Photo: Scenery surrounding Chiang Rai.

Doi Tung

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Chiang Rai’s spectacular Doi Tung Range stretches from Mae Fah Luang in the south up to Mae Sai district in the north, with the Burmese border demarking the mountains’ western slopes. These rugged peaks rise to over 1,500 metres and as with Chiang Mai’s Doi Ang Khang massif was until relatively recently a wild and inaccessible spot. These days it’s freqented by minibus convoys of tourists, (being too steep and narrow for coaches), and day-trippers from Chiang Rai where 30 years ago you’d have seen opium mule trains, KMT soldiers, Khun Sa’s Shan United Army and Akha women harvesting the chest high pink and white poppy flowers. The hill-tribe peoples are still there but the Shan fighters now continue their struggle over the border; Khun Sa’s long gone, (though you can visit his old base in Hin Taek), while the families of retired KMT soldiers now run tea tasting shops in Mae Salong.



Doi Tung landscape

Doi Tung landscape

Both regions have dealt with their bad boy images in similar ways and where Doi Ang Khang has it’s excellent Royal Agricultural Project, Doi Tung has the fabulous Royal Botanical Gardens created as an initiative to provide alternative income sources and work to papaver somniferum cultivation.

Doi Tung from the east

Doi Tung from the east

Mae Fah Luang Botanical Gardens are located on the summit of Doi Tung, on the site of the particularly troublesome Akha village of Pa Kluay. The village was, in earlier times, a major opium production and transportation hub, though government agencies also point out that, wedged into a narrow gorge, the village was insalubrious and cramped, so relocation to a site some 500 metres distant, with a sealed road and electricity, was judged the best solution. Akha and other local hill-tribes now find employment in the gardens and sell their wares at the numerous souvenir stalls. The superb gardens, and adjacent Royal Palace, were then created in the early 1990s.

The central feature is formally laid-out, European-style gardens.

The central feature is a formally laid-out, European-style garden.

Apparently the Queen Mother herself took a particular interest in the area and, as well as having the nearby country palace constructed, had the idea of creating some mountain-top gardens to allow local people to see at firsthand temperate climate plants. Today the extensive and impeccably maintained gardens incorporate tropical, temperate and even desert plants, (with their cactus house). Rock gardens, orchid house. night garden and a fern house can be found among, what for Thais, are exotic species such as roses, tulips and chrysanthemums.

The misty, jungly bit

The misty, jungly bit

There’s also a nice balance between the neatly laid out, manicured areas and some wilder, more ‘jungly’ sections and it is a wonderful spot to wander with the formal European-style flowerbeds being popular among local visitors and the more ‘tropical’ sections favourites with Western tourists.

The orchid house is a popular exhibit

The orchid house is a popular exhibit

We’d allow from 1 to 2 hours for the visit, depending obviously on your fondness for plants, but there is also a hill-tribe market next to the car-park and very good local coffee shops and eateries. The Queen Mother’s palace is also open to the public as are an arboretum and coffee plantation. (The now opium-less Doi Tung is famous for the excellent, locally brewed, substitution crop, coffee.) The hill-tribe market contains a lot of the usual gaudy tat but does also have some tea tasting shops, if you haven’t been able to make it up to Mae Salong, and some herb, spice, fruit and vegetable vendors with some unusual mountain products on display.

Doi Tung nipple fruit

Doi Tung nipple fruit

Some day tours, and of course if you have your own transport, also take in Wat Doi Tung, a temple and stupa perched atop a summit affording stupendous views to the north and east. (On a clear day you ought to be able to see both Lao and Burma.) This is located around 20 kilometres north along a windy but scenic mountain road, in good condition, and you’ll pass the arbotoreum on the way. Entrance to the stupa is free but the access road is truly treacherous so you may be better to walk from the car-park. There are also several very good local eateries and coffee shops here if Botanical Garden prices were too steep for you.

Overview of the gardens

Overview of the gardens

Just getting up the mountain is almost worth the trip with some fantastic views back down into the valley and towards Mae Sai. If you’re travelling under your own steam look out for a well signposted route on your left just short of Mae Sai on the main Chiang Rai highway route number 1. Otherwise all Chiang Rai guesthouses or travel agents will be able to organise tours up there. Again if you’re travelling under your own steam there is a good road heads south towards Mae Salong. It involves a few poorly marked junctions but the ride is spectacular and it should eventually debouch onto route 1234, the Mae Chan to Mae Salong road.

A Tai Lue, (who also have a village on the mountain), tea vendor in the market

A Tai Lue, (who also have a village on the mountain), tea vendor in the market

There is another road leads north, hugging the border, directly into Mae Sai, but this is a very steep and extremely challenging route and we were warned off several times. For Mae Sai go back to the main highway and hang a right. Great trip and you can make a day of it by stopping at the Black House, Baan Dam,LINK on the way and perhaps taking in Mae Sai’s border markets too.

Mae Fah Luang Botanical Gardens
Entrance fee;
Gardens, Royal Villa and Arbotoreum; – adults 90 baht, students and children 45 for each site or you can buy a combined ticket for 220 and 110.
Open daily



Doi Tung
Daily 06:30 to 18:00
Admission: Gardens, Royal Villa and Arboretum: adults 90 baht, students and children 45 for each site or you can buy a combined ticket for 220 and 110.

By .

Location map for Doi Tung


What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Chiang Rai.
 Check prices, availability & reviews on Agoda or Booking
 Read up on where to eat on Chiang Rai.
 Check out our listings of other things to do in and around Chiang Rai.
 Read up on how to get to Chiang Rai, or book your transport online with 12Go Asia.
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
 Planning on riding a scooter in Chiang Rai? Please read this.
 Browse tours in Thailand with Tourradar.




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