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.
Mae Tho National Park is located along Highway 108, east of Mae Sariang, approximately 160 kilometers from Chiang Mai and contains areas of the Mae Lid and Pha Mae Jaem Forest Reserves. The Park covers 990 square kilometers of high and steep forested mountains, (the same mountain range as Doi Inthanon). Mountains in the northern part of the area are significantly steeper than those in the south and the highest peak is Doi Gew Rai Hmong ("อยกิ่วไร่ม้ง) at 1699 meters located near Baan Paang Hin-Fon (บ้านปางหินฝน) .
There are various kinds of forests and plants within the areas of the National Park. Tropical evergreen forests are found in the north. Virgin forests and mixed forests are scattered all over the area and pine forests are found mainly in the Hord district. Wild animals that have been sighted in the National Park include Gaur, Deer, Goral, Muliacus Muntjak, Bears, Gibbons, Monkeys, Langur, Masked Palm Civets, Rabbits, Wild Boars. Elephants inhabit the Om-Goi Sanctuary.
The climate is typical for Northern Thailand. May to September is the rainy season where temperatures range between 250c and 100 c . Winter season runs from October to February when the temperature may plunge to a low of 40 c. Summer months are March to April when temperatures may reach 300c. The average rainfall at the National Park is 1,030 mm/year.
Mountain Climbing, View points and Rafting on the Mae Jaem river are a few of the popular tourist attractions. A Camp site is available at the headquarters, however the National Park is still in the process of opening and currently tourists have to bring their own equipment. For more information please call 053-248604, 053-248607 or 053-241466.
Doi Mae Tho Viewpoint (จุ"ชมวิว)
The view point became famous when His Majesty the King visited the National Park in 1980. There are magnificent views of the surrounding mountain ranges including Doi Inthanon and early in the morning a blanket of clouds and fog covers the mountains like a sea.
Mae-Ab Waterfall (น้ำตกแม่แอบ)
Mae-Ab Waterfall is approximately 10-12 meters wide and located 6 kilometers from the National Park’s office. You take the same road to the sightseeing spot along Rte. 1270 until reaching Baan Mae-Ab and then take a branch road for approximately 3 kilometers until reaching the parking spot. It is a further 1 kilometer walk to the Waterfall.
Mae Lid Waterfall (น้ำตกแม่ลิ")
Mae-Lid Waterfall is approximately 8-10 meters wide and 12-15 meters high and the waterfall is 12 kms off Route 108. At Km 63 make a left hand turn to Baan Thoong Luang (บ้านทุ่งหลวง) and go straight on for 12 kms and travel on foot for approximately 500 meters to the Waterfall.
There are several exciting rafting opportunities along the Mae Jaem river . If you are interested, contact either the Mae Jaem Plantation, Ob Luang National Park (อุทยานแห่งชาติออบหลวง), or service providers to rent inflatable rafts. Please note that rafting along this route requires prior permission from the National Park.
Depending on the time you have available, Mae Tho can be visited on a day trip or as a long weekender. You could visit the Park as part of the well trodden Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Sorn, Pai loop or alternatively, I suggest doing it as part of a loop that encompasses the National Parks of Doi Inthanon, Ob Luang and Mae Tho. Note that tickets to National Parks are valid for any National Park on the same day!
You could start by visiting Ob Luang National Park which is right-off Rte. 108, 105 kilometers South of Chiang Mai. Here the Mae Jaem River thunders through a very narrow gorge. Footbridges across the river at the Krairaj Resort and high across the gorge 500 meters downstream make a circular walk possible. A walk passes an ancient burial site (Land of Prehistoric Human), the remains of which are in the National Museum in Chiang Mai. After visiting the Gorge and relaxing by the river, you continue along Rte. 108 for a further 54 kilometers until the turn-off to Mae Tho at Baan Gong Loy (บ้านกองลอย). (Km 55). Turn onto Rte. 1270 and go straight on for 16 kilometers until reaching Ban Lao-Lee (บ้านเลาลี). Then, make a right hand turn to the National Park’s office, which overlooks Karen highland paddy fields and is located approximately 500 meters away from the branch road. The road is unpaved, steep and curved. Only vehicles in good condition are recommended.
After Visiting Mae Tho you could either continue on the Mae Hong Sorn _ Pai loop (East on Hwy 108) or backtrack west on Hwy 108. If you do not have the time, continue on Hwy 108 all the way back to Chiang Mai.
Alternatively and highly recommended is taking the “long way home” through Mae Jaem and the Doi Inthanon National Park.
The turn off to Mae Jaem is at Km. 22 on Hwy 108. Make a left onto Rte. 1088. The road climbs to a plateau passing Karen villages. The sharp descent into the valley again offer fine views south. Mae Jaem is 45 kilometers from the turn. The road passes the Thephanom Hot Springs (โป่งน้ำร้อนเทพพนม) after 9 kilometers although the springs are mediocre to say the least.
Mae Jaem is a small rural district town which is famous for weaving of cotton cloth, particularly of the Zin Dteen Jok (ซิ่นตีนจก) which is a weaving technique for the decorative piece at the hem of women’s tube-skirts. Villages in the area are traditional and have some lovely old temples. I would recommend visiting the old Wat Pa Daed (วั"ป่าแ"") (Rte. 1088. West turn at sharp left hand bend 1 km south of junction with Rte.1192), which contains some 19th century murals, that are well preserved in parts. The area of Mae Jaem offers some of the most picturesque rural scenes near Chiang Mai. In the hills to the west there are many Karen villages, but Hmong villages are also common, especially in the high ranges north of Doi Inthanon.
From Mae Jaem, take Rte. 1192 East for 22 kilometers till the junction with Rte. 1009 which has some of the most severe switch backs in the north. Left on Rte. 1009 takes you to the summit of Doi Inthanon while if you carry straight (East) the journey along Rte. 1009 down to Jom Thong (47 kms) passes the National Park Headquarters and three major waterfalls (Siripoom, Wachirathan and Wang Kwai). On Hwy 108 a 2 kilometer detour south along Hwy 108 to Wat Prathart Sri Jom Thong is worthwhile before returning to Chiang Mai.
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