The magnificent Pha Dok Siew Nature Trail

Doi Inthanon Pha Dok Siew hike view ricefields

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Waterfall with tourists customize Green Trails tours
Visitors on the Pha Dok Siew Nature Trail

Improvements on the Pha Dok Siew Nature Trail

The Pha Dok Siew Nature Trail (เส้นทางศึกษาธรรมชาติผาดอกเสี้ยว) is one of the two nature trails in Doi Inthanon National Park under the management of local people. The other trail is the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail which is under the management of the Hmong people. The Karen people of the village of Ban Mae Klang Luang manage the trail and work as guides.  The Karen people received a grant to improve the trail on the occasion of the coronation of King Rama X. They used bamboo and wood to build bridges, stairs, and railings to improve the safety of the trail near the waterfall. I walk the trail at least a couple of times each year. The length of the trail is 5.3 km.

Tribal woman at nature trail sign Pha Dok Siew Trail Doi Inthanon Green Season
A Karen guide at the entrance of the Pha Dok Siew Nature Trail

An Educational Nature Trail

With the help of Chiang Mai University, they have placed boards along the trail with general information and info about plants, flowers, and trees. I was pleasantly surprised. At the entrance, there is a gate and an information board with a map of the trail. There is now also a shelter where the guides are waiting. Overall it looks a lot much more professional than it was. By the way, the trail is named after a rocky cliff we pass along the way. “Pha” (ผา) means cliff. The cliff has been named after the “Dok Siew.” The Dok Siew (เสี้ยวดอกขาว) is a flower with the Latin name Bauhinia Variegata, also known as the Orchid Tree.

Sign with information about Saraphee Doi Pha Dok Siew Trail
Pha Dok Siew Nature Trail

The hike to the waterfall

Taking a guide along is compulsory. The trail is marked, but guiding gives the people some extra income. Apart from that, it is nice to have someone coming along. The first time in September, I was alone. Some of the guides speak a little English, but most of them don’t. My Thai is reasonable, so I could talk with my female guide, who was 65 years old. She is in great shape and was fun to be with. The guides are not professional but have a lot of knowledge of the forest. You have to ask. Otherwise, they only walk in front.

The hike is pretty easy in the beginning. The trail goes down through the forest with many pine trees, such as the Pinus Kesiya. There are boards with information along the route. Along the steps, you will go down to the waterfall. You will pass greenhouses with marigold flowers. I could not remember seeing these the last time I hiked the trail. These yellow flowers are used to worship the Buddha, and I had the impression they had also changed the trail route.

woman in traditional dress on staircase Pha Dok Siew Trail
Staircase of bamboo and wood

The magnificent Pha Dok Siew Waterfall

The Pha Dok Siew Waterfall has many steps, of which only a few are accessible. The waterfall is, in fact, the Mae Klang River that cascades down via several waterfalls in the Doi Inthanon National Park. The source of this river is in the forest higher up the mountain. The river cascades down to the Ping River, which joins south of Chomthong. It features many famous waterfalls, such as the Mae Klang, Pha Dok Siew, Wachirathan (or Vachirathan), and Sirithan. The main road no.1009 runs parallel to this river until Ban Khun Klang.

This was also the route taken by the early expeditions of foreign botanists such as the German Carl Curt Hosseus and A.F.G.Kerr, the “father of Thai botany.” You walk along the waterfall and across the river by bamboo stairs and bridges. The falls are magnificent. Beware, though: swimming is not allowed anywhere during this hike. It is just too dangerous.

Hiking towards Baan Mae Klang Luang

After we have left the falls behind, the trail becomes more accessible and less steep. It is a relaxed hike along a little irrigation canal. You will have some lovely views of forested mountains and rice terraces. We will also pass the Dok Siew Cliff, which has given the name to the waterfall and the trail. According to the Karen people, two families of white-handed gibbons live not far from the path, and I have never seen them or heard the gibbon’s call.

I know that, in general, the Karen people are more aware of and active in wildlife conservation than other groups. According to reports from more than 100 years ago from botanists such as Carl Curt Hosseus and A.F.G.Kerr, there was a lot of wildlife on Doi Inthanon such as elephants, tigers, leopards, gorals (a kind of mountain goat), even rhinos. That was more than one hundred years ago.

Doi Inthanon Pha Dok Siew waterfall Pha Dok Siew Trail
Pha Dok Siew waterfall
Rice fields at sunset Green Trails Tour Reviews
Mae Klang Luang rice terraces view

The Pha Dok Siew Nature Trail

The trail ends in the White Karen village of Ban Man Klang Luang, where a cup of coffee is waiting for you. The Karen grow coffee in the forest. There are several houses where they sell their brands. The village has a primary school. The White Karen call themselves Pakayor or S’gaw Karen. The Pha Dok Siew Natural is a fantastic trail. This trail and the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail complement each other. Kew Mae Pan has the most stunning views, and Pha Dok Siew has the most stunning, thundering waterfalls.

The way they have improved the trail impressed me: they only used natural materials for the bridges, railings, and stairs. The Pha Dok Siew Nature Trail features in Doi Inthanon day tours but doesn’t seem to attract the hordes that I encountered on the Kew Mae Pan Trail. During my hike in September, I didn’t meet anyone else. In October, we met several local tourists along the trail, but it certainly wasn’t disturbing. The Pha Dok Siew Trail is open the whole year. The fee for the guide is 220THB if you are alone, and with two people, you pay 300THB (150THP per person).

View over rice fields Ban Mae Klang Luang
View from bungalow in Ban Mae Klang Luang
A bedroom with two beds
Inside a bungalow in Ban Mae Klang Luang. Basic but comfortable.

Community Based Tourism in Baan Mae Klang Luang

In 1999 Baan Mae Klang Luang was chosen to be a pilot project for Community Based Tourism. Initially, there were only homestays in the village, but some villagers left the community-based tourism group and started their tourist venture over time.

In the last couple of years, there has been a growing amount of accommodation in the village. Most of these are free-standing bungalows that are basic but clean, and some offer spectacular views of the village’s rice paddies. We offer overnight in the village in our two-day Ultimate Doi Inthanon Adventure.

Houses in rice paddies Pha Dok Siew Trail Mae Klang Luang
Bungalows in the rice fields

References for this article and my commitment

I have been numerous times to the village. In 2013 and 2014, I organized two community-based tourism study tours for community representatives from the Philippines. Baan Mae Klang Luang was one of the villages we visited.

In those years, I also attended several meetings and seminars organized by the Community Based Tourism Institute of Thailand (CBT-I). I have walked the Pha Dok Siew Nature Trail four times and try to walk the trail at least once every year. Several times I spent the night at one of the bungalows in the village.

This is a fascinating article on the ecotourism project in the village:

Megan Youdelis, The Contradictory Nature of Market-Oriented Conservation: Ecotourism in Northern Thailand, Toronto, 2012

Man in front of a waterfall
Frans at the Pha Dok Siew Waterfall

Here is the starting point of the Pha Dok Siew Nature Trail

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