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.
Chae Son National Park
While most visitors to Chiangmai instinctively head for the obvious majestic mountains of Doi Pui and Doi Inthanon to the West of the city, there is an equally arresting range eastwards across the broad valley making the area well worth a day trip or overnight stay. Hot springs, enormous caves, mountain hideaway lodges, Hilltribe homestays, cascading waterfalls and glorious National Parks are just some of the attractions.
One of the most beautiful National Parks I have visited in Northern Thailand is but a couple of hours from Chiangmai. Chae Son (pronounced "Jae Zorn") National Park is a rich mountainous forest located in the Northeast of Lampang province comprising the Pee Paan Naam western mountain range. This range forms the border between the provinces of Lampang and Chiangmai and contains Doi Langka, at 2031 meters above sea level, the third highest mountain in Thailand. It is situated in the districts of Muang Paan and Chae Hom (pronounced "Jae Hom") and covers an area of about 768 square kilometers. The park has won awards from the Tourism Authority of Thailand and is exceptionally clean. An added bonus for us Farang is the availability of literature and guides in English language at the visitor center. I found the staff there extremely helpful and knowledgeable.
Directions and Suggested Itinerary
As with the other articles in this series, I suggest getting there is half the fun and there are several ways of reaching the park, depending on your time and preference. The most direct route from Chiangmai is up Highway 118 (Chiangmai"Chiangrai Road). At kilometer 43, there is a Police Checkpoint, just before Baan Paang Fan. Take a right at the checkpoint onto Route 1252 towards Baan Chae Hom. This route one of the most beautiful drives in Northern Thailand measures 54 Kilometers of winding mountain road, steep at times, with stunning vistas at every twist and turn. After approximately 54 kilometers you will see the sign to Chae Son National Park. Turn right and the park is 3 kilometers from the junction.
If you have time and would like to make an overnight trip, you could try the following itinerary to Chae Son that also takes in Mae Takrai National Park, Mai Lai Waterfall, Mae Kampong Eco-Tourism village and probably the steepest road in Thailand!
Start by heading out of Chiangmai up Highway 118 (Chiangmai"Chiangrai Road). At Baan Pong Din (Kilometer 27) make a right onto the Baan Pong Din _ Baan Huay Kaew road. After approximately 8 kilometers, just before the village, make a left onto route 3005 (Sign-posted Mae Kampong Homestay). Although the hills to the east of Chiangmai appear dry and featureless, the road into the mountains soon climbs into a perennial forest and meanders alongside a gently tumbling stream. First you will pass the Mae Takrai National Park checkpoint (no need to pay) and just after that is the lovely Tharn Tong lodge - a perfect lunch spot or overnight stay with its landscaped gardens, located beside a stream and teak forest.
Continuing on the road you will reach a fork straight leads to Mae Kampong (pronounced "Gumpawng") and the road to Chae Son. Veering left will take you to the Mai Lai Waterfall, 3 kilometers from the junction and through the village of Pang Soong. Mai Lai Waterfall is incorporated into a unique community based tourism project called the Pang Soong Lodge, Outdoor Education and Research Centre. The villagers who run the project are 'Khon Muang', the original farmers of the Chiangmai area, and have for years grown 'Chaa Miang', a local variant of tea.
The Pang Soong Nature Trail developed by the project is a stunning 3-4 hour round trip that follows a path edging the river course over some 17 waterfalls ranging in height from 2 meters to 30 meters as the trail ascends through the pristine jungle vegetation. There are also other trail options available and its an easy walk to the first waterfall for those with little time to spare. The Lodge offers many other adventure activities and more information can be found on their website; www.pang-soong-lodge.com
The village of Mae Kampong itself is located 10 Kilometers from Huay Kaew village, and comprises a pretty collection of teak houses raised on stilts either side of lovely stream. There is a visitors' centre at the village entrance and the locals, in keeping with the 'one Tambon one Product' campaign (OTOP), produce herbal pillows and variety of creative uses for local foods such as spicy Miang leaves salad and Dawk Siew salad (A native orchid only available during the flowering season January-February and eaten, deep-fried, by the locals).
