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Mae Wang National Park

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This tiny and only very recently established park is squeezed between the much more extensive Doi Inthanon and Ob Khan national parks to the south and north respectively. Lying in the district of the same name, Mae Wang National Park (not to be confused with Mae Wong further south), is situated in the southern reaches of Chiang Mai province just 40 kilometres or so from the provincial capital.

The Park’s main feature - the Chor Cliffs

The park’s main feature: the Chor cliffs.

The park’s focal point and raison d’etre are the impressive cliffs known as Pha Chor, which have been eroded to create spectacular and highly unusual formations. Phrae’s Meuang Phi, Sao Din in Nan and Pai Canyon display similar features, but this is probably the most impressive of the lot.

Pha Chor

More Pha Chor.

There is a second site 2.5 kilometres from Pha Chor known as Pha Daeng (Red Cliffs), which at present is not so easily accessed. We’d be surprised if there weren’t more in the area waiting to be “opened up”. These are the foothills of the high Inthanon to Doi Pui range, with its intense monsoon run-off coursing down through relatively soft limestone and sandstone formations to the Ping Valley, and which also created the nearby Ob Khan and Ob Luang canyons.

Pha Daeng, (Red Cliff)

Pha Daeng, looking exactly the way it’s supposed to.

The majority of the park is covered with low, dry dipterocarp, deciduous forest and with the poor sandy soils and rugged terrain of gullies and ridges, much is still untouched. Don’t expect large mammals, but wild orchids and birdlife proliferate. Although the park is still very much a work in progress when it comes to hosting visitors, the popular Pha Chor site has been commendably set up with a nature trail including clear signs in comprehensible English noting interesting flora along the way. Decent bilingual maps, steps and footpaths have been established, allowing views of the main features. Note that the sandy ground is highly crumbly and slippery in both dry and rainy seasons and potentially treacherous — we strongly recommend sticking to the paths.

An excellent bilingual nature trail

An excellent bilingual nature trail.

From the still-under-contruction (as of September 2015) visitor centre, follow the signs for a kilometre or so until you see a marked turn off to the left. Two kilometres of gritty dirt track then take you to a small carpark and viewpoint for Pha Chor. The views south towards Inthanon National Park are stupendous. There’s also a cafe (and brand new toilets) up here, so you can get a bite to eat and cold drink. Steps lead down left of the cafe to the foot of the hill from where a path follows a dry stream bed to the cliffs themselves. (We’re not really sure what happens during heavy rains…) From here, an extremely narrow path (we’re talking less than a foot in places), takes you on a loop through the eroded rock beds before returning to the foot of the hill for a hot, steep climb back to the carpark. The total distance is less than a kilometre but there’s lots to see, so allow an hour.

The view south towards Chom Thong and Doi Inthanon

The view south towards Chom Thong and Doi Inthanon.

For those of a geological bent, the pillars and unusual cliffs were formed as water eroded down through alternate strata of sandstone and conglomerate. The crumbly sandstone is easily eroded while the conglomerate — rounded pebbles set in a tough, natural, concrete-like matrix — is much harder. (Conglomerate represents ancient beaches or stream beads where the rounded worn stones became set in a muddy or sandy matrix.) The darker, pebbly layers you see have protected the sandstone underneath, leaving tall narrow pillars as more recent streams and rain carved through the soft rocks.

Sandstone columns with their dark conglomerate caps

Sandstone columns with their dark conglomerate caps.

Entry is for now 100 baht for foreigners plus 20 baht per vehicle entry, although there may be a price rise once all facilities are completed. As with the visitor centre, park accommodation is currently under construction. This looks like being a well run and great little national park.

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How to get there
There is no public transport to the park itself. The nearest you can get is Ban Kat by songthaew from Chiang Mai, which costs 30 baht. From here you’ll have to take a moto taxi whose driver you’d negotiate with in front of Ban Kat market.

If travelling under your own steam, head out of Chiang Mai on Route 3035 (which begins life as the Canal Road), until you reach a crossroads with Route 1013. Straight on continues to Chom Thong; left leads to Sanpatong and Lamphun while right is signposted Mae Wang. A couple of kilometres up the Mae Wang road you’ll reach Ban Kat village and a kilometre further you’ll see another turning on the left clearly marked Mae Wang National Park. It’s signposted all the way and the entrance lies approximately 12 kilometres from Ban Kat.

The last section would be tricky for a tuk tuk, but hiring a songthaew for the return journey from Chiang Mai should be feasible for 600 to 800 baht depending upon your bargaining skills.

Mae Wang National Park
Santisuk, Doi Lo
Daily 08:00 to 16:30.
T: (081) 881 4729
Admission: 100 baht, 20 baht vehicles

Location map for Mae Wang National Park

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 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Mae Wang.
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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Mae Wang? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Thailand.

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