by Tassanawan Malai |
A highlight of the North, Doi Inthanon National Park is home to the highest mountain in Thailand, peaking at 2,565 meters above sea level in Chiang Mai Province. Scores of visitors flock to the park every year to enjoy its stunning waterfalls and scenic hiking trails, alongside epic jungle vistas, varied wildlife, and its charming cultural and historical significance.
In this guide, you will find everything you need to know to plan the perfect visit, including information on all the main attractions, plus essentials such as where to stay and eat. We have also included our best tips, to help you make the most of your time in the park.
Table of Contents
Is worth visiting?
Yes, definitely. If you are looking for a relaxing break from the hustle and bustle of Chiang Mai, Doi Inthanon is the place for you.
- My first choice would be Pha Dok Siew Mini Trekking because you can take a short hike through the forest and see the highlight of the national park.
- The second choice is trekking on Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail, with beautiful views and lots of fresh air.
Doi Inthanon summit is known as the “Roof of Thailand” marks the end of the Himalayan mountain range and is the highest peak in the country. The summit is surprisingly easy to reach, as you can drive most of the way and walk the remaining 50 meters to the top.
Here you will find the famous sign “Highest Point in Thailand” as well as a shrine to one of the last kings of Chiang Mai, Inthawichayanon. At the king’s request, his remains were buried in the national park, which was renamed in his honor to honor his efforts to preserve the forests of Northern Thailand.
Views from the summit are often limited as it is shrouded in mist most of the time. For more rewarding views, you can head down to the terraces of the two chedis.
There is also a café near the summit trail where you can buy refreshments like tea, coffee, and snacks.
King and Queen Pagodas
On the mountain Doi Inthanon, almost on the summit, stand two chedis erected Twin Royal Pagodas by Royal Thai Air Force to commemorate the 60th birthdays of their royal majesties, the King and Queen of Thailand.
The beautiful twin pagodas, known as Phra Mahathat Naphamethanidon and Nophamethanidon, face each other on a hill, about 100 meters apart. On a clear day, they offer arguably the best view in the national park.
Trekking and Hiking
Due to its high altitude and cool temperatures, Doi Inthanon National Park offers some of the best hiking in Thailand. There is a wide variety of hiking trails ranging from easy hikes of less than an hour to full-day hikes and overnight treks.
Hiking in Doi Inthanon National Park is one of the most popular activities in the park.
Ang Ka Luang Nature Trail
For the easiest access into the cloud forest, travel to the Ang Ka Luang Nature Trail, near the Km 48 marker. Take care as the 360-meter circular boardwalk can be slippery, but the reward is an enchanting, mossy, and lush forest. It is possible to spot several species of birds on the Ang Ka Nature Trail.
Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail
If you’re interested in a more challenging walk, try the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail. Although just 2.5km long, you can only walk this trail accompanied by a Hmong Tribe guide.
The trail starts from the main road, a few hundred meters north of the King and Queen Pagodas. At 2,200 meters above sea level, the views are some of the best in Thailand and are particularly magical at sunrise.
Be aware that the Kew Mae Pan nature trail is closed between June and October each year, reopening at the beginning of the dry season on 1st November.
Pha Dok Siew Mini Trekking
About halfway to the summit of Doi Inthanon mountain, Pha Dok Siew is another trail where it is compulsory to be accompanied by a hill tribe guide.
The trail takes in a number of waterfalls as well as passing by flower plantations, coffee fields, and rice terraces. You will also have the opportunity to observe life for the Karen people in a small village.
The Royal Agricultural Station Inthanon
In 1979, Royal Project Inthanon was established to educate and convince local communities to grow vegetables and flowers instead of deriving their income from opium cultivation.
Today, you can visit the project’s beautiful flower garden, which covers almost 1 km² and is located in the mountain village of Ban Khun Klang Hmong, which is about 1.5 km north of the park’s headquarters. The project garden grows flowers and vegetables, and also has a rhododendron garden and greenhouses for growing ferns.
From the garden, you can see the Siriphum waterfall cascading down from a high cliff.
There is also a popular restaurant on-site serving a variety of dishes with ingredients fresh from the project gardens, as well as a gift shop and café.
Cherry Blossoms at Khun Wang Royal Project
Khun Wang Royal Agricultural Research Centre is one of the lesser-known attractions on the slopes of Doi Inthanon mountain and another beautiful place to take a walk and enjoy the picturesque gardens.
