Encompassing almost 500 square kilometres of mountain highlands, along with Thailand’s highest peak, Doi Inthanon is one of Thailand’s most famous parks. Named after the 2,565-metre peak, the park contains a mixture of dry dipterocarp on the lower slopes, mixed deciduous trees such as teak and mountain evergreen at mid-altitudes, then pine and cloud forest near the summit.
The park is home to a wide variety of wildlife. There’s not much in the way of larger mammals – the park isn’t that large — but is rich in birdlife, with several endemic species. The park pamphlet counts an astounding 385 bird species, three of which are only found on Inthanon. Doi Inthanon National Park sprawls across Mae Chaem and Chom Thong districts in the southern reaches of Chiang Mai province, with park headquarters and the main entrance located in the latter district, around 60 kilometres from the provincial capital. While there is accommodation within the park’s boundaries, it isn’t all that great, and with the recent-ish closure of encroaching resorts, we recommend basing yourself in one of the relatively nearby town of Mae Chaem, or visiting the park on a daytrip from Chiang Mai or even Lamphun.
Regardless of where you stay, the park is well equipped to handle the large volume of visitors it attracts day in, day out. Weekends and Thai public holidays can be very busy affairs. In some cases you may not realise it though, as the park offers a variety of attractions, from viewpoints and walking trails through to waterfalls and (on the outskirts of the park) hilltribe villages.
Is this Thailand’s best maintained and protected national park? No. But if you’ve got a day up your sleeve and you’re one who likes to visit geographical highlights such as the tallest point in a country, then Doi Inthanon is worth the effort to reach.
In nearby Chom Thong, the market is lively, with plenty of hilltribe people from the surrounding Karen and Hmong villages coming to buy and sell, plus there are a couple of interesting temples in town. Well worth a wander around is Wat Prathat Doi Noi, a hilltop temple just at the exit to town on the Hot road. Set, as the Thai name suggests, on a small wooded hill overlooking the town, is a rather standard temple surrounded by one of those odd Disney-esque Buddha parks found here and there around the country. Gigantic concrete statues of Buddha in various poses and mythological figures and scenes are set amid trees and bougainvillea bushes. It’s a good spot for a stroll and boasts great views back down the valley.
Mae Chaem meanwhile is quite busy as a market and now transport centre for outlying villages, and was originally settled by people of the Tai Yuan branch of the Northern Tai ethnic family, though the surrounding villages include Shan, Red Karen, Lawa and Blue Hmong settlements. Aside from the market, there are a few interesting Lanna-style wats and some handicrafts in the form of woven Tai Yuan-style sarongs for which the village is famous. You can visit a weaving centre on the edge of town. Mondays see the town come to life, when from daybreak until midday a farmers’ market (Talaat Kad Chan) sets up around Wat Chang Koeung, one block south of the town centre.
The views can be stupendous, with the northwestern slopes of Doi Inthanon overlooking Mae Chaem, and the scenic Chaem River passing through the valley and surrounding paddy fields. If you do have your own transport then this might prove a good place to base yourself for exploring nearby Inthanon, while avoiding the more touristy area around the park itself — it also makes a useful stop if you’re doing the Hot, Mae Sariang, Khun Yuam, Chom Thong loop.
Some 50 kilometres southwest of Chiang Mai on Route 108 is the busy market town and junction of Chom Thong. To the north there’s the turn off, Route 1009, for Doi Inthanon, which passes by numerous easily accessible waterfalls and villages, mostly Karen or Hmong, en route. The park entrance is found at around the 37 kilometre point, while continuing another 10 kilometres will see you at the summit.
At Khung Klang village, where the main park admin buildings and accommodation are located, winding Route 1284 branches off north to Samoeng, passing the head of the Mae Wang valley. Next to the checkpoint and ticket booth Route 1192 leads off left to Mae Chaem, around 25 kilometres distant.
From town, pushing southwards down the Ping valley a further 38 clicks on Route 108 sees you in Hot, while the southeast direction leads you across a tongue of Lamphun province to Lampang’s Thoen district.
The most famous site in Chom Thong, Wat Phrathat Chom Thong, lies on the main road smack in the centre of town. The car park doubles as the town’s main bus stop and the market is one block south. A short hop down the main street – again south – takes you past the police station, post office (both on the right hand side) and plenty of ATMs, Chom Thong’s largest hospital is a couple of kilometres south of the centre on the Hot road.
Mae Chaem is a small town laid out along the banks of the Chaem river, which separates the town centre and most of its facilities on the east bank from the residential area to the west. A bridge over the Chaem provides the town’s focal point and it’s around here that you’ll find the market, police station, ATMs and convenience stores. One block south of Route 1088 as it heads off for Inthanon is the post office and small hospital on either side of Wat Chang Koueng. The lively Monday Market sets up here too.
Route 1088 Ob Luang and Route 1192 Inthanon diverge a few kilometres east of town, while crossing the bridge in town takes you to the nearby Teen Jok Handicrafts centre and on to outlying villages.
By Mark Ord.
Last updated on 9th October, 2016.