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Hiking on the Roof of Thailand
The Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail (Thai: กิ่วแม่ปาน) is undoubtedly the most popular trail in Doi Inthanon National Park. If you are in Chiang Mai from November to May, hiking the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail is an absolute must-do hiking adventure. It is a spectacular trail.
The Hmong people from the nearby Ban Khun Klang community manage and maintain the trail, and they also work as guides. The trail is very easy to find on your own as it’s clearly marked. However, taking a guide is a must, and it provides the local Hmong people with some additional income.
While not professional guides, most of the guides don’t speak English or speak only a little bit. The trail is open only in the dry season from November 1 until May 31, between 0600 and 1600. Entering the park at 0530 allows starting the trail at 0600, and it is advisable to spend the night before at the bungalows in the Karen village Ban Mae Klang Luang inside the park.
The trail start point is between the two Royal Chedis and the summit of the mountain, with a big parking lot and several small shops nearby.
History of the Trail
Development of tourism in the Doi Inthanon National Park only happened in the last 20-30 years. The 1992 edition of the Lonely Planet guidebook Thailand, A Travel Survival Kit offers a page of information about the park, the waterfalls, and about “getting there & away.” The Forest Service bungalows near the park headquarters were the only accommodation available in the park and cost from 300 to 1000 THB per night.
The Phra Mahathat Naphamethanidon, the chedi the Royal Thai Air Force constructed to commemorate the king’s 60th birthday in 1989, was already there. I assume, therefore, that the road was in fairly good condition. Times have changed. Around 1999 they opened the trail. The Pha Dok Siew Nature Trail, managed by the Karen People of Ban Mae Klang Luang, was established in 2006, according to our information. These two trails have attracted a growing amount of visitors as they are fairly easy and short trails. Each trail only takes about 1,5 to 2 hours at a relaxed pace.
Hiking the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail
I hike the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail at least once a year, if possible a couple of times. The ever changing weather conditions make this trail exciting and surprising. Most of the times I was lucky that the skies were clear and the views amazing. The trail takes you up and down and is considerably more strenuous than the Pha Dok Siew Trail, which is mostly downhill.
No views in the rainy season
The Kew Mae Pan Trail takes you down and up through the forest. Soon you will pass a small waterfall. Walkway and wooden stairs through beautiful cloud forest will take you the two view decks that offer fantastic panoramic views of the mountains and lowlands towards the Ping River Valley. During my last hike on May 13, 2023, there was hardly any visibility and it was pretty chilly (13C). The forest was silent and beautiful in the clouds.
The trail along the maedows
From the two viewdecks the trail takes down to another viewpoint from where you can observe the two Royal Chedis that are at a slightly lower elevation. On a day in May during the rainy season we were in the clouds and had no view at all. The almost total absence of other hikers made up a bit for the lack of any view.
Back to the start of the trail
After the last Royal Chedi viewpoint you will head back to the start of the trail. You will re-enter the cloud forest and hike back mostly up, via walk ways, steps and boardwalks. It is a beautiful hike for which you should take your time. I made this hike barely three weeks before the season closure of the trail during which they make some repairs to the wooden structures on the trail.
References for the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail
I have hiked the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail several times and try to do that at least once a year to check if there are changes or something else I should know. I consulted the Thailand, Travel Survival Kit guidebook to learn about the history of tourism to Doi Inthanon.
At the start of the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail there is a lot of information about the history of the trail and of the area. Along the trail there are information board in Thai and English.