When someone asks, “Do you want to go camping?”, your answer should always be yes. And when the camping venue is Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand, there should be no hesitation at all.
So that’s how I found myself camping with new friends on my second weekend in Chiang Mai.
How we got there:
Doi Inthanon National Park is located about a 1.5-2 hour drive from Chiang Mai. Between eighte of us, there were 2 scooters and one car. The car rental was really cheap, actually. For the five of us in the car, we each paid 370bht (about US$13) for the car rental and petrol for the weekend!
And Google Maps (and road signs) helped get us there without incident.
There’s a 300bht entry fee into the National Park (US$10) and 30bht (US$1) fee for the car.
Where we stayed:
At the Doi Inthanon Park Headquarters, there are proper accommodations (e.g. bungalow-type accommodation; price depends on the occupancy of the hosue). We went for the cheapest (and most fun!) option: CAMPING.
For the rental of tents, sleeping mats, sleeping bags and pillows, we each paid less than 200bht (about US$6) per person! What a steal!
What we did:
We left Chiang Mai just before 10.00am. After about an hour, we arrived at the town at the base of the mountain and had a quick coffee/lunch break. The grilled chicken called out to us and we couldn’t resist! Only 150bht (US$5) for a whole chicken and we devoured it.
I’m salivating just looking at the photos, and remembering how good it was!
After we paid our entrance fees at the first checkpoint, it was maybe around 30-40 minutes before we made our first stop at Sirithan waterfall. There are a whole bunch of waterfalls on the way up Doi Inthanon so it’s really up to you which ones you wanna check out.
It was a leisurely 100m walk down, and then we saw the falls from this little viewing platform. Some of the boys went further down to the base of the falls (totally disregarding a sign that seemed to discourage people from doing so; REBELS!). They had some good pics though so I wish I had gone too, haha.
Our second stop was the twin royal pagodas built for the current monarchs. There is a 40baht (a little over US$1) entry fee, but I’d say it was worth it. These two pagodas are just jutting out into the sky and they’re quite pretty.
I was amused that they had escalators to take you up to the entrance to each pagoda, but I suppose it’s helpful for older people? Or you know, lazy people (like us, haha). Whatever, don’t look a gift horse (escalator) in the mouth.
The King’s pagoda was built in 1987, in celebration of his 60th birthday. It’s a little more austere than the Queen’s, but I’d say that the view is better!
It was a little foggy, but this view is pretty sweet. There’s something about being up on a mountain that I really love…
Just across from the King’s pagoda is the Queen’s.
It was built in 1992, for her 60th birthday. I love the light purple colour, and the interior of the pagoda felt very feminine and pretty. There was also a garden out back!
Our third stop was the summit of Doi Inthanon.
I had this grand expectation of a lookout and a beautiful view…
Nope, this is all we got:
Yeahhh, not anti-climatic at all. It’s nothing but a sign and a photo-op! Where’s my panaromic view??!
We ended our sight-seeing for the day so that we could go rent our camping equipment and get settled at the campsite. We drove back to the Park Headquarters, got our equipment, and drove down the street to the campsite.
After driving around in circles for a while and scoping it out, we finally decided on a spot and got to working.
Most of us hadn’t pitched a tent in a while, so it took longer than expected but we did it! Hanna and I had the best-looking tent and we were very proud, haha! We ended up creating a little circle, and even moved two tables to optimize our camping experience. The end result was pretty awesome. (Why yes, I am tooting our own horns.)
All that hard work made us tired and hungry, so we traipsed out to the little sleepy town for some grub. We found a small local eating place and had good, cheap food! (Pro tip: don’t eat at the Park Headquarters; the food there was 5x more expensive!)
After dinner, we did the usual camping stuff: guitar serenade plus singalong competition, a really intense game of Heads Up, and lots of booze. The campsite is really pretty. Lots of tall trees. And there were only maybe 2-3 other groups who were out camping too, so it kinda felt isolated in a way. We were quite near to the restrooms which turned out to be very convenient. The restrooms had showers and were clean, so no problems at all on that front.
The whole camping experience was very good, I’d say. Definitely better than I expected, and something I would do again.
We had a late start to the day (for obvious reasons, haha) but we managed to get one last activity in. And boy, was it worth it! We went back up through the second checkpoint (remember to keep your ticket stubs!), and to the start of the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail.
You won’t miss it; there’s a large parking lot and accompanying sign to let you know you’re at the right place.
You have to hire a local guide to take you through the hike. It costs 200bht (US$7) for a guide (I think there’s a maximum group size of 10 per guide). The whole route is 3.2km and they advise that it’ll take between 2-4 hours but we did it in 1.5 hours. I guess it depends on the group’s walking pace and how long your photo stops are.
The area is a cloud forest, which is a very specific type of forest that’s found in only 3% of the world. In the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, we have a conservatory dome called the Cloud Forest which recreates the ecosystem of a cloud forest. So it was really awesome to be in an actual, legit cloud forest.
I loved it. The hike itself isn’t too strenous; there were some uphill sections but the trail is quite clearly marked. It was quite cool in there, and everything was so green and vibrant. And then it got better once we cleared the forest. The view just opened up!
So so lovely, and honestly this was what I was expecting from the “highest point in Thailand”!
This bit of the hike was easily my favourite because of the views.
The route eventually winds back into the cloud forest, and loops back to the starting point.
If you can only do one thing in Doi Inthanon, I’d say do this hike! It was easily the highlight of the weekend and it just shows off how beautiful northern Thailand is.
All in all, it was an excellent weekend and definitely something I’d recommend to anyone visiting Chiang Mai.