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Ob Luang National Park, to the south and west of Chiang Mai.Thailand, prides itself in the number and condition of its national parks. We have 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.

Ob Luang National Park

A worthwhile two-day trip for visitors who want to see natural beauty as well as experience adventure in an area that is not too far from Chiang Mai would be a trip to Ob Luang, southwest of Chiang Mai. The national park lies about 105 kilometers from Chiang Mai-Hord Road, then follow the Hord -Mae Sariang Road for another 17 kilometers to the park entrance.

Scenes from Ob Luang National Park.

Ob Luang National Park is an amazing attraction comprising both splendid natural charms as well as mysterious scenery. Under a bridge connecting the two sides of the narrow, steep gorge, a zigzagging river flows, framed by teak forests and mountains. During the rainy season, the flowing rapids crashing on the boulders and through the ravine are a dramatic picture of nature's strength. Subject to erosion by the strong currents of the river, the rocks and cliffs form the canyon and strangely shaped rock formations. The water has to force its way over rocks and boulders that obstruct the course making a magnificent sight.

The National Park covers a total area of 553 square kilometers of steep forested granite hills, adjoining the much higher mountains of Doi Inthanon Park to the northwest. The elevation ranges from 200 meters to 1,656 meters along the Mae Jaem River to the northeast. The national park forms the watershed of Mae Jaem River the main water tributary of the Mae Ping River. The area is full of high, steep cliffs with a narrow passage creating strong currents and powerful echoes. The mountain ranges were all formed by the same folding winds in the Cretaceous and Triassic periods yielding granite, granodiorite and mitmatile granite.

The river rushes through the dramatic Ob Luang Gorge, the National Park's central feature. In English, "ob" and "Luang" in northern Thai language means canyon and grand respectively. The narrow ravine with sheer sides and a raging torrent at the bottom is a good reason a visit. The informative exhibition of the nature trail in the national park office offers a fantastic introduction to the uses of northern Thailand's forest by humans during the stone age to the present day as well as vertigo-inducing views of the gorge.

The mountain (or Doi) of Pa Chang has soaring brownish black cliffs of mitmatile granite that resemble a sleeping elephant. Here is a view point from which can be seen beautiful Mae Bua-Come Waterfall below. The cave was the home of prehistoric people who painted their daily life style as well as the elephant in different colors on the rocks.

Approximately 4,000 - 5,000 years ago, a group of gatherers and hunters, "Hoabinhians", camped under a rocky overhang on the side of a narrow valley. Filled with dense tropical rain forest and teeming with wildlife, this valley area became feeding ground because animals kept migrating between the rainy season and dry season. Meanwhile, during this Stone Age the hunters most likely sat under the rock shelter and used their unpolished stone - flaked axes to craft the wooden weapons needed for killing and butchering the carcasses. They brought the meat back to their shelter for cooking over open fires. With plenty of food to eat, in their leisure time they depicted their hunting activities in red and white paint on the cliff wall. These paintings with faint and fragmented remains can still be seen today. Carbon testing showed that the findings are about 28,000 years old.

Thousands and thousands of years later, was the Bronze Age and the first period humans used bronze tools, jewelry and pottery. They left behind signs of a more advanced civilization. Their tools were used for clearing the forests and establishing agriculture.

Pictures from and map of Ob Luang National Park area.

Much later till over 2,000 years ago it became the Iron Age during which metal weapons replaced wooden spears, hunters began to have a significant impact on the wildlife. An archaeology team of Thai and French experts had the joint project of "Chronology and Evolution of the Prehistoric Cultures of Northern Central Thailand and their Anthropological Characteristics" in 1984. They found human bones, beads, wrist rings, clay bowls, tools, weapons, etc.

The National Park comprises mixed forest, dry dipterocarp forest, dry evergreen forest, hill evergreen forest and mountain pine forest, hard and soft wood trees. Moreover, the important low level plants grown here are bamboo, palm and ferus.

Ob Luang is home to more than 34 mammals species : (1) Wild goats: Serow and Goral, (2) Wild cats: Fishing, Leopard and Jungle cats. (3) Primates: Slow Loris, Rhesus Macaque, Pig-tailed Macque and White-handed Gibbons. (4) Other small mammals: Squirrels, Mongoose, Civet, Marter, Shrew, Clawed Otter. (5) And more animals are also found.

Birds are said to number approximately 200 species in this National Park especially in deciduous forests: White rumped Shama, Scarlet Minivet, Spotted Dove, Emerald Dove, Emerald Dove, Eudynamys Scolo pacea, Guinea fowl, Coucal, Hill Myna, Parrot, Crested Serpent-Eagle, Green Peafowl, Siamese Fireback, Red Jungle fowl, etc.

The Mae Bua - Come Waterfall mentioned earlier is 2 kilometers south of Ob Luang set in breathtaking natural surroundings. The water thunders down over the rockwall for 50 meters. Meanwhile, Mae John Waterfall is in the area of Kilometer. 9 on Hord-Mae Sariang Road (Route 108) following a 1 kilometer walk along with the stream. With a height and width of 100 and 80 meters, respectively, the sight of water fall is really fascinating. The cliffs and rocks, composed of granite and greyish white colored metamorphic rock, contribute to a beautiful background along with waterfall. Mae Tia waterfall is another adventure requiring an 8 kilometer walk from Mae Tia village, around the Kilometer 80 marker on Route 108 Doi Kaew subdistrict, Chom Thong district. At a height and width of 80 and 40 meters respectively, water flows throughout the year.

In an area of 10 Rai is the Thep Panom Hot Spring (at an average temperature of 99 Celsius) is located 14 kilometers away from Ob Luang, i.e. turn left 9 kilometers at 22nd kilometer distance marker on Route. 1088. Also, there is a cold stream nearby.

An area north of Ob Luang, offers two caves: Tong and Tu Poo. Tong Cave is located in Doi Pa Liang mountain which comprises granite and limestone. The Mae Pae stream acts as a dividing line between these two long tunnels which lead to Doi Chiang Dao, about 80 kilometers north of Chiang Mai city. That is really a spectacular!! The tunnel is small but its possible to enter. Meanwhile, Tu Poo Cave is small and narrow limestone cave which can hold up 30 persons. Water is constantly trickling from the ceiling and forms small beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.

Mae Jaem River originates from the mountain range in Mae Hong Son. Its current is strong and zigzagging along the steep cliffs, knolls, and valleys and has some islands as well as sandy beaches. The diversity of landscapes gives the river an extra beautiful dimension. It is possible to admire this beauty by boating, white-water rafting, Canoeing and Kayaking.

The National Park Office has tents and sleeping equipment for visitors to rent at modest prices. Contact Ob Luang National Park, P.O. Box 2, Hang Dong Subdistrict, Hord District, Chiang Mai 50240. Tel : 053-229272.

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