Thailand, prides itself in the number and condition of its national parks. Here, in Northern Thailand, we have no fewer than 18 such sanctuaries spread across the provinces of Chiang Mai, Lumpoon and Mae Hong Song. I could, with some ease, provide you with a list of names; which would prove fruitless until you sought them out one by one from some government tourism establishment, or independent guidebook.
Of the 18 areas of natural interest, peace and solitude, I have chosen to highlight the National Park of Chiang Dao; not for any specific and personal preference, but more to provide you, the reader, with a thumbnail sketch of one of the more picturesque areas of this region.
Chiang Dao National Park covers an area of some eleven hundred square kilometres, close to the border with neighbouring Myanmar. The park comprises the vast Chiang Dao forest, the Mae Fang watershed, and the districts of Wiang Haeng and Chai Pra Karn. The park holds a myriad of flora and fauna.
It's limestone mountains provide sparkling streams that eventually give birth to the mighty Mae Ping and Mae Taeng rivers. The park's highest peak, is Doi Kum Fa, soaring more than eighteen hundred metres above sea level. The climate atop the ridge, as one would expect, is cool the year round. The area enjoys three seasons, each in its own way, a pleasure to the visitor.
May to September is the wet season, when the annual monsoon visits hilltop and valley alike. As a hill-walker, I favour this season, bringing as it does the many shades of green to accompany a cool and fragrant atmosphere. Winter falls, generally, between October and February, bringing with it an explosion of colour as the many and varied plants of the season burst into life. The summer, brief as it may seem, holds its own special warmth through March and April; I must say what a comfort it is while sitting on a high ridge overlooking verdant valleys at this time of the year in the sure and certain knowledge that elsewhere in the world my fellow man is bracing himself against the biting winds of march and the inevitable dampness of April.
What I admire most about time spent in the Chiang Dao Park is the variety of flora and fauna to be enjoyed. Don't get me wrong-we country folk are extremely welcoming and friendly, whatever the season, and you will be more than welcome to share a mug of herbal tea and a snack should you cross my path. Climbing the hillsides one crosses tree lines as diverse as pine, malibar , ironwood, cinnamon, Burmese ebony and Tabak. As to the fauna, there are wild boar, porcupine, civets, squirrels, chipmunks and many species of birds and reptiles. Crossing a river, or stream, one is often confronted by a fabulous selection of colourful and melodious toads and frogs.
You will have gathered by this juncture that the Chiang Dao is hardly a place for the day-tripper. And so it is that a large and varied assortment of accommodation is available within and around the park .From the super-luxurious hotels on the fringes of the park, to the wild and adventurous establishments scattered throughout its glorious terrain, there exists a choice to suit both the pioneer and the hedonist.
Photographers should stock up with all speeds of colour and black and white film. Around every corner is a breathtaking vista unlikely to be repeated in your lifetime.
There exists a magnificent two and a half kilometer nature trail that takes the average hiker some two hours to complete. Well alright, if you are a member of the special forces you will cover the ground in fifty minutes, with a ninety kilo backpack, and eat a raw stoat at the trail's end. But for those of us who desire the simple pleasure of being at one with nature, two hours will serve just fine, thank you very much. Thie trail winds through a mixture of deciduous forest, across gently undulating slopes. As aforementioned, you can luxuriate in the ample range of hotels surrounding this magnificent park; but if you want to talk with the animals, or listen to the night wind sifting though the forest, either book one of the five sturdy bungalows, each capable of catering for up to 20 persons, or rent a tent and sleep under the stars.
I hope you realize that I have given but a brief description of just one of the eighteen magnificent National Parks in our region. It could take many of you a lifetime to explore them all; what a lovely prospect, eh?
Chiang Dao National Park
The 16th Conservation Area Administration Office
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