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National parks for your northern adventure: Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park.

National Parks in this kingdom are as exciting and varied as Thai food. The latter can come hot and spicy or subtle and rich; the former can be rugged and challenging or tranquil and serene. I have tramped across a number of national parks in Thailand and never cease to be amazed by the stunning flora and intriguing fauna to be found therein.

The United States of America was the first nation in the world to create a national parks system, and that system was the brainchild of a Scotsman, John Muir from Dunbar. The magnificent national parks scattered throughout the province of Chiangmai ensures all residents can get away out of the hectic city using little travelling time. The magnificent national parks in the province of Chiangmai.

Thailand, prides itself in the number and condition of its national parks. There are no fewer than 19 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.

Scenes from Doi Pha Hom Pok national Park

The rainy season is nearly over. Time to dust of the hiking boots, remove the cobwebs from the tent, buy some marshmallows and head of to pay a visit to mother nature. Living in Thailand and especially the North, there is is no excuse for not spending more time outdoors. With nearly 19 (in Lumpoon, Chiangmai, Mae Hong Sorn) designated and planned National Parks all within just a few hours drive in any direction, nature really is on our doorstep.

One of the finest national parks in our area is near Faang. Formerly known as Mae Faang, the Doi Phahom Pok National Park bears its name after Doi Phahom Pok, which is the second highest mountain in the country (After Doi Inthanon). The Park is 524 square kilometres and received official status in September 2000. It's north and the west borders adjoin with Myanmar. To the south the park extends as far as Pha Daeng National Park. The east end covers 11 sub-districts (in districts of Chaipragarn, Faang and Mae Ai).

The most direct way of getting to the park is to drive straight up the Chiang Mai-Faang Highway (Route 107). Just before reaching Faang, about 150 kms from Chiang Mai, veer left onto the bypass road. Two and a half kilometres from where you turn, there's a side road on the left with a Doi Phahom Pok National Park sign. Follow that road for 200 metres then turn right onto a smaller road leading to Baan Pong Naam Rorn. The park office is less than 8 kms down that road (Route 4055).

More scense from Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park

However, I would humbly suggest that getting there is half the fun. As such, if you have time and are intending to stay over or travel around the area, there is a beautiful route that keeps clear of the main Chiang Mai_Faang highway and takes you though stunning country scenery with hardly a car passing in either direction. Head out of Chiang Mai on route 1001 which is the Chiang Mai_Phrao road. After about 45 kms you will see a signpost to Mae_Ngud Reservoir (Route 1323) – this makes a great side trip. At the dam there is a viewing point and long-tail services that can take you on a enjoyable ride on the reservoir. Carrying on along route 1001 you will arrive in Phrao which is approximately 96 kms from Chiang Mai. Stop here for refreshments and a quick tour of the local market. From Phrao follow the signpost for Baan Ping Koang and Faang. After a few kilometres you will arrive at a checkpoint and a right turn leading to route 1346 north towards Faang (if pressed for time you can continue along the Phrao-Ping Koang road (Route 1150) and hit the main 107 Highway North to Faang. If you take the scenic way on route 1346 you will be rewarded as you drive along a winding valley filled with Longan trees, small villages and hardly a car in sight. After 35 kms you will arrive at the junction with Highway 107 at KM 118. Make a right and head north to Faang and the National Park as described above. This part of the highway is stunning – jagged mountains covered in cloud loom as you wind your way though the hills.

Most of the Doi Phahom Pok National Park consists of mountains, part of Phee Paan Naam Mountain Range with altitudes ranging from 400-2,285 including Doi Bhoo Muen, Doi Ang Khang (origin of Mae Faang River) and Doi Phahom Pok.

The weather is pleasant all year round (25.4บC average). During November to February the average temperature is between 13 and 19บC. Above 1800 meters the temperature can be much lower in the winter and Doi Pha Hom Pok can be as cold as 2 Celsius.

The National Park is rich with lush vegetation, home to various species of wild animals and a colourful variety of birds. The forests cover both sides of the border between Thailand and Myanmar with many kinds of economically valuable trees such as Malabar Ironwood, Yang, Burmese Ebony and Teak wood.

Barking Deer, Wild Boar Loris, Jungle Fowl, Pythons and Mountain Goat live in the area as well as birds such as Turtle Dove and Purple Cochoa, which is found only in Northern Thailand. Nearly extinct butterflies such as Imperial Butterfly, Kaiser Butterfly and Phutan Butterfly are also to be glimpsed if very lucky.

In fact, the Kaiser Butterfly only exists in very limited numbers from Nepal and Northern Myanmar , across to Hubei and Sichuan in China. Doi Phahom Pok is the only place in Thailand where it's been found in any considerable number. However, as its population worldwide has dwindled rapidly, so too in Thailand - owing to its exceptional beauty, which has led to it being in great demand by collectors. No more than 10 years ago, locals were being offered 20-30 Thousand Baht for each specimen they could bring in!

Besides its fresh and cool weather, Doi Phahom Pok National Park has spectacular waterfalls, caves, and hot springs. The main attractions are Taad Mhork Waterfall, Pong Naam Daang Waterfall, Doi Phahom Pok, Huay Born Cave and Hot Spring. Things to do include; mountain climbing, picnicking, forest trekking, cave exploring, bird watching and nature sightseeing. There are campsites, sauna rooms, restaurants, and shops available around the headquarters.

Doi Phahom Pok rises to 2285 meters and actually straddles the northern border of Thailand and Myanmar. "Pha Hom Pok" in Thai means ‘warm blanket covering or protecting' referring to the thick virgin forest; with trees covered by moss, fern, and lichen. There are rare orchid plants on the mountain and over 200 types of birds.

The route to the mountain top is so steep that it's considered as a "Mon Wad Jai" (a mountain that challenges those who think they can reach the top). At the peak, stunning scenery awaits. The "Talay Mhork" (Fog Sea) especially in the misty cold season will take your breath away – after you recover it from the arduous climb up in the first place!

The 5 km Gew Lom Trail is the most comfortable route to climb to the top. At the starting point there is a campsite. It is necessary to ask permission and pay the National Park entrance fee at the park's headquarters first. You can then either drive to the trail head and campsite (it's a dirt side road that is pretty steep and windy, so a 4WD vehicle is recommended – ask at the office for directions) or you can hike there from the entrance – its about 6 hours.

Hot Springs - If you climbed the mountain or hiked in the park, you will be glad to know that near the park office you can relax and enjoy a mineral bath, boasted to be unique, since to get at the hottest water they have to dig 150 meters into the sub-soil. At that depth, the water temperature is 100o C, but up on the surface it's maintained at 40o C before being released as a hot spring for visitors to bathe in. But that's only part of it - Visitors are also offered the further luxury of a traditional massage parlour, with services rendered by a group of well-trained locals. - Sabai mak mak!

Huay Born Cave is a big cave, 20-30 meters wide, which consists of many wonderful stalagmites and stalactites in all kinds of weird and wonderful shapes and colours. There are two entrances to the cave lying about 150 meters apart. About ten further smaller caves are in the close proximity. The cave is located about 12 kms from Faang and about 4 km from the Hot-mineral Water Pond and is easily approachable on foot.

Pong Naam Daang Waterfall is one of the most beautiful in the park with consistent flow all the year round. It is located in the same area as the National Park Management Office.

Taad Mhork Waterfall is located 4 km north of Mae Ai close to the main road (route 1089). Glassy vapour spreading all over the surrounding cliffs give it a mystical feeling.


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