Doi Inthanon National Park is well known within Thailand, but does not typically make the cut for most western tourists. It’s a 2.5 hour drive from Chiang Mai, and getting around the park without your own set of wheels is pretty limiting. Once we decided to tackle the 712km/442 mile Mae Hong Son loop, we knew that Doi Inthanon would be our first stop.
There are already plenty of blog posts written by “professional” travel bloggers that outline the “must do” activities within Doi Inthanon National Park. This is not one of those posts. That said, I do want to bestow one piece of wisdom upon you that none of those bloggers did for me: BRING YOUR OWN TOILET PAPER.
Now, allow me share my experience.
Just days before our arrival in Chiang Mai, I’d read a post about camping in Doi Inthanon. I shared it with Terra and we had a conversation along the lines of, “We like camping—let’s do it.” Cute kids… really cute. Instead of walking you through our time in the park moment-by-moment, allow me to provide the highlights and low-lights.
HIGHLIGHT: Wachirathan Waterfall
After paying the park entry fee, this was our first stop. This is a popular choice, as there were dozens of fellow onlookers at this wide, loud, and misty waterfall. We had to wait for clearings to take an unobstructed photo, as you can basically park at the waterfall, but it was worth it.
HIGHLIGHT: Sirithan Waterfall
This double-decker waterfall is a stunner from afar. After the Wachirathan waterfall was crawling with fellow tourists, there were only two other onlookers at Sirithan, despite it being just down the road. It’s amazing how a few dozen stairs can deter the masses.
HIGHLIGHT: Siriphum Waterfall & Surroundings
This sky-high waterfall could be seen from our campsite, and the trail leading up to it (and meandering around it) was quite charming—almost like a rustic botanical garden.
LOWLIGHT: Camping in pre-set national park tents
As I said before, it was “cute” of us to think that spending a night without our fancy, tried-and-true camping gear would be enjoyable. We were able to rent a tent (that was already set-up in a big campsite), sleeping mats, sleeping bags (that didn’t have working zippers, so they were sleeping blankets), and pillows for around 345 baht ($11). The tent quality was fine, but was on a pretty decent slope so we slid to the bottom through the night. And the sleeping pads were so thin that we had bruises on our hips. That said, who were the dummies that didn’t think to “splurge” and rent like 6-7 pads for 10 baht (30 cents) each? WE WERE.
It’s also worth noting that the park does, indeed, get quite chilly at night. I didn’t believe it, and found myself wearing my long-sleeve shirt, jacket, and pants to stay warm. Thankfully living in SF has taught me to always pack layers.
HIGHLIGHT: Thailand’s Highest Point & Ang Ka Nature Trail
Doi Inthanon mountain is the highest point in Thailand (2,565 meters / 8,415 feet), and what it lacks in a viewpoint (it’s heavily wooded), it makes up for with a cool raised bamboo trail. The peak is also home to the ashes of the last Lanna King of Chiang Mai, Inthawichayanon.
HIGHLIGHT & LOWLIGHT: Campground dogs
You know I love a good Thai street dog. Upon arriving at the campsite, we met a group of five sweet male dogs that seemed to have their social hierarchy figured out. After giving some pets, I was smitten to see two of them sleeping outside of our tent, as if to say, “Thank you for the cuddles—we like you so much we’re going to sleep here.” Welcome to the inside of my head.
However, as we tried to fall asleep at night, we heard several skirmishes amongst dogs on the other side of the campsite. There were a few times where one dog was clearly scared or hurting and I almost charged over there to break it up. Eventually things quieted down, but it’s clear that a pack of un-neutered male dogs are going to fight more often than if there was local veterinary care and they were all fixed.
LOWLIGHT: The bathroom situation
There are quite a few bathrooms around the park; you can find one at every major stop/site and they’re surprisingly clean. However, there is ABSOLUTELY NO TOILET PAPER TO BE FOUND. I spent 6 months in SE Asia a few years ago and I don’t remember ever being without publicly provided TP. (Clearly I didn’t make it off the beaten path.) I’m also no stranger to drip drying (I walked a puma for 8-hours every day for a month in the Bolivian jungle—I’m down), but after nearly three days of a “sorta funny” tummy, I was in a real lurch when that papaya salad from Koh Lanta came a’callin’. Thankfully I had some tissues in my bag and the hawker shops near the campsite sell TP by the roll for 10 baht. Or else, I’m not sure I’d be able to look my tent-mate/husband in the eyes ever again.
HIGHLIGHT: Twin Chedis for the King & Queen
Two chedis (or stupas) were erected to mark the 60th birthdays of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit. They sit atop two adjacent peaks and are reached by stairway or escalator. The amount of money spent in this developing country on religious sites and symbolic gestures towards the monarchy is astounding.
And, of course, the view was fit for royalty.
LOWLIGHT: Skipping the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail
Unfortunately we’d planned to do the 3km nature trail in the morning after camping, but because I couldn’t trust my stomach to be more than a 30 meter walk from a bathroom, we passed on it. I hear it’s lovey.
HIGHLIGHT: Mae Klang Waterfall (all to ourselves)
Our last stop as we left the park was the Mae Klang Waterfall. I’d read that it’s often loaded with people traveling via tour bus, so we were thrilled to be the only two people there in the morning. We found a trail that climbed above the falls and beyond to a visitor’s center before returning the way we came.
Overall, I would certainly recommend a trip to Doi Inthanon National Park. Remember your layers, your toilet paper, and a reservation at one of the dozens of adorable looking bungalows that I stared at jealously throughout the evening, and you’re sure to have a great time.