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National Parks for you Northern Adventure: Chiangmai's Northern Areas, Part X

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.

Khun Khan National Park

With the rainy season over, the Sun is shining, the sky is cloudless deep blue, the flowers are blooming and it is time to get on the road and visit mother nature in all her glory. Living in the North of Thailand, there is no excuse for not spending more time outdoors. With nearly 60 designated and planned National Parks all within just a few hours drive in any direction, the North is one gigantic natural playground, filled with activities to suit all tastes and ages.

Khun Khan National Park

The Khun Khan National Park, South-West of Chiang Mai, is one of the easiest Parks to visit from the city. The Park is 240 square kilometers covering the areas of the Samoeng and Mae-Chaem (pronounced "Jaem") Forests in Chiang Mai Province. Access to the Park from Chiang Mai is fairly easy and as the Park is situated in the middle of the Chiang Mai, Mae Rim, Samoeng and Hang Dong loop, there is the added bonus of not having to retrace your journey home. Visitors have a choice of travelling either Southwards in a clockwise direction or Northwards in an anti-clockwise direction from the city. In both cases, it is about 60 kilometers from the centre of Chiang Mai and there is plenty to see and do on the way.

Travelling Northwards, take the Chiang Mai–Fang Highway (Route 107) for 16 kms. until reaching Mae Rim, then, make a left onto the Mae Rim-Samoeng Road (Route 1096). Go straight on for 30 kms. until reaching a T-Junction and Police Checkpoint. Turn right onto Route 1269 (Ban Fom Khan-Samoeng Road) and it is 5 kms. to Samoeng village.

If you start your trip clockwise, take the Canal Road (Highway 121) or the Chiang Mai-Hang Dong Road (Highway 108) southwards. After 10 kms., take a left at the junction sign-posted to Samoeng (Route 1296) and travel 36 kms.

In both cases, on reaching Samoeng, continue through the village on the road towards Baan Wat Chan and after approximately 18 kms., just after Baan Mae Khan, you will reach the Park Headquarters.

Scenes and map of Khun Khan National Park

Stop for a bite to eat or drink at "Suphanee's" (at the main town junction in Samoeng). Alternatively on Route 1096, there is the "Country House" (400 meters north of the Mae Sa Elephant Camp at KM 10) and the little "Proud Phu Fah" at KM 17 (great view and healthy food). On the Samoeng-Hang Dong Road (Route 1296) a worthwhile first stopping point is the "Coffee Cottage", which not only has a balcony that extends far out over the river but it also serves perhaps the finest iced coffee around.

There are many good viewpoints and attractions on the way to the Park in either direction.

On the Mae Rim-Samoeng Road (Route 1096) not to be missed is the Queen Sirkit Botanic Gardens (KM 12). The gardens cover an area of some 1,000 acres and with a wide collection of plant species, greenhouses, gardens, nature trails and educational activities, there is much to enjoy and occupy all the family. The flowers are especially colorful in the cool season, November to March (Open 8:30 to 16:30).

Another highlight of the area is the magnificent 8 level Mae Sa waterfall located at KM 7 on the Mae Rim-Samoeng Road. Covered with evergreen trees and bushes, it is a cool and comfortable place all-year-round although as part of the Doi Suthep National Park, there is a hefty 400 baht entrance fee for foreigners (please note that once paid, the ticket allows you entry into all National Parks for that day although Khun Khan does not yet charge admission).

Along both routes there are numerous resorts with beautiful landscaped gardens and scenery and they make excellent places to rest from the winding drive. Along the Mae Rim-Samoeng Road, Resorts include the Mae Sa Resort, and Kangsadan Resort. Along the Samoeng-Hang Dong Route, Resorts include the Lanna Resort, Krisadadoi Resort and Suan Bua Resort.

Although the "loop" is a beautiful drive in its entirety, there are several scenic viewpoints along the way which should not be missed. The Samoeng Forest viewpoint, located between KM 24 and KM 25 on Samoeng-Mae Rim Road and the Samoeng and Mae Chaem viewpoints located between the 35th and 55th KM markers on the Samoeng-Wat Chan Road are the breathtaking.

Depending on the direction you start in, you can extend your itinerary to take in Hang Dong, a large handicraft centre and the nearby wood carving village of Ban Tawai. Both of these are located off the San Patong-Chiang Mai Highway (Route 108) and offer great bargains on designer decor products although prices are generally cheaper in Ban Tawai.


Khun Khan National Park contains a mountain range with peaks ranging from 500 meters above sea level to Doi Poong Gia which is the highest at 1,708 meters. Doi Poong Gia is the source of the Mae Khan and Mae Chaem rivers both of which feed the mighty Ping River flowing through Chiang Mai city.

The weather at the National Park is cool and breezy throughout the year. The average year-round temperature is 23บC with an average rainfall of 1,380 mm per annum.

There are various kinds of forests within the areas of the National Park, including Virgin, Evergreen, Pine, Mixed and Timber forests. The main types of trees include Rubber, Malabar Ironwood, Teaks and Redwood. Animals found in the National Park (though you may need some luck trying to spot them!) include Wild boars, Red Jungle Fowls, Porcupines, Asiatic Wild Dogs, Foxes, Moles, Flying Squirrels, Bats, Mongooses, Gibbons, and Great Hornbill.

Besides its fresh and cool weather, Khun Khan National Park has spectacular Waterfalls, Cliffs, Caves, Hot Springs and Nature Trails. Please note that this National Park is still being establishing and at the time of writing there are no bungalows available. If you wish to stay overnight bring your own tent and food or alternatively you can rent tents from the park headquarters.

The main attractions in the Park are:

Huay Mae Na-Poe Waterfall (น้ำตกห้วยแม่นาเปอะ) is a 7 level waterfall (5-15 meters high), situated near Baan Om Long and Huay Taad Waterfall (น้ำตกห้วยตาด) is a double level waterfall (10 meters and 30 meters high), situated near Baan Khun Saab Tai. Both have flowing water all year round so don't forget your swimsuits!

Luang Mae Saab Cave (ถ้ำหลวงแม่สาบ) is approximately 150 meters deep and situated at Baan Mae Saab a few kilometers after Samoeng on the Samoeng-Wat Chan (pronounced "Jaan") Road. There are the usual weird and wonderfully shaped stalagmites and stalactites and some stone benches inside the cave. There is usually a local guide available to take you into the cave. However from experience, it's better to bring along a flashlight or candle just in case.

There is a nature trail starting from the National Park office, passing through different types of forests, keep a look out for the giant Malabar Ironwood tree! The path then crosses the Mae Bor Kaew River and several small-sized waterfalls and cliffs before finishing at the Hot Springs.

Paa Saam Nar is a Plateau situated on a 1,253 meters high mountain, encircled by cliff walls on three sides and inhabited by flocks of Goral, a small Asiatic goatlike mammal. The Plateau is near Baan Sob Pha-Luang.

All in all, I am sure you will agree that visiting the Park together with driving the scenic Samoeng Loop makes one of best days out from Chiang Mai - Enjoy!!

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