Now for the creme de la creme. The sealed road that continues up and over the crest of the 1600 meters high Doi Mon Laan was only recently completed and now links Baan Mae Kampong with Baan Pa Miang and the Chae Son National Park. It is a roller-coaster ride of crazy twists and turns and steep slopes, demanding careful driving and not for the fainthearted. (It is not recommended to take this road in the rainy season unless you have 4-wheel drive). The views are exceptional, particularly from the summit where you have panoramic views of 4 provinces; Chiangmai, Chiangrai, Lumpoon and Lampang. If you are camping, this is a spot hard to beat for sunrise and sunset gazing, especially during the winter season.As you descend into bamboo forest, you pass through the village of Pa Miang and after approximately 18 kilometers, the park entrance which, from this direction, is not marked in English so be sure to bear left at the first main intersection.
Overview of Chae Son National ParkChae Son National Park has many beautiful and interesting attractions including, waterfalls, nature trails, caves and its famous hot springs and spa along with plenty of flora and fauna such as pine trees, orchids, wild boar, barking deer, flying squirrel and chipmunks. Every April, the hot spring area at dusk goes mental with the crescendo of 1000's of Cicadas. As with most of Thailand's National Parks, accommodation is available to suit most tastes and there is a selection of local eateries and a shop for supplies. If you are planning to stay overnight in the area, you have a couple of options to either stay at the park itself or stay at one of several lodges and resorts in the vicinity. This author stayed at the Fai Kaam Resort, about one kilometer before the park entrance and would highly recommend it.
Attractions at the Park
Chae Son Natural Hot Spring:
There are 9 outdoor mineral hot springs located right next to the visitor centre. The water is 73 degrees Celsius and in true Thai tradition, you can buy eggs to boil in a basket which take about 17 minutes.
Mineral Spring Spa:
Comprises 11 rooms for relaxing in large pools of spring water and 16 private rooms for taking a Thai style bath. The rooms are all linked by pipes to the hot spring and are clean and fantastic value " private rooms cost just 50 Baht per person. After you have soaked the stresses and strains of the day out of your body, why not indulge in a professional Thai Massage, given by local massage therapists (120 Baht/Hour) located just outside the rooms.
Chae Son Waterfall:
A lovely well sign-posted short nature trail leads to the waterfall which comprises of six levels - ranging in height from 30 to 50 feet. You can relax in the many pools or walk along the mile long stream. The nature trail climbs up along the waterfall before winding its way back to the visitors centre through a beautiful Bamboo Forest.
The park has several well maintained and sign-posted nature trails leading to other waterfalls including Mae Piak (The falls drop100 meters over 3 levels and are 3 kilometers from the visitors centre and Mae Morn 54 kilometers from the visitors centre).
There are several caves located at Ranger Office 2 which is 8 kilometers from Wang Nuea and about 60 kilometers from the headquarters. Pa-Ngam (known locally as Naankud after the hunter who discovered it) is a 200 meter deep limestone cave full of wonderfully shaped stalactites and stalagmites. Naam cave is 50 meters deep and has water flowing through it during November to February. The largest cave in the area is Luang cave which is 300 meters deep, open to the forest and abundant jungle and makes a great photo opportunity.
Although the eastern districts of Chiangmai valley are mostly unseen by visitors, the area still offers refreshing alternatives, with more than enough to interest visitors keen to escape the city and tourists for a night. On the way home you might want to return via Lampang (Take route 1252 towards Muang Paan and after 14 kilometers turn onto route 1157 to Lampang which is 67 kilometers from the park). The road south is visually stunning as it winds through the Mae Rom valley, pass rice paddies and parallel to the mountain range. Lampang makes a nice lunch stop and has a lovely park with a lake and pathway and on the way back to Chiangmai you can souvenir hunt at the Thoong Kwian Market, which also sells exotic game meat for dinner!>
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