Chiang Mai Doi Inthanon Day Trip
Chiang Mai Mountains
Chiang Mai is famous for its abundant natural beauty and when you visit the city’s surrounding regions, you will be overwhelmed. You simply cannot visit Chiang Mai without taking a trip out to Thailand’s largest mountain, Doi Inthanon, which is 2,565m (8,415 ft) above sea level.
We couldn’t wait to get up to the highest peak in Thailand, although we were warned to take some warm clothes along because it could be quite brisk at the summit, which in hindsight was great advice.
We left our villa in Chiang Mai City at 8am in the morning with our Thai guide ‘Nong’, who was not only great company but also well-schooled on everything Chiang Mai, giving us running commentary all the way. Meandering through the Chiang Mai countryside, it’s not hard to understand why people rave about this part of the world.
The journey from Chiang Mai City Center is roughly 60km southwest, which means it takes less than an hour to reach the front gates of Doi Inthanon National Park. The admission fee to Doi Inthanon National Park is 400baht for adults and 200baht for children.
There are many things to see and do within the national park with 3 waterfalls, caves, hill-tribe village markets, temples, horticultural centers and last but not least, the summit of Doi Inthanon. The beauty is simply breathtaking.
Our first stop was half way up the mountain – approx. 20km from the entrance - at Wachiratan Waterfall. I have travelled the length and breadth of Thailand and there is nothing more stunning than this waterfall. With a sheer cliff drop of 80 meters, the waterfall is something you would imagine envisaging within the Amazonian jungle.
The water cascades down violently, creating a dazzling yet intimidating affect. At around noon, you get the amazing visual effect of a rainbow. We fortunately arrived just at the right time not to see 1 rainbow, but actually 2! You can take a meandering trek up the steps beside the waterfall and through jungle terrain up to a viewpoint that provides amazing views overlooking the falls. We could have stayed there all day under the gaze of this natural wonder, but we had too many other things to explore at Doi Inthanon.
Royal Majestic Temples & the Highest Point in Thailand
Winding up the mountainous roadsides towards the peak of the summit of Doi Inthanon, some of the breathtaking lofty views will knock your socks off. Before we reached the actual peak, we came into contact with the Royal Majestic Temples of Napamaytanidol Chedi, which are 2 chedi style temples dedicated to the King and Queen of Thailand.
Constructed in 1987 (King’s Temple) and 1990 (Queen’s Temple), they were built for the 60th birthdays of the 2 revered Thai monarchs. At the lofty height of 2,280 meters above sea level, not only are they beautiful, but their location as the highest temples in Thailand ensure elevated views overlooking the luscious jungle beneath rolling on into the distance.
The temples appear symmetrical to each other, with a colossal amount of steps up to each one. I love the fact they built covered escalators up to each temple, which might break the authenticity, but not break your sweat. Each temple is flanked by beautifully landscaped gardens which from some perspectives seem to simply drop off the mountainside.
From the temples, we then drove up to “The Highest Point in Thailand”. Being from the UK, the drop in temperatures we were experiencing still seemed quite comfortable but I had to giggle at the Thais and other Asian visitors who were covered up akin to a ski-jumper with big coats, woolly hats and gloves.
At the summit of Doi Inthanon, which is 2,565 m (8,415 ft) above sea level, was a really nice experience, something to tell your friends at home. Do not forget your camera as the photo opportunities are endless and need to be remembered.
Hill Tribe Village Market
Northern Thailand is synonymous with hill tribe villages, which have become major tourist attractions in their own right. Half way down the mountain, we visited the Hmong Hill Tribe Market, where you can buy lots of locally grown organic vegetables, perfect for the health conscious types.
The Hmong hill tribe villagers actually live near by the market. Alongside food produce, you can also purchase locally made handicrafts and woven fabrics. The colorful aesthetics and atmosphere of the market is more than enough to tantalize your senses, regardless of whether you make a purchase or not.
Doi Inthanon Royal Project Research Station
Descending back down to the foothills of Doi Inthanon Mountain, we visited the Royal Project Research Station. Our driver, Nong, explained to us that this area was once abundant opium fields just a decade or 2 in the past. The government needed to educate the locals that they should spend their time planting and growing some different cash crops that didn’t have a detrimental effect on the population, so the government decided to subsidize the locals and create something more meaningful and less damaging. The facilities are basically used to research pilot cash crops, which include coffee and cold climate fruits.
The project is definitely for those who enjoy horticulture. In all honesty, everyone can enjoy such a beautiful and picturesque environment such as this one. Strolling around the meticulously cut gardens and flowerbeds is a refreshing experience.
Mae Wang Waterfall
We were now approaching late afternoon and it had been a long but educational day. That was the cue for a final drive to the Mae Wang Waterfall, still within the grounds of the National Park. Before we descended down the jungle track towards the waterfall, we stopped at a collection of small shops, where one could purchase some swimming shorts if needed.
The dense rainforest surroundings of the waterfall provide a peaceful serenity far from the tourist hordes. The 20-meter-high waterfall, which is also 10 meters wide, has a full stream all year round. The water was freezing cold shriveling my dangling bits on impact! This ultra-secluded swim was the perfect end to an exhilarating day.
As we crawled back to our rented villa at 8pm in the evening, we were shattered to say the least, although it is an experience that I will never forget. How many times can you say that? Totally worth the effort.