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Doi Wiang Pha ... 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.

Doi Wiang Pha National Park

Doi Wiang Pha National Park covers 583 square kilometers in the Chai Prakarn and Faang districts of Chiang Mai province. The Park has not yet officially been designated as a National Park and as such, currently, admission is free to both Thai and Farang visitors, although facilities are still limited.

Scenes from Doi Wiang Pha National Park

The National Park’s topography consists of high mountains, the highest of which is Doi Wiang Pha at 1,834 meters, that extend along a south " north line which is regarded as the boundary between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces. The Park is blanketed by a variety of fertile forests such as Evergreen, Pine and Mixed Deciduous and is the source of the Mae Faang River. Due to the abundance of the forests, varieties of plants and different altitudes of the areas (300-1,834 meters), the National Park hosts many different kinds of wild animals including Muntiacus Muntjak, Wild Boars, Gorals, Porcupines, Wild Rabbits, Monkeys, Masked Palm Civets, Squirrels and Tree Shrews. Several species of birds have been spotted in the area including White-Rumped Shama, Turtle Doves, Hawks, Red Junglefowl and White Fowls.

The best time to visit the National Park is the cool season from November to February. The rainy season is from May to October with the heaviest rain in September. It is advisable to call the Park (053-818 348) during these months as the Yot Doi Wiang Pha Nature Trail is officially closed from the 1st July until 31st October and access to other parts of the National Park may be restricted as well.

Map of Doi Wiang Pha national park, plus more scenes from the park.

The National Park’s main attractions include Huay Zai Khao Waterfall (น้ำตกห้วยทรายขาว), located just 300 meters from the National Park Office (During the summer, the waterfall dries up), the 18 meters high Doi Wiang Pha Waterfall, located 8 kilometers from the National Park Office and the Mae Faang Luang Waterfall (น้ำตกแม่ฝางหลวง), which is situated 10 kilometers from the Hua Fai National Park Protection Unit.

Visitors can also hike up to the summit of Doi Wiang Pha for spectacular views of the surrounding areas. The viewpoint is situated 30 kilometers the Hua Fai National Park Protection Unit. Doi Wiang Pha National Park is located just off Highway 107 (Chiang Mai - Faang), about 125 kilometers north of Chiang Mai. Turn right at Baan Mae Khi (บ้านแม่ขิ) (Km.125) and the National Park’s Headquarters is 12 kilometers down a dirt track.

As the countryside north of Chiang Mai is so beautiful, I would recommend taking your time and adding in other attractions and there are a couple of good options, depending on whether you are on a day trip or overnight.

If you have just a day, why not combine the National Park with a visit to Chiang Dao. On the way northwards, I would suggest taking a quick excursion to see the countryside between Mae Rim and Mae Taeng. There is a small road on the left at Km. 18 on Highway 107 (Chiang Mai-Faang) just after crossing a small bridge. This back route will take you through rice fields, small farming villages and along a beautiful valley to join the Mae Taeng-Pai Road (Route 1095) at Km.8. A couple of kilometers before you reach the main road, there is a beautiful old Wat on the left with a courtyard and huge Yoba tree. The temple itself is several hundred years old and has lovely wall paintings inside and musty old holy books and relics. When you reach the Mae Taeng-Pai Road (Route 1095) make a right at the intersection and its 8 kilometers back to Highway 107 to continue north towards Chiang Dao.

Chiang Dao is a pleasant northern rural town with several boutique resorts and upscale restaurants. The major attractions are however the caves. These are well known in Thailand for their religious significance and legends. A well known Buddhist monk lived as a hermit in the caves and it is said that one could walk through the underground caverns all the way from Chiang Dao to Chiang Mai. The caves are located about 5 kilometers from the centre of town and the turn-off is well marked. Incidentally, if you are getting a bit peckish by now, there is an excellent Khao Soi noodle stand just after the turning towards the caves from the centre of town. At 10 baht a bowl, its delicious and they also make great deep-fried bananas.

The cave can be visited on your own and there is a nominal charge for up-keep and electricity. However, only the main cavern is lit so it is well worth hiring a guide with a lantern (about 100-150 baht per group) to show you around the less accessible and more interesting caverns filled with weird and wonderful shaped stalagmites and stalactites.

There are also numerous hilltribe villages along both the main roads and more often off the beaten track. This is an opportunity to see the Lisu, Karen, Hmong, Akha and Chinese cultures. You will generally need a 4-wheel drive vehicle to visit the more remote and less touristy villages especially during the rainy season.

If you have time to stay up North overnight, there is a beautiful route that keeps clear of the main 107 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 kilometers you will see a signpost to Mae Ngud Reservoir (เขื่อนแม่งั") and Sri Lanna National Park (อุทยานแห่งชาติศรีล้านนา) (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 (บ้านปิงโค้ง) and Faang. After a few kilometers you will arrive at a checkpoint and a right turn leading to Route 1346 north towards Fang (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 northwards towards Baan Mae Khi (Km.125) and the National Park. This part of the highway is stunning "" jagged mountains covered in cloud loom as you wind your way though the hills.

You can visit the National Park and then continue up Highway 107 to Faang (Km. 150) which is a bustling centre of the local farming region where local hill tribe, Thai and Chinese cultures blend in the midst of northern Thai markets and shops. Tha Torn, just a few kilometers further north on Route 1089 stands in contrast. The small town-cum-village rests in a lush green valley with the Mae Kok River running through it. Buddhists Temples overlook the town from the surrounding three highest hills and boat rides can be organized all the way to Chiang Rai.

So whether you race straight up the highway to the national park or take a more leisurely trip to visit the surrounding countryside and attractions, I am sure you will agree that Northern Thailand has some of the most beautiful vistas in the land "" Enjoy.

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