Khun Wang is at its best from mid-January to early February, when the wild Himalayan cherry blossom (sakura) turns into a sea of pink. Cherry blossom season only lasts about two to three weeks, so cheque before you travel if this is your main reason for visiting.
Coffee drinking at Mae Klang Luang
For possibly the freshest cup of coffee you’ll ever have, go off the beaten track and pay a visit to the Karen hill tribe village of Mae Klang Luang. Located inside the evergreen forest of Doi Inthanon National Park, the villagers grow organic coffee as well as vegetables and rice as part of Royal Project Inthanon.
Hmong Village, Khun Ya Noi
For something a little different, visit the Hmong Village of Khun Ya Noi, where you can browse the market and observe how the Hmong people live. The village has also been positively impacted by the work of the Royal Project.
Most of the National Park’s popular waterfalls are easily accessible from the road and require only a few hundred yards of walking on trails to reach. Although the falls are beautiful all year round, the best time to visit them is during the rainy season (May to November) when the water flow is at its peak.
Mae Ya Waterfall is a contender for Thailand’s most impressive waterfall: Mae Ya Waterfall sends water plummeting 250 meters over several stages. The main stage is about 100 meters wide and 40 meters high. You can find Mae Ya about 17 km southwest of the main checkpoint to the national park.
Mae Klang Waterfall, not far from the turnoff to Route 108, Mae Klang is the most accessible cascade. For this reason, it is also one of the most visited waterfalls on weekends and holidays. The waterfall plunges almost 100 meters over several steps, with the highest step being about 25 meters high.
Wachirathan Waterfall is located in a forested basin and can be reached via a side road near kilometer 21. The waterfall, which is deafening after heavy rain, reveals a foaming cascade as the water plunges 50 meters into the basin below.
Sirithan Waterfall is another popular waterfall. It can be reached from the parking lot on the main road at kilometer 22, from where a 200-meter trail leads to the waterfall.
If you’re traveling with young children, stop by Small Farm in Chom Thong to break up the sightseeing and keep the kids entertained. You can relax while your kids go pony riding, walk through the animal enclosures or have fun in the playground.
Flora and Fauna
Because of its elevation, the park has a rich and unique biodiversity. The higher elevations of the park are covered with a tropical forest that includes pine trees and Moist Evergreen remains lush and green throughout the year.
Doi Inthanon National Park also produces an impressive array of flowers. Rhododendron and Phycastylis can be found all around the park, and the upper slopes of the mountain are abundant in orchids, moss, lichen, and epiphytes.
The park is also home to over 75 species of mammals. Chinese flying squirrels, barking deer, Asiatic black bears, and an array of bats live alongside primates such as gibbons, leaf monkeys, and macaques.
Topography and Climate
The national park is primarily made up of rugged, mountainous terrain and is the source of several rivers, including the Ping River which runs through Chiang Mai. This, of course, also means that you will find an abundance of waterfalls and the park boasts some of the most spectacular in Thailand.
The higher elevation of Doi Inthanon National Park means that it enjoys cooler temperatures year-round, compared to the lower-lying areas around Chiang Mai. During the peak of the cool season, you may even be lucky enough to find frost at the summit.
There are several options for camping in and around the park. You can rent a tent and camping equipment at the campground, located about 500 yards from the park headquarters. The campground has basic facilities such as hot showers and restrooms.
The cost of renting a tent for three people is around 225 THB (US$7.60) per day, and equipment such as a sleeping bag, mat, and pillow is around 60 THB (US$1.80).
If you have your own camping equipment, you can also camp at Nam Tok Mae Pan.
How to Get There
The park has good road access and, as you can see from the map, is easy to get to. The drive from Chiang Mai is about 100 kilometers and takes about an hour and a half. There are a variety of ways to get there.
By Car or Motorcycle
You can easily rent a car in Chiang Mai, with or without a driver. If you are traveling by motorbike or scooter, be aware that the route is more suitable for experienced riders, as some of the roads are very steep and windy.
If you rent a vehicle, you will need an International Driving Permit.
To get to Doi Inthanon National Park from Chiang Mai :
- Highway 108 towards Chomthong.
- After about 57km, turn right and join Route 1009.
- Travel on this road for about 31km, until you arrive at the entrance to the park.
