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National Park for your Northern Adventure:  Chiangmai’s West & South Areas.  Baan Mae Kampong & Mae Takhrai National Park.

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. I just thought you had to know this before I wax eloquent about the magnificent national parks to the south of Chiangmai.

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.

Thailand, prides itself in the number and condition of its national parks. There are 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.

Baan Mae Kampong & Mae Takhrai National Park

A one-day round trip to Baan Mae Kampong and the boutique national park of Mae Takhrai would present the average visitor with a much better idea of what this region has on offer. It is worth noting, however, that more visitors are defying official statistics and opting to stay longer. The hamlet of Baan Mae Kampong lies some fifty kilomtres to the east of the city where it clings to the slopes of the Doi Mon Lam range of hills, and is reached by leaving Chiang Mai on the main Chiang Rai highway (118 on your map).On passing the Huay Hong Krai Reservoir Royal Project turn right at Baan Pong Din and after a just few kilometers keep a sharp lookout on your left for a sign that says Hot Springs.

Baan Mae Kampong and Mae Takhrai national park.

Local families tend to buy eggs from vendors here and to cook them in the hot springs, while some tourists avail themselves of a relaxing soak in a hot mineral tub. There are dressing rooms and showers in the two bath houses where one can hire a towel and buy soap

About 8 kilometres along this road will bring you to the Baan Huay Kaew area and the Entrance Check Point # 2 to the Mae Takhrai National Park, Rte. 3005. This little chunk of paradise is one of Thailand’s smallest but most beautiful parks. There are artesian springs, small lakes and reservoirs surrounded by densely forested hillsides and many scenic spots for the avid shutterbug.

There remains some wildlife in the park, although you are likely to see more species of birds than land animals. Though small, it would be impossible to cover the entire park while on this one-day trip, but you will be able to relax for a couple of hours in magnificent surroundings. On leaving the park turn left, and a little way past the entrance you will come to the Tharnthong Lodges, comprising a series of magnificent wooden lodges linked by a walkway, beside a sparkling stream where the owners have thoughtfully provided a sandy beach area where guests can picnic in the cool air at 750 metres above sea level.

After this stop it’s time to head back down the road. Drive past the entrance to the northern area of Mae Takhrai National Park and carry on until you reach Baan Huay Kaew and take a right at the intersection. From here the road to Baan Mae Kampong climbs ever higher, eventually reaching the village which comprises three sections known in ascending order: Baan Mae Kampong Nok, Mae Kampong Glang and Mae Kampong Nai.

The village is 1,300 feet above sea level and enjoys cool breezes throughout the year. Surrounding Baan Mae Kampong are tea and coffee plantations where the villagers work against a backdrop of breathtaking scenery.

The road is both steep and narrow and calls for care, especially on bends.

On the way up you can see, to your right, the Teen Tok Royal Project where experts instruct hill farmers in the production of top quality coffee beans, tea, exotic fruits and wholesome vegetables. There are vanilla bean and passion fruit vines, the latter thriving at high altitude; and everything grown here is bought from the farmers by the project to sell to consumers in Chiang Mai and beyond.

Upon reaching Baan Mae Kampong you will find a collection of neat, wooden homes in which many of the villagers welcome visitors to stay the night and to get a feel for hill village life. This home-stay project has proven to be highly successful since its inception with many tourists opting to stay in village homes, or in one of a number of eco-lodges in and around the village.

The village is unique in many ways, not the least of which is the revenue earned from the sale of electricity to surrounding villages. This idea was the brainchild of His Majesty King Bhumibol during a visit to the village more than twenty years ago. Following the monarch’s advice, the people of Baan Mae Kampong have successfully turned the sale of electricity into a major source of income.

Visitors to the village are spoiled for choice; up-market or down-home accommodation, fresh, cool mountain air, cascading waterfalls and sparkling streams, hill trekking, rock climbing, bird watching and nature photography, or to just relax after a day of wandering the beautiful hills with a cup of freshly brewed, locally grown tea or coffee.

So far we have not arrived at the headquarters of Mae Takhrai National Park yet. There are two choices of coming down from the northern area : Firstly, keep driving through the very high mountains on the border of eastern Chiangmai and northern Lampang further down toward Rte. 1230. Secondly, drive back on Rte. 3005 and Rte. 1317 through Baan Huay Kaew and turn left on Rte. 1230. Check with the map above and see Rte. 1230 on the southeastern past of Mae-On district, turn to the Headquarter of Mae Takhrai National Park. As a matter of fact, without visiting Mae Kampong visitors are advised to use Rte. 1317 at the new outer ring road of Chaingmai City’s southeast direction. At Km. 21, turn right on Rte. 1006 and past Mae-On Hospital as well as Wat Pao Saam-Kha School. Turn right along Rte. 1229 for 4 kms. to the Entrance Check Point # 1 and keep driving for another 10 kms. At the intersection of Rte. 1230, turn left for 800 meters so that your official visit begins.

The national park features rugged mountain range. It is a limestone mountain which is 400 - 2,031 meters above the sea level. Most trees are deciduous dipterocarp forest. The Mae Takhrai National Park is home to wildlife such as Macaque, Sambar Deer, Tiger, Siamese Hare, Gibbon, Common Muntjak, Southern Serow and various kinds of birds __ Parrot, Egret, Bulbul and Asian Barred Owlet.

We spent the late afternoon browsing through information we carried with us from the National Park Division of the Royal Forest Department, outlining the attractions to be seen within the park that covers about 300,000 Rais. Visitors can enjoy their picnics and fishing at some reservoirs and dams. Furthermore, there are hot springs and waterfalls for water lovers as well as mountains and cliffs for sports and adventure lovers.

The entrance sign to this little-known park informed us that it was opened only in 2535 (1992 A.D.), and the park ranger gave us Thai language brochures. The park features a few small water reservoirs and a larger one, not for public fishing and sport, but to view peacefully from a picnic blanket. We stopped for photos. For anyone interested in staying more than a day, the grounds are equipped with three camping bungalows. Rental details are available at the Chiangmai’s National Parks office here in town on Charorenprathet Road, Tel. 053-818348.

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