The name doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue but this national park is a memorable one — indeed it’s one of the best managed and organised parks we’ve visited in Thailand. Covering the northwest corner of Fang district, Doi Pha Hom Pok is bordered to the south by Doi Ang Khan, to the east by Mae Ai and Tha Ton and to the north and west by the Burmese frontier. The park used to be named Mae Fang National Park and is still recorded as such on older maps.
Aside from boasting more than 500 square kilometres of rugged mountains covered in dry dipterocarp, deciduous (predominantly teak), pine and cloud forests (in order of elevation), Doi Pha Hom Pok is notable for two remarkable, geographical features. Firstly, there’s Pha Hom Pok mountain itself, which at 2,285 metres is the second tallest peak in Thailand; secondly, there are extensive hot springs and a geyser around which the park headquarters and visitor centre are located. The geyser, at more than 30 metres, is the highest in the country, and though there are taller ones in other parts of the world this is a well organised one, erupting like clockwork every 30 minutes and lasting for around nine minutes each time.
The landscaped park around the main entrance is beautifully laid out and has excellent facilities. A visitor centre has coherent, bilingual information and photos of bird, insect and plant life, plus several maps and well-produced, English-language pamphlets. If you leave a deposit, they even have binoculars available for twitchers to borrow.
Close by the visitor centre you’ll find a charming lakeside fresh coffee shop and bakery, a pond-side snack bar knocking up grilled chicken and som tam and a riverside restaurant serving up rice and noodle dishes. Prices are the same as what you’d pay in Fang market — which is very unusual for a Thai national park.
There are also souvenir stores — one tacky, one tasteful — botanical gardens, a geothermal energy project, bathing pools, private sauna/steam huts and mineral baths. A private mineral bath chalet is 50 baht per person for a 30-minute soak, while the outdoor mineral bath and sauna are both 20 baht for unlimited time. Baths are clean, well kept and changing rooms and showers are provided. They are all very high in sulphur content, so take your silver jewellery off.
The gardens are well tended without being over-manicured, and wooden walkways, bridges and paths weave in and out of the springs, with bilingual signs explaining notable features such as, for example, how certain plants and insects can tolerate living in such extreme conditions. Be extremely careful of non-designated bathing areas — the baths are around 50 degrees Celsius but other springs can reach more than 80.
This must get pretty busy on a sunny Sunday afternoon, but there wasn’t an iota of litter to be seen and when we visited on a quiet mid-week day, the staff were super friendly and helpful. Why can’t all national parks be like this?
A two-hour nature trail takes you to a cave and a waterfall, while for the energetic the thing to do is an ascent of Doi Pha Hom Pok. This can be done in a day — generally part walking, and part 4WD — but the done thing is to camp overnight on the summit to catch the sunrise and, in winter months, the “sea of fog” effect. The visitor centre rents out tents: 50 baht for one-person, 225 baht for three-person and 600 baht for a large eight-person one. Clean sleeping bags, mattresses, pillows and blankets are also available for a few extra baht. These guys are organised! A 4WD and driver costs 1,500 baht for a day trip or 1,800 if you stay overnight while a guide costs 300 baht per day. Off you go then!
There are several possible trails and several campsites, so if you have a particular itinerary you wish to follow and require a guide with a reasonable level of English then it may call for some forward planning. Try either contacting them through the Thai national parks’ website, or maybe go up there a day or so beforehand for a chat. Alternatively, if you just want to go to the summit with a few stops on the way, then just go for it. If you can get a few people together it’s a very good deal.
Apart from the campsites, chalets are available and some nice ones sit on the hill behind the visitor centre with great views across the hot springs and geyser. Their standard chalets sleep up to four people and come with air-con and hot showers — they go for 2,000 baht a night. Bear in mind if overnighting here that, especially at the higher elevations, winter temperatures can drop below freezing point.
Entrance fees for foreigners are a slightly steep 300 baht, or 150 for children, but unlike many parks in Thailand, we feel you get your money’s worth and you aren’t being overcharged for facilities and consumables once inside. There’s also a 10 baht fee for bikes, 20 baht for motorbike, and 30 baht for car.
If you wish for a more in-depth tour of the park, we can recommend Funky Tours in nearby Mae Ai, who offer two and three-day tours of Doi Pha Hom Pok that begin with a homestay in Mae Ai and include camping on either Doi Lan or Doi Pha Hom Pok mountains, plus waterfall and hilltribe village visits. They work closely with the park rangers but have their own experienced, English-speaking guides. Prices vary depending upon number of people and programme.
Funky Tours: Mae Ai; T: (053) 459 363, (089) 931 6544; www.funkytours.blogspot.com; email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to get there
Hit the Fang bypass and the turn off is clearly signposted. After a coupe of kilometres the road forks with the left route taking you to Nam Roo and the right leading to the park entrance and headquarters. It’s around 10 kilometres total and it's a good road.
By Mark Ord.
Last updated on 19th December, 2016.