Home TravelAsia Thailand: Doi Inthanon National Park with the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail near Chiang Mai

Thailand: Doi Inthanon National Park with the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail near Chiang Mai

by Flitter Fever
Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail Doi Inthanon National Park

Climb to the tallest mountain and you will have the best view. On a clear day that will definitely be the case at Doi Inthanon National Park (‘Doi In’), located at less than two hours from the city center of Chiang Mai. Highlights include the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail, pagodas and waterfalls. Escape the heat in the city and go for this great off the beaten track day trip, a pleasure for any nature lover visiting beautiful Northern Thailand!

We really liked our day trip to Doi Inthanon National Park, a top favorite during our 3 weeks trip through Thailand!

Summary

  • Nice day trip from Chiang Mai city
  • Enjoy the park along with locals
  • Great views from peak on a clear day
  • Short trail attainable for almost anyone

Doi Inthanon National Park

Doi Inthanon National Park is one of the 14 original National Parks of Thailand. On an early December morning we drove from Chiang Mai’s city center to Doi Inthanon National Park in less than two hours. We really enjoyed this day trip and felt it was worth the drive. It seems like mostly locals know about the Doi Inthanon National Park as we were some of the few non-Asian visitors we saw that day. Due to Christmas holiday season the park did attract many local students on their motor bikes, so it was not as quiet as it can be off season but not really crowded either.

The name of the park refers to ‘the Roof of Thailand’ located inside the park. With 2.565 meters the Doi Inthanon Mountain is Thailand’s highest peak, part of the Thai Highlands and Himalayan mountain range. One time the name of the mountain changed from Doi Luang (meaning ‘big mountain’) to Doi Inthanon after the remains of the last ruler of the Chiang Mai district, King Phra Chao Inthawichayanon, were put inside a shrine on top of the mountain, according to his last wishes.

The entire road through the park to the mountain top is 47 km. The last part should be done by foot. You pass by this temple. On top of the mountain itself, an ugly weather station and an astronomical research institute are located. Both are governmental buildings so no photos should be taken there. The park was established 1954-1972.

Mountain view from the brown pagoda platform in Doi Inthanon National Park

Animals at Doi Inthanon

Doi Inthanon National Park offers a variety of more than 1200 different plants, many flowers and – although not easy to spot – animals like butterflies, birds, wild boar, monkeys like gibbons, deer, amphibian, reptiles like the dwarf gecko, etc. Very suitable for nature lovers! It is also said there should be black bears in Doi Inthanon National Park, but I could not find any information whether they still exist there or not.

You do not need to be afraid of encountering large wild animals such as elephants or pythons in Doi Inthanon National Park. It is a paradise for bird watchers though, with hundreds of different species. All we heard were exotic bird sounds, we did not see any birds or other animals while walking the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail for example. This makes sense because bird watching is best here from March till June, while we were there in December. Oops, we were too early birds.

Do not confuse Doi Inthanon with Doi Suthep, Thailand’s 4th highest peak (1601m) that includes the most important temple of Chiang Mai.

Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail  

What made us visit the Doi Inthanon National Park in the first place was the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail. The trail is relatively short (3.2 km) and took us about 2 hours to finish. There are lots of steps on this trail, which – if lucky with clear weather – get rewarded by a unique and awesome panoramic view from the top of the mountain. The trail goes around in a circle, which should be walked couterclockwise, and consists of 21 points (also known as ‘stations’) in total, see photo of map below.

At the entrance of the trail a group of Hmong tribe people are sitting and waiting for their next group of visitors. The path is not difficult to follow yet a local Hmong guide is mandatory. They are the experts on this trail and I guess it provides them work. Our guide Mr. M spoke barely any English but he smiled friendly and properly led us the way, including a short bypass to see the pagodas from the mountain (between points 14 and 15). We gave the guide a tip at the end because we were not sure what he would receive from the admission we paid.

Facilities & Forest

Bamboo sticks are provided to those in need (like me). Every few hundred meters there are benches to catch breath. The path, steps, benches and bridges are maintained well. There are informative signs in both Thai and English at every point. A big parking lot at the beginning provides space for many cars and motor bikes. Despite the Christmas holiday season the trail did not feel too crowded.

At the first and the last parts of the trail (points 1-6 and 15-21) you walk in the shade of the tall trees in the forest, surrounded by ferns, bamboo, lianas, moss and other green vegetation. The trees developed a special kind of leaves that grow on the bark, to catch as much sunlight as they can possibly get.

Good exercise

I must say, I was glad it was not so warm the day we did this hike. Due to the height temperatures do not quickly rise above 18°C, at least in the shade under the big jungle trees. However, sweat quickly started to drop when walking up these steps… Oh well, good exercise is what I needed after all that Pad Thai! Whether this trail is challenging for you or not depends on your personal fitness level. To me, coming from a country as flat as a pancake, it was a bit challenging, while for others it might be easy peasy.

