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"Circle Tour" :
Two National Parks in One Day, Part 2

Doi Khuntan National ParkThis one day tour actually began for us as a quest to find a Buddhist temple without electricity. It was on Khao Pansa, the merit making day of Asalaha Bucha, where lay Buddhists present large candles to the wats. Since the candles were originally used in ancient times to lend light for monks to read and study, we hoped to find a temple lacking in electricity to make our gift that much more meaningful. We never did find that elusive wat without any electricity, but we did discover another interesting day trip that can be easily taken from Chiangmai.

Last month, we shared details and photos of our trip over Doi Mae Tha to the Mae Ta Krai National Park, and left off where we continued driving south along Route 1230.

Still hoping to find a wat without electricity, we continued toward the small town of Mae Tha, where we were told it might be possible. But we were surprised to see that Mae Tha was a bit more modernized than we'd expected with easy access to Highway 11 as well as the Khuntan Train Station.

When we reached a tri-section, we turned left on Mae Tha Road toward Doi Khuntan National Park (Khuntan is pronouced with as Khoon Taan). Soon we arrived at the foot of the mountain, where the train passes through Khuntan Tunnel.

Khuntan Village is built into the steep sides of a gorge in the mountainside cut out for the railway to pass through. Ramshackle wooden houses hide behind huge banana trees with gigantic leaves. At the nearby train station, some villagers wait for each arrival, selling snacks and produce to the arriving and departing passengers. Guides are also on the lookout for tourists, ready to direct them to the National Park, which is walking distance from the station. However, the park headquarters and information center is about 1.3 kms. away.

We continued driving up the mountain to the park. For a few kilometers, the road remains old laterite, due to lobbying by the National Railway Department not to repair it for fear of floods and damage to the train system. Rumor has it, though, that a local district will repair the road sometime in the future.

The park headquarters provides information in English, and we learned that the park was first opened in 1975 and covers an area of more than 150,000 Rai. The mountain's peak reaches about 5,400 meters and passes through several different types of plants and trees. It is home to many species of wildlife including buffalo, monkeys, bears, wild boars, wood hens and squirrels. Park attractions also include two beautiful waterfalls, abundant forests and of course, the Khuntan Tunnel, the longest railway tunnel in Thailand.

If you're in good shape, you can make a strenuous hike up to one of the summits, or to the top. Camping bungalows accommodating up to nine people and surrounded by lovely gardens can be rented on a nightly basis, and there are a few very modest food stalls along the way.

After enjoying such natural beauty, we headed back toward Route 1230. But instead of turning right to go back the way we came, we decided to continue straight on Mae Tha road to Highway 11. From here, we traveled northwest back to Chiangmai.

Hence, we'll always remember this special day trip as our 'Circle Tour', and hope that you will enjoy it as much as we did!

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