The best Doi Suthep Trail

Hmong women Ban Mae Sa Mai working on textiles Best Doi Suthep Trail

Hiking on Doi Suthep

The trail from Ban Doi Pui to Ban Mae Sa Mai in Doi Pui-Doi Suthep National Park is for me the most exciting and beautiful one day trek you can make out of Chiang Mai. It is the best Doi Suthep Trail. We offer several Doi Suthep tours, one day and two days. Both Baan Doi Pui and Baan Mae Sa Mai are Hmong villages. The Hmong are one of the ethnic minorities in Thailand. The homeland of the Hmong is in China where most of them still live.

Sowmee on his working table Ban Mae Sa Mai
Sowmee on his working table. He guides many of our tours. Picture by Donna Bramhall

Hmong villages

Conflicts between the Hmong and Chinese caused many Hmong people to migrate to Southeast Asia in the late 19th century. There are sizeable Hmong communities in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. After the end of the Indochinese War in 1975, many Hmong were resettled in the US, Australia and France. The Hmong who live in and around the Doi Pui-Doi Suthep National Park moved there probably in the late 50s. They were initially growing opium and by doing so, destroying the watershed of the mountain. His Royal Highness King Bhumibol started a project aimed at eradicating opium cultivation and educating the Hmong to grow cash crops such as fruit, vegetables and coffee. The Hmong were forcibly moved from the top of the mountains to lower elevations where they now live.

Panorama of a village, forests and fields
Ban Mae Sa Mai village 2019. Picture by Frans Betgem

During the hike, you will pass many former opium fields and locations of old dwellings of the Hmong people. The Doi Suthep trail starts at Doi Pui Hmong village which has become a significant tourist attraction. Some of the shops have stunning traditional textiles you usually only see during festivals such as the Hmong New Year. The start of the trail is paved but soon gives way to a narrow dirt trail through lush forest. There is plenty of time for stops along the way.

In the first two hours, the hike is mostly uphill but not too steep. Now and then the forest opens up to afford us beautiful vistas over the surrounding countryside. It is the trail which His Royal Highness King Bhumibol once hiked with his young family in the early 60s. We usually have lunch on the highest point of the trail, which is a rock formation with incredible views. There is a Buddha footprint as well, one of the many in Thailand.

Ban Mae Sa Mai

After a hearty lunch, we will continue to the Hmong village Ban Mae Sa Mai. We pass through open areas with beautiful views until we reach the final descent to the community. We hike down through the thick community forest of Ban Mae Sa Mai. This village was the site of a project of the Forest Restoration Unit of Chiang Mai University (FORRU). The people of FORRU helped the villagers conserve and restore the forest that forms the watershed of the community. During the latter stages of the hike, we also pass by the plantations of the village.

In Ban Mae Sa Mai we always visit the house of Mr Sowmee, the silversmith of Ban Mae Sa Mai and his family. Their home is the homestay we use for our overnight guests. I have done this hike now five times and still thoroughly enjoy it. For me, it is the best and most interesting Doi Suthep Trail. If you don’t want to spend too much time in a vehicle this trail is fantastic. It usually takes 4 to 5 hours to get from Doi Pui Hmong Village to Ban Mae Sa Mai including lunch and stops along the way. You have to be in reasonable condition, but the trail is not too steep. Distance is approximately 15 km.

This hike is one of the best Chiang Mai treks you can do!

View from Doi Pui Calm before the storm
View from Doi Pui. Picture by Frans Betgem