Home to Thailand's largest peak
The nearly 500 square kilometres of park is home to a wide variety of wildlife; though there’s not much in the way of larger mammals as the park isn’t large enough, it’s rich in birdlife. The park pamphlet counts 385 bird species, three of which are endemic to the park. It contains a mixture of dry dipterocarp on the lower slopes, mixed deciduous and mountain evergreen at mid-altitudes and pine and cloud forest near the summit.
The road up through the park has several easily accessible and indicated waterfalls located either by the road or down side tracks -- with luck, you’ll find English-language maps at the visitor centre.
Mae Klang, located just a kilometre from the visitor centre, is popular and at most times of year suitable for swimming. It also has snack and drink facilities.
Forty-metre Wachiratorn is a dramatic fall, though not so safe for bathing when water levels are high. It lies just down a side track at the 22-kilometre mark on the Chom Thong-Inthanon road. There are some nearby caves you can hike to as well. Siriphum, at the 31-kilometre mark, is one of the park’s most dramatic and picturesque, with a huge main fall that diverges into numerous smaller cascades over rocks through the forest below. There are many others!
Disappointingly, at the summit you’ll find a car park, two chedis and a cafeteria. A short distance before the summit on the left is the interesting Kew Mae Pan nature trail, which will take you through the moss-covered trees of the summit’s cloud forest -- it takes about two hours. It’s called a ’cloud’ forest since at that altitude Inthanon is often covered in swirling mist. Your best chance of clear views is the cold, dry season from November to January, but even then there’s no guarantee -- and remember that at that time of year at more than 2,500 metres it can get very cold. Frost and below-zero temperatures are common on Doi Inthanon during winter.
During the hot, dry season from March to May, views are almost certain to be spoilt by haze and smoke from burning stubble and bush fires, while during the rainy season you will be lucky to catch a cloudless day. Having said that, if you did, you’d probably be treated to the best views available since the surrounding scenery would be at its most green and lush, the waterfalls at their most spectacular and the sky at its clearest and bluest.
The park’s scenery, flora and fauna are magnificent but the facilities poor. There’s no shortage of space but the ticket booth, visitor centre, park accommodation and headquarters are scattered haphazardly and confusingly over some 30 kilometres of Route 1009. The accommodation is average, their canteens (they don’t merit the word restaurant) are disgraceful and in our notes next to visitor centre we’ve scribbled ‘pathetic’. Mum, dad and two kids, if from overseas, will pay a combined 900 baht entry fee, while a Thai family pay 140 baht in total.
There are many excellent, well-run parks in Thailand with fine facilities and delightful accommodation -- check out Khun Tan, Ob Luang and Salawin for example -- and that see interested and responsible local visitors, but the ‘celebrity’ national park Inthanon isn’t generally one of them. (And yes, all Thai national parks do practice a two-tier pricing system but they’re not all 300 baht!)
Most agents and guesthouses in Chiang Mai will offer daytrips to the park, which considering the distance involved, might be worthwhile if Inthanon is all you want to see in the area.
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.