell their vegetables at the Royal Project Market. The Hmong people also maintain and manage the famous Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail.

local Hmong guide Doi Inthanon waterfalls
Doi Inthanon local Hmong guide

Other places of interest

The Royal Chedis

The two Royal Chedis stand on the left side of the road no.1009, leading to the summit of Doi Inthanon. One is called Naphamethinidon, which means ‘by the strength of the land and air’. It was built in honour of the 60th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX in 1987. The second is called Naphaphonphumisiri , meaning ‘being the strength of the air and the grace of the land’. This chedi was built in honour of the 60th birthday of Queen Sirikit in 1992.

View on two Royal Chedis on Doi Inthanon
Two Royal Chedis on Doi Inthanon

The Hmong Royal Project Market

The Hmong Royal Project Market is close to the National Park headquarters. The Hmong people of the Khun Klang and Khun Wang villages used to grow opium until the King initiated his famous Royal Project at Khun Wang in 1979. You can visit the office and the green houses of the Royal Project but most visitors only visit the market.

The Hmong people sell fruits and vegetables from their fields but also other products that have been imported from Chiang Mai. The market attracts a lot of tourists and is a great source of income for the Hmong people. I always buy lots of avocado at this market.

Fruit and veggies Doi Inthanon Hmong Market
Doi Inthanon Hmong Market

Flora and Fauna of Doi Inthanon

Below the elevation of 1000 meters deciduous dipterocarp forest, bamboo deciduous forest and mixed deciduous forests are prevalent on Doi Inthanon. These forests are typical of the lowlands of northern Thailand. Evergreen forest with woody lianas and epiphytes can be found near the summit. Epiphytes include bright green ferns and mosses, dangling lichens and orchids and other flowering plants. Some very beautiful parasitic plants grow amongst the leaf litter. The Sapria Himalayana, family of the Rafflesia flower, is a good example.

With a bird list of 386 confirmed species Doi Inthanon National Park is Thailand’s premier birdwatching site. The park’s wide range of elevations, the variety of habitats and strategic position on migration routes are the reasons for Doi Inthanon’s diversity of birdlife. The Thaibirding website offers great information on the birdlife of Doi Inthanon National Park.

Two elephants Mae Wang
Elephant camp in the Doi Inthanon area

Why are there no big animals in Doi Inthanon National Park?

Doi Inthanon once was home to large mammals such as elephants, tigers, serow and leopards. Also assam macaque and white-handed gibbons seem to have been prevalent. Until the 1950s elephants, tigers and wild buffaloes seem to have been around. The Hmong were scared of the tigers because they killed their horses.3

Doi Angka: the highest mountain in Siam

Arthur Francis George Kerr (1877-1942) and Henry Burton Guest Garrett (1872-1959) co-wrote the article “Doi Angka: the highest mountain in Siam“, which was published in the Journal of the Siam Society in 1925.

It is a very interesting article about the different expeditions that went up the mountain, starting with the first expedition of Hosseus. More about him later.

Garret went up the mountain in 1910 and spotted many gorals: “Goral, a kind of wild goat, were very plentitul on the rocky ground around the Pa Ngêm: their colour, a prevailing light grey with white feet and throat, the head being somewhat darker, blended wonderfully with the rocks, which were covered with patches of lichen.” 4 The goral is a kind of mountain goat, native to mountainous regions of China, India and mainland Southeast Asia. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the goral as a vulnearable species.

Kerr’s expedition to Doi Inthanon in 1921

Kerr went up the mountain in April-May 1921. He mentions a “hot-weather elephant camp” in charge of the Kamu people but there were also wild elephants and wild buffaloes. Kerr and Garrett mention “the evergreen was very dense but fortunately there was a good path made by wild elephants, which continued for some time in the right direction. It was evident from the appearance of the tracks that the elephants had not been on the path for some weeks.”
5 A bit further they wrote: “At about 1900 metres another game path was struck, this time mde by kating (Krating: wild buffalo) and rhinoceros; the kating tracks were, according to the Karen guide, quite fresh, made that morning but no rhinoceros had been along since the previous day.”

