Less than an hour away from the Old City of Chiang Mai lies an expanse of natural beauty teeming with legendary wildlife. At least, that’s what we were told when we first made a trip out to Ob Khan National Park.
If there’s nothing you’d like more in the heat than a good swim but are scared away by the mere sight of the murky brown Ping river, then 484-square-kilometre Ob Khan, with the the clear waters of the Mae Khan river flowing through, is your answer.
Unlike many other parks in Thailand, visitors are charged no entrance or parking fees. As soon as you enter, you’ll see the sprawling grass Thais use to picnic in-between river dips. If you’re not in a particularly outdoorsy or adventurous mood, then sit back, crack open a bottle of Thai whisky, and have yourself a lazy day by the river. Do imitate the locals, who station their drinks on the rocks right by the river bank which helps keep them cool all day long.
If the possibility of seeing wild cats, civets, mouse deer and mongoose, for instance, is tempting, then there are several hikes you can go on, which range from slightly taxing all the way to strenuous. We went on a roughly 90-minute stroll, beginning up on the hills, which gave us a wonderful view of the jagged cliffs and interesting stones that give the park its name. Though it isn’t always clear exactly where the trail is leading, eventually it makes a U-turn and leads back to the entrance on a pleasant path by the river, which serves as a convenient geographical landmark. Though we didn’t see much in the way of wildlife, the river, cliffs and mountains were scenic enough to leave us wanting to further explore.
Camping is popular at Ob Khan, since there are many spots perfect for tents right by the river. You can rent tents at the office for 50 baht and use the public facilities, which include well-kept hot showers.
Very few tourists visit Ob Khan, giving the whole excursion an aura of discovery that’s rare to find when travelling in Thailand nowadays. Whether it be simply to swim and relax by the river, or to do some full-on hiking and camping, visiting Ob Khan makes it feel like you’ve left the city hours behind you, when in fact just a 45-minute ride will have you back in the midst of everything.
How to get there
From the Old City, head west on Suthep Road and make a left onto the Canal Road. Drive south as if you're heading to Hang Dong for about 11 kilometres, and look out for a sign on the right to "Ob Khan National Park". Once you turn right, you'll be driving on this winding road for another four kilometres or so before you reach the park. This last stretch of road is full of potholes, so do beware.
By Claudia Sosa
Last updated on 14th June, 2014.