Published/Last edited or updated: 12th May, 2018
The spectacular and rugged limestone massif of Doi Luang, often simply called Doi Chang Dao, is officially Thailand’s third highest peak at some 2,225 metres (figures do vary slightly) and the hike to the summit is one of the area’s most popular activities.
It can be done as a one-day hike or a two-day trip including a night camping. Leaving early, one day is sufficient for most reasonably fit hikers (count eight hours), though the attraction of the two-day version—apart from camping overnight on the mountain—is being able to catch dawn from the summit.
Ascents are strictly controlled by the park authorities and while we have seen numerous accounts of visitors doing the trek unaccompanied, guides are officially compulsory. There are some very steep sections and though the trail may seem easy enough in fine weather conditions can change very quickly at 2,000 metres. Local guides aren’t expensive—especially when split between a few people—and they rely on this for their livelihood. Furthermore, they can point out flora, fauna and features en-route and disobeying park regulations isn’t going to look good on your insurance claim if you do have a problem. All in all then we strongly recommend sticking to park rules.
There is a 200 baht per person park entrance fee and in addition to organising a guide and potentially overnight camping gear and supplies you also require transport to the trail-head which is located around sixteen kilometres from town on the Muang Khong road. (A pick-up transfer goes for 1,000-1,200 baht and guides around 500 per day.) However the Wildlife Sanctuary office, where you register for treks and book guides and transport, is situated at the end of the lane leading past Chiang Dao Nest at the foot of the steps climbing up to Wat Tham Pla Plong. Suffice to say then that getting someone else to organise the trip for you is by far the simplest way to go.
Due to issues with park authorities, (which we’ll come to shortly), some resorts and guesthouses no longer offer this trip so we reckon your best bet is with Malee's Nature Lover's Guesthouse who have been working with guides they know and trust for many years and who offer reasonably priced one and two-day packages. The Nest no longer propose this trip and we noticed that The Cave had blacked out the option from their list of suggested activities however that doesn’t mean that, without offering the full package, guesthouses won’t help you out by calling the park office for bookings and logistics.
Due to weather factors, park management restricts the hike to a certain period of the year—November through to March inclusively. Many resort owners’ gripe is that while these are the official dates they are rarely respected and opening and closing times can change at short notice. In the 2017-18 season, for instance, the park didn’t see fit to open the trail until mid-November and then abruptly closed it in mid-February citing fire risks. As guesthouse and resorts pointed out if they have customers travelling all the way to Chiang Dao for the trek to find that the trail dates have changed that year then that’s problematic for all concerned.
Malee’s for instance, plays it safe and advertises trips for November to mid-February only but again—please check in advance. Their published rates for 2018 (starting at one day trek 2,040 baht per person, for two people, two day trek 3,690 baht per person for two people) may seem a bit steep they are inclusive of transport, guides, food, camping gear and permits so a good deal for saving you considerable hassle.
You may also find agents in Chiang Mai offering Doi Luang trips—with or without transport—though they too will encounter similar scheduling problems as locally based operators.
Don’t let logistical issues put you off though: the scenery is truly awesome and includes a huge variety of flora and fauna. Personally, we wouldn’t rush it either and overnight camping on the mountain and truly spectacular dawn views from the summit makes the two-day our choice. If you’re going to do it, do it properly and don’t let logistical hassles detract from the fun.
Address: Park office: At the end of the prolongation of Chiang Dao Cave road past The Nest and at the foot of Wat Tham Pla Plong, Ban Tham, Chiang Dao
T: (053) 456 623;
Coordinates (for GPS): 98º52'23.13" E, 19º25'1.85" N
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Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.