During another expedition they spotted quite a number of gorals: “as the party approached one rock a fine male goral was seen lying on it…” (….) “Later on, about the rocks near the top, quite a number of these animals were seen and a kid was shot.” 6 With hilltribe villages on Doi Inthanon most large animals were bound to disappear through hunting and so they did.

amazing view Doi Inthanon
You would expect to spot mountain goats here

A bit of history of Doi Inthanon

The first exploration of Doi Inthanon by Carl Curt Hosseus

Doi Inthanon National Park is about 70 km southwest of Chiang Mai. It takes about 1,5 hours to drive from Chiang Mai to Doi Inthanon. The Thai government declared Doi Inthanon a national park in 1972. It covers 482 square kilometres. The park is also nicknamed “The Roof of Thailand”. The park is known for its extraordinary richness in biodiversity and its wide range of different natural habitats. It includes the highest peak in the country. With its cool climate all year round, it is considered one of the most popular recreation areas of the country. The National Park, moreover, is a place of historical and cultural importance. It has now become one of the main tourist destinations in Chiang Mai province. Especially in the cold season, it attracts many visitors on Doi Inthanon tours.

Who was the first western visitor to explore the “Roof of Thailand”? The first report of a foreigner trekking to the summit of Doi Inthanon dates back to 1906. It was the German botanist Dr Carl Curt Hosseus (1878 – 1950) who visited North Thailand in the years 1904-1906. It was the first botanical exploration of Northern Thailand. White Lotus published his book Through King Chulalongkorn’s Kingdom (1904-1906): The First Botanical Exploration of Northern Thailand”. The first English translation dates back from 2012.

Sunrise Trek Doi Inthanon
Doi Inthanon Sunrise Trek

How did Doi Inthanon get its name?

Hosseus wrote “The plan was to ascent Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain of Siam. The officials had, according to what they said, neither a good map of the region nor did they even know the name of the mountain”. The mountain was known to local people as Doi Angka Luang. The British expert on map-making, James McCarthy, gave the mountain the name Inthanon in honour of Chao Inthavichayanon (1817-1897), the 7th king of Chiang Mai. The king wanted his ashes to remain on Doi Angka. His daughter Princess Dara Rasmi (sometimes spellt Dara Rasamee) ordered a stupa to be constructed near the summit where the ashes of the king were deposited. After that yhey renamed the mountain officially Doi Inthanon after King Inthawichayanon, the 7th ruler of Chiang Mai.

Shrine in the mossy forest Doi Inthanon
Shrine for King Inthawichayanon near the summit Doi Inthanon

The father of Thai botany

The Irish botanist Arthur F.G.Kerr wrote about his expeditions to the mountain in 1922. He still used the name Doi Angka. He wrote: “Doi Angka lies about 57 kilometres in a direct line to the Southwest of Chiengmai (old spelling of Chiang Mai) and can be readily seen on a clear day from that city, but better still from the ricefields to the south of the town where an uninterrupted view is obtained of the whole massif. In the old days when people travelled by river, Angka was a conspicuous object for several days before reaching Chiengmai and many longing looks were cast at it. Though it overtops all the other mountains in the vicinity it does not give the idea of great height, no doubt because the slopes, as seen from the East, are gradual and rise slowly to a rather rounded top.”

That Doi Angka was visible from Chiang Mai is proven by below picture. Bank manager Edward Walter Hutchinson made it in November 1939 from the office of the Siam Bank in Chiang Mai. This is now the location of the British Council, east of the Ping River. Doi Inthanon is still visible from Chiang Mai on clear days.

Old picture of rice fields and mountain
View on Doi Angka from Chiang Mai, November 1939. Picture by Edward Walter Hutchinson, courtesy of View on Doi Angka from Chiang Mai. Photograph Collection 28 of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.
  1. Garrett, H.B.G. and Kerr, A.F.G., “Doi Angka: the highest mountain in Siam”, in Journal of the Siam Society, vol. 19, no. 1. P.9
  2. Garrett, H.B.G. and Kerr, A.F.G., “Doi Angka: the highest mountain in Siam”, in Journal of the Siam Society, vol. 19, no. 1. P.10
  3. Philip Dearden, Surachet Chettamart, Dachanee Emphandu & Noppawan Tanakanjana. National parks and hill tribes in northern Thailand: A case study of Doi inthanon. P.128
  4. Garrett, H.B.G. and Kerr, A.F.G., “Doi Angka: the highest mountain in Siam”, in Journal of the Siam Society, vol. 19, no. 1. P.8
  5. Garrett, H.B.G. and Kerr, A.F.G., “Doi Angka: the highest mountain in Siam”, in Journal of the Siam Society, vol. 19, no. 1. P.12
  6. Garrett, H.B.G. and Kerr, A.F.G., “Doi Angka: the highest mountain in Siam”, in Journal of the Siam Society, vol. 19, no. 1. P.18