Doi Inthanon

Chiang Mai Day 8

Doi Inthanon National Park

Doi Inthanon

Determined to make it to Doi Inthanon, Thailand's highest peak, we made our way north to the Chang Pheuk Station first thing in the morning. Locating a songthaew that was bound for Chom Thong district was very straightforward as they were apparently fairly frequent. The songthaew departed almost immediately for the two-hour journey south and only ended up costing THB35 per person. The journey was along route 108 which was a main road, so I kept my eye on the maps.me app to ensure that the 'stop' button was pressed just before we reached the (Wat Phra That Si Chom Thong) temple.


To get to the base of the mountain by car or motorbike, one needs to head southwards towards the district of Chom Thong. Route 108 lies parallel to the airport runway and is the most direct way to get there but this road can get quite congested so it may not be the fastest way. There are a few other options that may be faster, so be sure to check google maps for road congestion before you depart. The right turn to route 1009 that heads up the mountain lies just under 1 kilometre before Wat Phra That Si Chom Thong. From the junction, following route 1009 heading north-west for about one hour will bring you to the peak of Doi inthanon.

Getting to the base of the mountain

Songthaews that were waiting to bring tourists up the mountain were to be found just outside the temple. We quickly nipped into the temple grounds in order to use their restrooms, and then came straight back out again to compare prices. The journey up to the peak would have cost us THB140 one way, and THB280 for a return trip. To charter the entire vehicle with four stops cost THB1500, so splitting the cost between the four of us would amount to THB375 each, a no-brainer if you ask me.

We departed for the peak at 10:20, the songthaew making its way around the outskirts of Chomthong town before winding its way up the narrow mountain road. We reached the first toll fairly soon after and I had to hop out the pay the THB300/pax park fee for foreigners (THB50/pax for Thais) and the THB30 entry fee for vehicles. Touts quickly ran up to us to try and sell their wares, which were basically snacks and drinks. The entire journey to the peak from Chomthong town took us an hour, culminating at the base of a very wide stairwell that lead up to the mossy forest on the peak of the highest of the four ultra-prominent peaks of Thailand (elevation : 2565m).

Doi Inthanon's summit sign

Doi Inthanon's summit sign

The path continued along towards the monument of King Inthawichayanon, who was born Prince Inthanon (เจ้าอินทนนท์) and was one of the last kings of Chiang Mai and the penultimate King of Lanna. He was particularly concerned about the northern forests of Thailand and made efforts to preserve them, which is why the name Doi Inthanon was given to the mountain in his honour. The short walkway lead back to the carpark via the mossy, epiphyte-filled grove, and back to the carpark and the Summit Cafe. We crossed the road and made our way to the Ang Kha Nature Trail (อ่างกา).

The monument of King Inthawichayanon

The monument of King Inthawichayanon

The mossy forest of Doi Inthanon

The mossy forest of Doi Inthanon

Next: Doi Inthanon (Part 2): Ang Kha Nature Trail

Ang Kha Nature Trail

As I approached the trail head, I kept looking out for a tout of some sort to approach us and to demand that we hire a guide (which, according to some online accounts, has happened on occasion), but fortunately for us there were none to be found. This could have been because the 'extended' trail was closed due to the rainy season, and just the short, 400-metre (half an hour walk) loop was left open for the public.

Download file: Doi Inthanon.gpx

As we wandered down the steps, we saw a large beetle rearing its tiny head. The head was fairly distinctive as it was attached to a large head horn that was supported by a narrow neck. The neck tapered down just before broadening dramatically into a pronotum. The metallic purple beetle turned out to be a male (female's do not have a horn) purple horned scarab beetle (Enoplotrupes sharpi), which is a dung beetle of the family whose members are commonly referred to as earth-boring dung beetles (Family: Geotrupidae). These beetles are detrivores and excavate their burrows in leaf litter and occasionally feces (hence their name). These 'provisions' are then fed upon by the larvae once the eggs hatch! As we approached, the beetle took off and slowly buzzed around us in circles, before disappearing into the damp forest.

Purple horned scarab beetle

Purple horned scarab beetle (Enoplotrupes sharpi)

The steps lead down to a junction where turning either way would bring you around the short loop. We chose to take the right path (not the wrong one!), which brought us around the loop in an anti-clockwise direction. Epiphytes were ubiquitous here, and both the air and vegetation of the cloud forest (Doi Phahompok & Doi Chiang Dao being the only other two in Thailand) were completely laden with moisture. The dew and tiny droplets covered the sphagnum moss (Sphagnum cuspidulatum) that lined the sides, which were often neighboured by seas of fern.

'Splash cups' of fungi which contain capsules of spores, called peridioles. They
are dispersed when raindrops fall into them and splash them out, hence the name

'Ang Kha' means 'Crow's Pond' in Thai, and refers to the highest natural water body in Thailand. The 'pond' is a peat bog that is filled with semi-decomposed litter from the vegetation of the temperate evergreen forest that surrounds it. The high moisture content of the the water-logged soil keeps acidity levels fairly high and also tends to slow down decomposition levels. This is because water fills the air spaces in the soil instead, which deprives microbes of oxygen. All these factors create rather harsh conditions that only specialised plants can survive in. The main tree families that can be found here are (Family: Fagaceae) which are oaks and myrtles, but trees like needlewood (Schima wallichii), a tree that belongs to the tea family, are also quite common. The area is also home to perennial plants like (Cicerbita chiangdaoensis), knotweed (Polygonum chinense), and western pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea).