- Google Map
Private Tour With a Local Guide
By far the easiest way of seeing the national park is to book a private guided tour (also available as a join-in tour). A popular option, many tour operators will pick you up from your hotel in Chiang Mai, take you to the park for the day, and show you around the main sights and attractions. They will then return you to your hotel at the end of the day. Most of the Doi Inthanon National Park Tour include the park entrance fees, and some even include lunch.
It is possible to reach the park by songthaew from Chiang Mai, but it can be challenging. That being said, you may be able to negotiate a price to hire a songthaew for the day. The driver will then take you there, wait for you, and bring you back.
When is the Best Time to Visit?
Doi Inthanon National Park offers different experiences throughout the year, so the best time to come depends on your primary motivation for visiting.
If you want to experience trekking:
- In May the jungle is still dry
- June to July: it starts to rain and the jungle becomes green again
- August and September: the rain becomes heavier
- October to January: the weather is cool, sometimes it can get very cold at night.
- February to April the jungle starts to be dry, and have forest fire in the neighborhood area, which bring smoke and poor air quality.
If you want to see the falls in all their glory, the best time to visit is between May and November, when it rains and the water is at its highest.
Between December and February is your best chance of having clear skies for photos of the view from the summit. Even then, due to its altitude, the peak is often shrouded in mist and cloud.
February to April it’s a hit and miss due to the forest fire.
What to Pack
What you’ll need for a Doi Inthanon Day Trip depends on the time of year you are visiting and the activities you plan to do, but a good rule of thumb is to take:
- Light jacket
- Comfortable footwear
You might not expect a mountain in Thailand to be cold, but in the cool season (October to February), temperatures at the summit can drop below freezing and people are often caught off guard. You’ll need something warm, in addition to your jacket.
For a Doi Inthanon Day Trip (May/June to October/November), you should take a rain jacket, and shoes with a good grip. If you are hiking, consider waterproof hiking boots.
Where to Eat
There’s not a lot of food choices in the park, but you’ll find something to keep you happy at each of these places:
At Park Entrance, near the park headquarters, there are a few restaurants as well as a large market selling fruits, vegetables, and Thai street food. The restaurants are open daily from 7 am to 8 pm.
At the top, you will find two small cafes where you can buy tea, coffee, and snacks.
At Inthanon Royal Project Restaurant, the popular restaurant at Royal Agricultural Station offers a selection of tasty Thai dishes prepared with fresh ingredients from the project’s gardens. Western dishes are also available for breakfast. The restaurant is located near the Inthanon Royal Project accommodation and is open daily from 7 am to 9 pm.
At Wachirathan Waterfall, there are restaurants serving authentic Thai dishes at the edge of the parking lot of Wachirathan Waterfall, serving authentic Thai food. The restaurants are open from 8 am to 5 pm.
Helpful Tips for a Great Trip
Here are a few more tips to help you enjoy your time in Doi Inthanon National Park to the fullest:
- Start early: It’s best to stay overnight to fully appreciate everything that the park has to offer. If you only have time for a day trip, arrive early to make the most of your time. The park opens at 5 am and closes at 6 pm.
- Holidays: Unless you’re partial to crowds, longer holidays are best avoided when planning your visit to the park. New Year’s Day alone can see as many as 12,000 visitors making their way to the summit.
- Entrance fee: The entrance fee to the national park is 300 THB (US$9.10) per adult and 150 THB (US$4.55) per child. Thai nationals pay a reduced fee of 50 THB (US$1.50) for adults and 20 THB (US$0.60) for children. This entrance fee will be taken at the first checkpoint into the park, and a separate fee of 40 THB (approx US$1.20) per person is payable for entrance to the twin pagodas.
- ATMs: You will find an ATM next to the park headquarters.
- Climate: The higher altitude means that the park offers a refreshing change from the city heat year-round, and the summit of Doi Inthanon National Park can be quite chilly. Temperatures average around 10 to 12 degrees celsius at higher elevations so bring a jacket, especially if you are visiting in the early morning.
- Swimming: You are not advised to swim in most of the waterfalls due to the risk of flash floods.
- Distances: There are large distances to travel between the main sights and attractions which means that walking between them is not feasible.
- Food and drink: Although there are places to eat inside the park, there isn’t a huge choice, so bring plenty of snacks and enough water to see you through the day.
As well as offering visitors extraordinary natural beauty, Doi Inthanon National Park is home to some of the most popular sights and attractions in Northern Thailand.