Not very interested in elephants or sanctuaries? To be honest, neither am I! 😉Although bathing elephants seemed like the must-do for anyone heading to Chiang Mai, I decided to skip that activity, and instead, do something I know I’ll enjoy solo – hiking. To do that, a good option is to do a day tour to Doi Inthanon National Park.
Day Trip to Doi Inthanon National Park for nature & hiking
Doi Inthanon is the highest mountain in Thailand.
You can get there in a car, don’t worry.
To do a day trip to Doi Inthanon National Park, I engaged a Thai guide. The day tour’s arrangement included transport, morning snacks, a local lunch, admission tickets to the national park and highlight attractions, and the following activities covered in this post!
By 3am, I was up to get ready. At 4.20am, my female tour guide, arrived at my AirBNB condo gate at Nimman to pick me up. She had prepared buns as light snacks, and even a neck pillow. Her husband, our driver for the day, drove us to the national park.
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First on the agenda: catch a Chiang Mai sunrise!
There’s just something magical about catching sunrises overseas. Although it’s something I wish to do every trip, sometimes, the weather or travel plans or even sunrise hours, would make catching sunrises a challenge.
The guide had warned me beforehand that it’ll be cold in the early morning hours. I wore a fleece jacket, but it was barely enough. It was probably 5 degrees or less that morning, before the sun rose! Thankfully, she had an extra, thick jacket for me to put on. Warmth!
Stepping out of the car into the freezing cold, I looked past the mountains ahead, at the sky gradually lighting up.
Eventually, I got worried. Is that it? Is that the sunrise that I was looking forward to? Obviously, it was not glorious enough for my liking, as if sunrise is something at my command, for the sake of sharing on travel blogs or social media. A van nearby had already driven off, thinking they too, had missed any good sunrise for the day.
“Don’t worry. The sun is coming up.“, my guide assured me.
After some time, the distinct circle of light came into sight. Sunrise!
Headed for the highest point in Thailand
After that sunrise, we drove for a short distance to the summit of Doi Inthanon. Over here, there’s a small paved trail. You’ll also spot a sign telling you that this is the highest spot in Thailand, at over 2,565m above sea level.
Hiking Kew Mae Pan – Highlight of this Doi Inthanon day trip
The second highlight of my day tour is to hike this Kew Mae Pan nature tail. The full trail is about 2.5km and will take between 2-3 hours all the way. It is mandatory to engage a Hmong tribe trail guide here (for a fee of 200 baht), at the start of the trail.
My day trip guide handed me a hiking stick and off we went! With a Hmong tribe guide, my day trip guide and our driver, I felt super safe on this trail 🤣
The first part of Kew Mae Pan is relatively easy to hike. In the forest, you’ll spot some very tall trees, and if you’re lucky, even bear marks on the trees.
Then we came to a clearing and the best views are at this mountain ridge over the cliff. It was a weekday and not crowded at all. There were just a few other people around.
From here, my tour guide told me that the second part of the trail is relatively more difficult and steep, with the same views of the surroundings from here. I could continue on, or hike back the same way we came. I chose to go back the same way.
Kew Mae Pan nature trail is closed for reforestation between June to October.
Royal Chedis – Pagodas for the King & Queen
The next spot on the list is called Royal Chedis.
Often referred to as the King Pagoda (Naphamethinidon, to mean “by the strength of the land and air”) and Queen Pagoda (Naphaphonphumisiri, meaning “being the strength of the air and the grace of the land”), they were built by the Royal Air Force to commemorate the birthdays of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 1987, and the 60th birthday anniversary of Queen Sirikit in 1992.
The royal chedis are a great spot if you love flowers and taking photos with flowers. The guide gave me time to explore and take pictures on my own, as it seemed that parking is a challenge here? I had mobile data and they picked me up when I was done.
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This attraction had plenty of tourists and I personally find it too touristy for my liking.
Locals’ market – the Hmong hill tribe
We stopped at a locals’ market where many ladies in tribal-wear were manning their stalls selling dried fruits and nuts etc. Rather than their wares, their lifestyles, as well as the sewn patterns of their tribal costumes fascinated me more. The guide walked with me down the market and translated when I had questions.
First waterfall – Wachirathan Falls
The weather was turning very hot towards noon. After a Thai lunch (basil chicken, green curry, a veggie, and rice) at a non-airconditioned food centre near this magnificent waterfall, my guide said I could walk there and enjoy this waterfall. I loved it! It felt really therapeutic to be sitting here in the shade and simply enjoy the views and breeze before me.
Mae Ya Waterfalls – Last spot of my Doi Inthanon day tour
Mae Ya waterfall is the largest waterfall at Doi Inthanon, and supposedly one of the most beautiful in Thailand. It was over 280m tall. The water wasn’t flowing too much when I was there though.
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How to get to Doi Inthanon National Park from Chiang Mai
The easiest way is to do it on a private tour with a local guide. If there’s just a few of you, you can find the different tours on TakeMeTour, or GetYourGuide. I booked directly with a Thai guide who grew up in Chiang Mai and conducts day tours in Chiang Mai. Her husband was our driver.
For other public options to get to Doi Inthanon, you can check this link out. However, it’s a lot more tricky for tourists, and not very practical a choice.
Price of my private day tour: 4,000baht nett (about S$180), which included: transport from and back to my condo at Nimman, entrance fees to Doi Inthanon National Park, Hmong trail guide fees for Kew Mae Pan nature trail, a local lunch, and entrance fees to the Royal Chedis. I was picked up at 4+am, and ended at 2+pm.
Review of my Doi Inthanon day tour: The car wasn’t too comfortable – felt like it was modified for fast driving, instead of for conducting day tours. During the hike at Kew Mae Pan, not much information was shared about the forests or greenery etc. The same goes for the Royal Chedis attraction. Only at the Hmong market and walk to Mae Ya waterfall did the guide properly accompanied me and furnished more information. All in all, the entire day tour was rather lacking.
More tips for visiting Doi Inthanon National Park:
- What to wear for the hike: comfortable attire, shoes with moderate friction for the hike. You can bring an extra pair of sandals or slippers especially if you intend to enter the waterfalls. (I wore a Uniqlo Airism tank top, a very thin, cotton cardigan, yoga pants, a cap, Nike trainers. Also had a fleece jacket for the cold morning before sunrise).
- If you’re booking a private tour, read reviews carefully.
Visited: March 2019
Thailand articles and more on the blog!
• First time to Chiang Mai? Read these first!
• Solo Travel in Bangkok – the Best Travel Tips for You!
• Ten Days in Bangkok – What I Did Alone
• Hotel Review: Marriot Mai Khao at Phuket
• How to enjoy solo travel as an Introvert