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The Top of Thailand

 Although this is supposed to be the cool or Winter season in Chiangmai, this year Siberia or China is not generous enough to send breezy winds to Thailand. Every year 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. Doi Inthanon is the highest point in Thailand with an elevation of 2565 meters and is the focal point of the National Park which shares its name. The Doi Inthanon National Park is within Chiangmai Province and is an easy 90 minute drive South-West of the city. Take the Chiangmai-Hang Dong-Hod road and, shortly before reaching the town of Chom Thong, take a right turn onto Route 1009. There is a large, English language sign, giving directions to Doi Inthanon.

Many people visit the National Park for a refreshing day out while others like to make it a camping trip over a night or two. There are both camping and bungalow accommodation facilities but make sure you make a reservation with the Rangers at Park Headquarters, Tel. 053-311608. There is a Visitor Centre about 9 kms. along the road to the summit and this is an excellent beginning to appreciate what the Park has to offer. There are lush forests, streams, waterfalls, walking trails and spectacular views in a setting which is not usually associated with a tropical country.

  The Park extends over an area in excess of 301,500 Rai or 482 square kilometers and, 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 Point in Thailand" and, of course, this is a photo opportunity for every visitor. The ruins of an ancient temple is a short distance through the trees and a stupa, in which the ashes of King Inthawichayanon (after whom Doi Inthanon is named) are interred, may also be visited. Inthawichayanon was the seventh ruler of Chiangmai's last dynasty.

 Aside from the visitors who enjoy Doi Inthanon, the Park is also the home of over 3,000 Hilltribe people who live in villages scattered over the slopes. Most of these people are either Karen or Hmong and there is a large Hmong village near the Park Headquarters at Baan Khun Glang. Many other smaller villages are accessed by small, rough roads therefore, not part of the regular "tourist scene" but don't hesitate to take a look if you wish. The Hilltribe peoples invariable welcome polite and respectful visitors. Bird watchers have a wonderful opportunity of enjoying their pastime as there are approximately 380 species of bird life resident in the Park 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.

Whether it's to escape the tropical lowland heat and humidity, or go bird watching or nature trailing, or simply to see some truly fantastic scenery or simply to say "I've been to the Top of Thailand" the Doi Inthanon National Park is a wonderland well worth a visit. And, when the sun rolls the mists and clouds away, the View from the Top is - SPECTACULAR!

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