Doi Inthanon Trekking and Hiking
Table of Contents
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 and 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.
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.
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 viewdeck of the trail
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 due to forest clearing by hilltribe people prior to the establishment of Doi Inthanon as a National Park.
A fantastic hike
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. If you have time you should do the Pha Dok Siew Nature Trail as well. It is very different.
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, unless you are on tour with us. For a recent report on this fantastic trail, please have a look here.
Karen villagers from Ban Mae Klang Luang maintain and manage the trail. On the occasion of the coronation of King Mahavajiralongkorn, Rama X, a substantial amount of money has been invested in the trail. There are now explanatory signs along the trails. Many of the bamboo bridges and railings are new and very sturdy. At the start of the trail there are guides waiting to accompany you. That is in fact not necessary as the trail is cleary marked but it gives the villagers a bit of extra income. Taking a guide is compulsory.
The Pha Dok Siew Waterfall
Almost all of this trail is down but that doesn’t make it an easy trail. The trail descends along the Pha Dok Siew Waterfall, which is in season absolutely awesome. Everyone in reasonable shape can do this hike but you need to wear good shoes. 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 the force of 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.
According to the guides there are two families of White-handed gibbons living not far from the trail. There is a slim chance you will see them but you might hear their characteristic calls in the morning. This trail is more hiking than Doi Inthanon trekking. It is the second most popular hike but we think it is at least as interesting as the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail. These trails complement each other: the Kew Mae Pan has the fantastic views, Pha Dok Siew has the thundering waterfalls.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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. This waterfall features in our “Waterfalls” Doi Inthanon day tour.
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.
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. You have to walk to the main waterfall, a bit further from the parking lot and the food stalls. It is really a nice waterfall and one of the few where you can swim.
The Siriphum Waterfall (Siribhum Waterfall) is a bit out of the way of tourist trail. You can see this impressive falls from a afar. It cascades down from a high cliff above the Hmong village Ban Khun Klang. To get close to this waterfall you have to enter the Royal Agricultural Station Inthanon in Ban Khun Klang. This Royal Project is very much worth a visit. You can take a walking trail to the foot of the mountain. It is a paved and flat trail. The walk takes about 15 minutes. The trail takes you through a forest of tree ferns which is really nice. It ends at a small waterfall. There is water all around you. A steep and difficult trail can take you the upper level of the Siriphum Waterfall. It is a challenging trail in the rainy season.
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 January 1906 on the way to the summit of Doi Inthanon Carl Curt Hosséus visits a Karen village, called Ban Khunkoh 1.
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.”2
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.”3
There are many Karen villages in the Doi Inthanon/Mae Wang area. During our multiple day Doi Inthanon trekking programs you will stay overnight in Karen villages.
Baan Mae Klang Luang
After the government declared the area a national park they were allowed to stay there. The most visited Karen village is Baan 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 Baan 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.
The Hmong on Doi Inthanon
Hmong people moved into the area about 80 years ago and established settlements at higher elevations. When Kerr made his last expedition to Doi Inthanon in 1921 there is no mention of Hmong villages on or close to the mountain. 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 Khun Klang Hmong Market. The Hmong people also maintain and manage the famous Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail.
Baan Khun Klang
There are several Hmong villages in the Doi Inthanon National Park. The most visited is Baan Khun Klang which is close to the headquarters and the visitor center of the national park. This village is also the location of the Royal Agricultural Station Inthanona and the Royal Garden Siriphum (Siribhum). Another Hmong village, Khun Wang, is located about 15 kms further down road 4016 or 1284. This village is the location of the Khun Wang Royal Project Development Center and the Royal Agricultural Research Center. You need to stay overnight on the mountain to be able to visit these interesting places. There is accommodation as well. The Hmong people are the main beneficiaries of the Royal Projects.
Ban Khun Klang is popular for its Cherry Blossom trees (Sakura) that blossom in January and February.
More wonderful 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. These two chedis are very popular with local tourists and offer fine views of the mountains.
The Khun Klang Hmong Market
The Khun Klang Hmong 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 on Doi Inthanon in 1979.
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.
The Royal Agricultural Station Inthanon
In 1979 King Bhumibol Adulyadej initiated the foundation of the Inthanon Royal Research Station. The Hmong and, to a lesser degree, the Karen tribal people were cultivating opium on the mountain. Their agricultural practices were also destroying the forest on the mountain, which is the watershed of the lowlands. Objective of this station was to introduce alternative cash crops to the tribal people as a substitute for opium.
In 2007 the King honored the project by renaming it the Royal Agricultural Station Inthanon. The station occupies a large area. It contains a Fern House, an Ornamental Plant House, a Herbivores Plant House, accommodation, a Royal Project shop that serves locally grown coffee. We highly recommend visiting this Royal Agricultural Station as you can also walk through a tree fern forest to the foot of the Siriphum (Siribhumi) Waterfall. It is a wonderful place of much importance to especially the Hmong people.
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.
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.4
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.” 5The 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.”6A bit further they wrote: “At about 1900 metres another game path was struck, this time made by kating (Krating aka gaur: 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.”
Both the Sumatran and Javan rhinoceros were once found in Thailand’s forests. It is possible that these species roamed the forests of North Thailand in the 1920s. Up to the early 60s they were sighted in the forests on the Thai-Burma border, according to a report from 1963 by Boonsong Lekagul, the “Father of Nature Conservation” in Thailand. Now they are probably extinct.
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.” 7With hilltribe villages on Doi Inthanon most large animals were bound to disappear through hunting and so they did.
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.
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.
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.
- p.164-173 Carl Curt Hosséus, Through King Chulalongkorn's Kingdom (1904-1906): The First Botanical Exploration of Northern Thailand
- 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
- 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
- Philip Dearden, Surachet Chettamart, Dachanee Emphandu & Noppawan Tanakanjana. National parks and hill tribes in northern Thailand: A case study of Doi inthanon. P.128
- 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
- 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
- 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