Thailand, prides itself in the number and condition of its national parks. We have no fewer than 23 such sanctuaries spread across the provinces of Chiangmai, Lumpoon and Mae Hong Sorn. Most national parks were designated by royal decree in this region. Apart from that, other fantastic national places have been taken to prepare for proclamation as national parks. Most areas are steep and ruggedly mountainous. Furthermore, they are very important as watershed of main rivers.
Chiangmai is mostly surrounded by countryside, so it doesn't take long to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Visitors have several national parks, mountains, small quaint towns, rivers and lakes to enjoy in this region; all within a few hours drive from the city. Here's an idea for those staying in Chiangmai for a while who want to experience a little getaway from city life.
Doi Inthanon National Park
A Good one-day trip for visitors who want to see some of the astounding beauty surrounding the Chiangmai area would be a trip to Doi Inthanon, southwest of Chiangmai. Doi Inthanon is the highest mountain peak in all of Thailand and the journey up provides breathtaking views as well as many interesting and unique sidepaths where you'll see and enjoy aspects of nature (and some of man) which would be difficult to find anywhere else in the world.
It's a gorgeous trip, and an adventurous one regardless of mode of transportation. Many of Chiangmai's tour agencies offer trips to the peak, but you can also do it yourself by car or motorcycle.
Although this is the cool or winter season (Nov - Jan) in Chiangmai, and many visitors flock from around the world to enjoy the beautiful weather, it is only relatively cool compared to other Thai seasons. If you yearn to escape the heat of the day, then a visit to Doi Inthanon is a wonderful experience. Rising to a maximum elevation of 2,776 meters (9,108 feet) above sea level and covering an area of 482 square kilometers (186 square miles). Doi Inthanon covers some part of four districts - Chom Thong, Mae Jaem, Mae Waang and Doi Lor. The mountains' high rainfall provides a plentiful year - round supply of water for waterfalls and watershed forming between Ping River to the east and Jaem River to the west that fills up power - generating Bhumibol dam and more importantly originates many small rivers in the north that feed the Chao Praya River in the central plain region for the main supply to rice farms. Temperatures at the summit in winter have been known to drop to around zero, and even in summer it remains relatively cool on the peak. The Doi Inthanon National Park is within Chiangmai Province and is an easy 90 minute drive away from the city. Take the Chiangmai-Hang Dong-Hord Road (Route 108) and shortly before reaching the town of Chom Thong after a 57 kilometer drive, take a right turn onto Route 1009. There is a large, English language sign, giving directions to Doi Inthanon. Entrance fees of 400 Baht and 200 Baht for an adult and a child respectively are expected to pay at the first check point at Km 8. Almost a kilometer later, stop at the Tourist Information Center that provides a full length of view of Doi Inthanon for your wonderful trip. This is an excellent beginning to appreciate what the National Park has to offer. An official souvenir shop is attached to the National Park Headquarters at Km 31 that is surrounded by restaurants, fresh market of flowers, plants, foods and fruits.
Many people visit the National Park for a refreshing day out while others like to camp over a night or two. There are both camping and bungalow accommodation facilities - but make sure you have a reservation with the Rangers at National Park Headquarters, Tel. 053-268550. There are lush forests, streams, waterfalls, walking trails and spectacular views in a setting which is not usually associated with a tropical country.
Drive further for another 7 kms to the second check point and show the ticket you bought. Twenty meters away there is a trisection with a left turn toward Mae Jaem district. (Of course visitors do not have to pay an entrance fee at the first check point as long as you inform the officials you are going to Mae Jaem instead.)
After the road climbs through the lower dry regions, there is a noticeable drop in temperature and increase in lush vegetation. This is a land more reminiscent of the west coast of New Zealand's South Island - mists, ferns, rhododendrons and a wonderful feeling of freshness everywhere. Late February is the ideal time to see the full blooms of the red rhododendrons. At the summit (in January, an average nighttime temperature is a chilly 5 Centigrade), there is a large sign which advises "The Highest Piont in Thailand" and of course, this is a photo opportunity for every visitor. A short distance through the trees is the ruins of an ancient temple and a stupa, in which the ashes of King Inthawichayanon (after whom Doi Inthanon is named) are interred, may also be visited.