Panoramic platform

Once you get above 2000 meters (points 7-14) the landscape changes suddenly as trees do not grow there. So you are out in the open, where the sun often shines brightly, and you get to see a scenic mountainous view. And then climbing up on a sandy path way, yah!

About 200 more meters up and you – if lucky – get to see that panoramic view, which makes it totally worth the efforts. Breathtaking! The view platform is at point 9, at about halfway the track, the point of turning direction. Fingers crossed for clear weather… Unless you are hoping to see that thick white blanket of clouds around the mountaintop?

After the panoramic platform, but before re-entering the forest, you will pass by a few pretty Rhododendron trees with red flowers. Not far from there your Hmong guide can lead you to the point where you can take the by-pass path to see the two pagodas from a distance (see also Pagodas paragraph below), it is around point 15.

Weather

Realistically speaking, a clear panoramic view at the platform is definitely not guaranteed on any day at the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail. You can see the mountain ranges of North Thailand and Myanmar (west). You need to be a bit lucky, mist can spoil the fun. Condensation of the warm humid air from below can form mist that tends to hang around the mountain top. Besides, keep in mind that the trail is closed during raining season (see below When to visit), when it may rain more than two hours a day.

Sunrise or Sunset

At the right time of the year, the sunrise and sunset can be witnessed from the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail, under the condition that it is a clear day.

  • Best sunrise view is at the panoramic platform (point 9), possibly with a blanket of foggy clouds around the mountain.
  • Best sunset view is from the sidetrack from where you can see the pagodas (between point 14 and 15).

Since I assume you will not wait and hang around all day, you will have to make a choice between the two, should the time of the year allow you to be there at sunset and/or sunrise within the opening hours of the park. Or just come during the day. Up to you!

Ang Ka Trail

In addition to the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail, there is another trail that you can walk in Doi Inthanon National Park. The Ang Ka Luang Nature Trail is a lot shorter but worth a shot because this mossy wooden path is said to be very peaceful and pretty. Stupidly enough we forgot to go there during our visit, oops! I would recommend not to make the same mistake. In addition, you may want to try the Pha Dok Sieo Nature Trail as well. For locations, see the map below.

With the right timing, you can see gorgeous green rice terraces in the valley (for location indication see map below).

Pagodas

The Doi Inthanon National Park is home to two huge twin pagodas, also known as ‘the two Chedis’ or stupas, in modernistic style:

  • Phra Mahathat Naphamethanidon
  • Phra Mahathat Naphaholphumisiri

To celebrate the 60th birthdays of the previous King of Thailand and his Queen, the Royal Thai Air Force got the assignment to build these colorful pagodas in the late 80s and early 90s. The brown one for the king and the purple one for the queen. The surrounding walls are decorated with Buddhist tales and the terraces offer great mountain views. Should you want to have a look inside one of the pagodas, please take off your shoes and respect general temple rules.

Photography wise I would advise to visit the pagodas at the end of the afternoon, to have the sun shine from behind you when standing in the back of the garden behind the purple pagoda.

The purple pagoda is surrounded by a nice flower garden with pond, where you can stroll around for a bit. It is not big but maintained well. Bathrooms available. Songthaews ride between the pagodas and the parking lot from 08:00h to 16:00h. In below map I also indicated a view point along highway 1009 that you pass while driving towards the pagodas from the park’s entrance.

Waterfalls

We also went to the Wachiratan Waterfall, which is easy to access from the car park and local lunch eateries. It is about 40 meters high and even in the cool season full of water. Really beautiful! One of the biggest and best waterfalls in the NP. No swimming allowed. In addition, there are at least 7 other waterfalls inside Doi Inthanon National Park, such as Mae Ya and Mae Klang, of which most can be found along the Klang River (see map below). The path to the Siriphum Waterfall is gorgeous.

The Mae Pan Waterfall is located at point 3 of the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail and can only be visited on foot. The waterfalls are at their prettiest with biggest water flows from May till November, but the Mae Pan can only be visited in May, not Jun-Oct (see below When to visit).

Hill tribes

There are multiple hill tribe villages in Doi Inthanon National Park, like the Karen and Hmong/Miao. Have you ever met hill tribe people? Go for example to the local Thai Hmong Community Market, where you can buy local products such as coffee.

Royal Flower Garden

The previous King of Thailand initiated this flower garden, officially referred to as the Royal Agricultural Station Inthanon, to beat and replace the opium cultivation in the late 70s. An agricultural research center was set up to educate the local farmers and keep them occupied. Since then, the Hmong and Karen tribes from eight surrounding villages take care of the flower garden and research center. The garden includes many different and beautiful flowers such as rhododendrons and orchids, but also ferns and various types of lettuce for example.

Besides, the Royal Flower Garden includes the best restaurant of Doi Inthanon National Park. To ensure a table, I would recommend to come before noon. Alternative lunch location is at the parking lot of the earlier mentioned Wachiratan Waterfall, where a few small eateries serve Thai dishes.

