Chiang Mai Province. Here are a few of the many reasons why one should visit Doi Inthanon National Park: the eponymous peak is the highest in Thailand; the Park includes 1,274 plant species, 90 of which are orchids (31 of which are found uniquely there); and the area is home to 466 animal species, 385 of those being birds (including the Green-tailed Sunbird). Besides being rich in floral and faunal life, the Park is dotted with a number of waterfalls of various sizes.
Doi Inthanon has something for everyone, whether day-trippers or those planning to thoroughly explore the Park. The day might be filled with a visit to the highest point in Thailand, which can be reached by car, and is clouded with mist all year round, the temperature never exceeding 17º C. This may be followed with a 30-minute walk along the nearby Ang Ka nature trail. The neat, elevated wooden platform with railings leads through the moss covered forest, where mixed plant-societies on single trees can be observed.
Toward the end of the trail, there is a path leading to the shrine of Chao Krom Kiat. The small spirit pavilion is built on a piece of helicopter wreckage as a memorial to Air Chief Marshal Kiat Mangkhlapruek and the late national park director who died on duty in a crash at that spot in May 1971. The rest of the day might be spent touring the waterfalls. The most enchanting are Wachirathan, Mae Klang, and Mae Ya. These falls are easy to access by car, with trails leading up to different levels. Picnic areas and restaurants are available. The first two falls are on the same road after the first checkpoint; only Mae Ya stands alone south of the main national park area, on the 14 km road that branches off Highway 1009 and meanders through a residential area.
A Whole Day Trekking
Doi Inthanon also offers an array of treks. Most treks run all year round, and only a few routes require a ranger or local guide (contact National Park Headquarters at Km. 31 for information and arrangements). One of the most interesting routes is the Kio Mae Pan trail, which is open only from 1 June to 31 October, as its fragile ecosystem needs more time to recover than most. The distance of this circular trek is only 3 km, but discerning trekkers may take a whole day to complete it.
Bird lovers should not forget to pack binoculars, and should try to visit between October and March. If an English speaking guide is required, just cross the street from the Park Headquarters to the Inthanon Bird Centre. The Centre has been there since 1962; its customer service attested to by walls lined with name cards from satisfied clients.
How To Get There
From Chiang Mai, take a local taxi from the bus pool at Chiang Mai Gate to Chom Thong. From Chom Thong, take the local taxi going to Doi Inthanon or to Mae Chaem, and ask to be dropped at the Headquarters. The best way to get around within the Park is to either charter a local taxi in Chom Thong or at the Park entrance, or hire a car from Chiang Mai. Make sure the car is in good condition and has a skilled driver behind the wheel.