The National Park is home to many waterfalls, including one of the country's most beautiful waterfalls - Mae Ya, Mae Glang, Wachiratharn, Siripoom and Huay Zai Luang. Visitors can swim or picnic at some of these falls, and they are very popular in the summer months. There are numerous caves in the National Park. Not too far from the first check point, Km. 8, then is the huge cave, "Borrijinda", with several kilometers deep, many beautiful stalactites and stalagmites called "Nom Pha" - milk of the cliff --- in the northern Thai language, underground stream of such purity that light sparkles from the surface like a million diamonds. When exploring, be sure to bring your own flashlight with extra batteries.
The National Park comprises many forest types including hill evergreen forest, coniferous forest, deciduous dipterocarp forest and mix deciduous forest. The forest is beautified by plenty of plants, moss' and wild flowers.
Doi Inthanon is home to more than 380 species of birds and it is one of the most famous birdwatching sites in Thailand, especially during the cool season, when rare winter migrants fly to the area. Bird watchers have a wonderful opportunity of enjoying their pastime over those birds - including eagles and hawks. There is a bird watching centre close to Park Headquarters and an informative booklet, detailing the various species, may be obtained. The national park has nature trails that criss-cross the hills and valleys, and are very popular with bird watchers. While animal numbers have dwindled owing to hunting, there are still to be found snakes, gibbons, deer, wild boar and Red jungle fowl. Human forest dwellers having over hunted and cut down trees, the number of large wild mammals has greathy decreased. Despite the damage, the remaining can still be seen - Serow, Goral, Tiger, chestnut-tailed Minla and Green-tailed Sunbird.
The hilltribe peoples invariably welcome respectful visitors. Hmong and Karen villagers harvest cool-weather fruits such as strawberries, apples and grapes, as well as many exotic flowers. Beside the main road over Doi Inthanon is the Royal Project Station in Baan Khun Klang (Glang), near the National Park Office. This project was initiated in 1979 as part of His Majesty the King's efforts to help the hilltribes to cultivate cash crops other than opium, to introduce them to modern agricultural practices and to help them protect forests and river catchments. This particular station has responsibility for research into temperate zone plant species as well as providing agricultural advice and support for 510 neighboring Karen and Hmong families.
At Km 43 a few kilometers short of the summit of Doi Inthanon, the Royal Thai Air Force constructed two magnificent chedis with a spire reaching into the clouds dedicated to the King and Queen. The views from this area are stunning, and the gardens house many unusual plants.
This temple should not be missed. It is symmetrical in all manner and the entire temple is shrouded in the mountain mist. From the parking area below, you'll ascend a set of stairs which are both wide and surround the temple on all sides. At the top you can walk around the outer stone walls and occasionally tuck yourself into structural overhangs as a brief respite from the wind. In any weather, this temple is astounding in and of itself, but the view it offers is out of this world.
Across a parking area is a military installation which is strictly off-limits to unauthorized persons. Don't worry, though, you won't accidentally stray into this area. It's blocked off by a high wire fence and gate, and no picture-taking allowed on the installation side.
There are fully furnished log cabins, or bungalows for rent at two sites in the park and at least one formal campsite. Bookings can be made up to 60 days in advance, with payment due three days after booking. The densely forested hillsides of the park provide welcoming shade for the many species of orchids and other tropical flowers and plants, including giant rhododendron bushes that grow nowhere else in the country.
Doi Inthanon National Park, P.O. Box 2, Moo 7, Baan Luang Sub-district, Chom Thong, Chiangmai 50160. Tel : 053 - 268550 (Accommodation Reservation), 053-288577 (Administration.)
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