Tip: Keep your NP admission ticket safe as you may be asked to show it at several checkpoints throughout the park.

How to get there

Doi Inthanon National Park is located southwest of Chiang Mai city center, at about 2 hours by car. You can hire a private driver, rent a car or motor bicycle*. Tours from Chiang Mai are available starting around 50 EUR per person including lunch, available at for example Viator and GetYourGuide. We decided to hire our own driver, a lovely guy. You can also ask your accommodation to book a private car with driver for you. Some details of this day trip:

  • Duration 8 hours 08:00h – 16:00h
  • Private car with driver 2800 THB
  • Admission NP 300 THB adult foreign, 150 THB child foreign, 50 THB adult Thai, 20 THB child Thai
  • Admission NP car 30 THB
  • Local trail guide 200 THB (max 10 people)
  • Pagodas 40 THB per person
  • Royal flower garden 40 THB
  • Lunch 120 THB for two

Thai Bath value

No idea of the (current) value of Thai Bath (THB)? The currency rate increased a lot over the last years. Check out a Currency Converter to get a better idea. With the current rate this day trip with private driver cost us about EUR 115, so roughly EUR 58 per person. Below tour is slightly cheaper with two, significantly cheaper solo.

Public transport to Doi Inthanon NP

The above can be done cheaper, although it will cost more time and be less convenient. Budget travelers willing to make the efforts of public transport from Chiang Mai to Doi Inthanon National Park can grab:

  • a yellow songthaew from Chiang Mai Gate to Chom Thong Village for 30 THB, followed by
  • a yellow songthaew to the summit of Doi Inthanon for 80 THB

These songthaews should both run about every hour or so during day light. The whole journey is likely to take at least 3 hours by public transport.

Getting around

It is not advisable to walk between the different points of interest in Don Inthanon NP, unless you really want to challenge yourself? The starting point of the Kew Mae Pan Natural Trail is relatively close (few minutes by car) to the pagodas inside the Doi Inthanon NP, however by foot pretty hot when the sun shines and the roads are quite steep.

There is a parking lot close to the entrance of the trail, where you (or your driver) can park your rental car, motorbike or whatever you came with. As mentioned before, songthaews (some sort of pick up truck with roofed trunk where you can jump in for a few bath) ride between the pagodas and the parking lot from 08:00h to 16:00h.

When to visit Doi Inthanon NP

Doi Inthanon National Park is open all year round. Great months to visit are November, December, January and February, especially the first two. It is cooler, drier and the skies clearer. In general great months to visit Thailand if you ask me, cooler than average. Avoid foggy days.

When we did the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail in the third week of December in the shade at the entrance it was 18°C. Excellent temperature for a hike. Humidity is still high and above 2000 meters there are no trees with shade, so it felt a lot warmer up there. Try to avoid New Year’s Day because every year the number of visitors peaks that day.

In this time of the year, some frost and low clouds may be seen early morning, making it extra interesting to do the trail at sunrise. Please keep in mind that the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail is closed from 1 June till 31 October due to rain season. Opening hours of the Doi Inthanon National Park are daily from 06.00h till 16.00h (last admission). Pick a clear day for best view. Ty to avoid the weekends, especially around national holidays to enjoy a peaceful experience.

Visiting late January or early February you may be lucky enough to see the pink blossoms of Siamese Sakura flower trees at Doi Inthanon National Park.

What to wear and bring

  • Cardigan, vest, summer jacket or sweater for trail early morning
  • Long sports or walking pants are recommended
  • Hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, anti-insect repellant (deet)
  • Bottle(s) of water and light snack
  • Light hiking shoes, sneakers or sturdy sandals
  • Tissues to wipe your bum (as anywhere in Thailand)
  • Plastic bag to collect your own rubbish

Where to stay

Most people visit the Doi Inthanon National Park either as part of the Mae Hon Song Loop or from the city of Chiang Mai, which we did and I would strongly recommend to do. Chiang Mai is a nice city to spend several days! We had a great time staying at the brand new Villa Sanpakoi. It is a small scale, stylish hotel with super friendly staff, spacious rooms with air-conditioning, private parking lot and swimming pool, on walking distance from the Ping River, Night Market and Old Town. A hidden gem really.

For the happy campers there is a camp site close to the entrance of Doi Inthanon National Park. For more information check out this website.

Map Doi Inthanon NP

This mobile friendly map includes most things mentioned in this article and is smartphone friendly. You can use it easily via Google Maps. Click on the top left icon to open the menu. You can (un)select categories/areas to customize the map to your needs. Via Google Drive you can copy it to your folder of My Google Maps.

I hope you like this article and find it useful. Are you going to Thailand soon? Considering the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail and Doi Inthanon National Park? Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. Soon I will publish more articles about Chiang Mai and Thailand.

To read more articles about Thailand check out the Thailand Blog Archives.

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