As we made our way further into the forest, we passed clusters of white hydrangeas (Hydrangea sp.) and small trees with red flowers (Rhododendron delavayi) that fringed the edge of the swamp. Silence seemed to permeate the air the deeper we went, and was broken only by the occasional twittering of birds. These birds were perched in the inner branches of the trees, so were a little tricky to observe. They flitted from branch to branch every few seconds, almost as if they were unable to stay still, their life staggered in 5-second stages. Each time they stopped, they cocked their heads to the side as they looked at us curiously. These tiny birds are called bar-throated minlas (Minla strigula), and their vibrant colours: yellow belly, grey back, and red-tinged crown, make them fairly easy to spot and identify. They inhabit montane evergreen forests all around Southeast Asia and India, up to (elevation : 3500m) but can also be found much lower (elevation : 1300m) during harsher winters.

Bar-throated minla

Bar-throated minla (Minla strigula)

We continued on around the loop, dodging low-lying trunks and irregular branches, some that were suspended above the peat in strange, distorted shapes. Eventually, we reemerged from the loop and back onto the road where our driver was patiently waiting.

Next: Doi Inthanon (Part 3): Waterfalls!


The driver then brought us to visit the pagodas (entrance fee was THB40/pax). I personally was not too impressed with the pagodas and viewed them as ostentatious structures that marred the beautiful natural landscape of the mountain, so felt that the entrance fee was a waste of money. We made our way to the Hmong market right after and wandered around examining all the wares that had been lined up (all manner of snacks, trinkets, and fruits) to cater to all the tourists that came through the area. We made our way past a strange, anachronistic petrol filler in a shed, before taking a seat in one of the food stalls for lunch (Fried rice, THB40).

We continued on to what we thought was our last stop, Wachirathan waterfall (น้ำตกวชิรธาร). The carpark was chock-full of tourists, so we quickly disembarked and walked up the steps to the waterfall to get away from all the crowds. The waterfall was massive, apparently with a cumulative height of 80-metres, and it had a torrential flow that sent spray into the air in all directions as the water plummeted over the granite escarpment. The tourists began to crowd around the platform soon after, leaving me very uneasy and eager to break away. After a few shots of the waterfall, we made our way up the trail to the higher tiers.

Wachirathan waterfall

Wachirathan waterfall

The trail wound its way up the hill, switch-backing every now and then, and after sticking right past the junction to stay close to the waterfall, we arrived at the first viewpoint. Despite this viewpoint being at the top of the main tier of the waterfall, the view was rather disappointing. We watched a few damselflies (Matrona nigripectus) flitting around for a while before continuing along to the next tier. The view there was much better and afforded us a good view of the much wider and broader river section. The end of the trail was reached shortly after where it joined a road, so with nothing else to do we began to make our way back down to the songthaew.

Matrona nigripectus

A male Matrona nigripectus damselfly

On the way back down the mountain, the songthaew made an unexpected stop at the Mae Klang waterfall (น้ำตกแม่กลาง) that was located just after the first checkpoint (at kilometre 8). This is a large waterfall and is one of the easiest to get to, making it quite a popular destination for Thais. We were initially uncertain if we had sufficient time to explore the waterfall but the driver managed to reassure us that we would indeed be able to catch a songthaew back to Chiang Mai. We jumped out once again and made our way up the road and produced our park tickets for the park ranger to check. The road was fairly short and lead us up to the base of the main waterfall.

Dragonflies are riparian, so there were plenty of them skimming around the banks of the river. One of them, the male crimson marsh glider (Trithemis aurora), with its vivid red/purple colour really stood out amongst the rest. This dragonfly seemed to like perching on twigs that were exposed to the sun, and would oftentimes be facing straight down to the ground with its abdomen raised in the air almost as if it were doing a handstand of sorts.

One of the easiest things to look out for when trying to differentiate dragonflies from damselflies are the eyes: dragonflies have much larger eyes that begin at the front of the head and wrap around to the sides. These eyes are also positioned quite close to each other. Damselflies on the other-hand have eyes that are slightly smaller, with a noticeable gap between them at the front of their head. Another big difference are the wings. Although both dragonflies and damselflies have two sets of wings, dragonflies have hind wings that are larger than their front wings, and hold them out perpendicular to their bodies when resting. Damselflies have sets of wings that are very similar in size, and fold them up and hold them vertically above the top of their backs. The way the wings are positioned at rest is also used when differentiating moths from butterflies: moths hold them out perpendicular to their bodies, and butterflies hold them vertically above the top of their backs.

Crimson marsh glider

Crimson marsh glider (Trithemis aurora)

Not too long after, we discovered a set of hewn rocks just beyond the viewing platform and decided to follow them. The steps brought us to a trail that lead us up and past a large rock-face to our right that was covered with bee nests, before emerging out into an open area at the top. The view of the Mae Klang waterfall was very impressive from this viewpoint but unfortunately we were unable to stay for very long since we were chasing for time. So after a while, we turned back around and made our way back down to the waiting songthaew.

>Mae Klang waterfall

Mae Klang waterfall

**The cost for the songthaew back to Chiang Mai was THB35/pax, with dinner costing me THB60 (supplemented by meat on sticks THB40). The final payment for the last four days of accommodation amounted to THB500**

Day 8 Expenditure