Perhaps one of the most underrated things to do in and around Chiang Mai, Doi Inthanon National Park in Thailand is just an hour and a half away from the heart of Old Town by car. It is home to the highest mountain in Thailand, nature trails, stunning gardens and incredible waterfalls. If you are visiting Chiang Mai and want to venture off the beaten path, get yourself to Doi Inthanon National Park!
Looking for more ideas of things to do and see in Chiang Mai? Click here for 10 things to do in Chiang Mai that don’t involve riding elephants or petting tigers!
How to get to Doi Inthanon National Park
The best way to get from Chiang Mai to Doi Inthanon is to hire a driver. The drive is just over an hour and a half from downtown Chiang Mai, and this way you can maximize your time in the park and get from point-to-point easily. It is possible to get there by scooter, but the road is winding and steep in some sections: unless you are a skilled scooter or motorcycle driver, I would advise against it. Once you are within the park, it is easy to drive between the sights. I would not recommend walking from point to point!
I paid 3000 Baht (approximately 90 USD) for a private car for the day, but you can also opt to take a Songthaew (share taxi) – the cost difference is not much so I would opt for the private air conditioned car. There is plenty of parking so it is also possible to self-drive if you have access to a rental car. You can charter a private car and driver for the day in Chiang Mai by clicking here (there is a 500 Baht surcharge for Doi Inthanon), or leave a comment below for the contact details for my regular driver in Chiang Mai.
Alternatively, you could also join a group tour, just visit one of the many tour agencies around town or book your space on a Doi Inthanon group tour here. The only issue is that most group tour itineraries skip quite a few of these landmarks.
Wondering where to stay in Chiang Mai to make the most of your time there? If you only have a few days, then the best place to stay in Chiang Mai is within “Old Town”. I can highly recommend See You Soon Chiang Mai, a boutique hotel located above a fantastic cafe and right next to Wat Chedi Luang temple, or Nawa Sheeva, a few steps away from Tha Pae Gate with a private pool. Click here to check current room rates at See You Soon Chiang Mai or click here to check availability at Nawa Sheeva.
Alternatively, I can also recommend BED Chiang Mai Gate Hotel just outside the Old Town. This boutique property is an adults only hotel in Chiang Mai and offers clean and spacious rooms. If you’re looking for a hotel with a pool in Chiang Mai, head to BED Chiang Mai Gate Hotel. Click here to check current room rates at BED Chiang Mai Gate Hotel!
Important tips to know before visiting Doi Inthanon National Park
- Start early – the park is large so you’re not going to have to fight your way through any crowds, but you’ll want to make the most of the day. You should aim to leave Chiang Mai by 9 am in the morning. The park opens at 6 am if you are extra ambitious, and closes relatively early at 4:30 pm.
- The entrance fee for the park is 300 Baht for foreigners and 30 Baht for a vehicle, free for Thai nationals (prices current as of November 2018). Hang onto your tickets as you will need to produce them at various checkpoints.
- Because of the high altitude, the climate is significantly cooler in the park (20 degrees Celsius or so in March and 16-20 degrees in November). Bring a light jacket if you are visiting early in the morning, and wear comfortable walking shoes for the nature trails. The most popular time to visit Chiang Mai is during the “cool” season from December to early March, when the temperature in Chiang Mai is “only” 25-30 degrees Celsius during the day and slightly cooler at night. April, May and June tend to be warmer months and the rainy season begins around May all the way through to October/November.
- There are plenty of bathrooms in the park – I have a tiny bladder and had no issues!
- There aren’t a ton of places to eat in the park, so I would recommend that you have a solid breakfast and bring a snack and water for the day.
- You cannot swim in almost all of the waterfalls, but bring your swimsuit along just in case.
- Most of the trails are well shaded, so you probably won’t get sun burnt. If you do burn easily, you might need some coverage when you walk the Mae Pan Nature Trail.
What to do and see in Doi Inthanon National Park
1. The Highest Point in Thailand
Begin by driving all the way up to “The Roof of Thailand” located approximately 2.5 KM above sea level. Snap a picture at the massive sign marking the highest point, then swiftly move on. The trail around this spot is well paved and takes you through shaded (and very chilly) parts of the forest.
Don’t be surprised if you bump into Buddhist monks along the path – the whole thing should only take you approximately 15 minutes. Ask your driver to meet you at the end of the trail.
2. Angkha Nature Trail
The entrance to this trail is conveniently located at the end of the previous trail and will only take you 15 minutes or so to walk from start-to-finish (360 metres). The mossy wooden pathway is extremely quiet and serene (or creepy, depends how you look at it!).
3. Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail and Waterfall
This nature trail is the definition of getting off the beaten track in Chiang Mai. For me, Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail was the highlight both times that I visited Doi Inthanon Park; in fact, hiking this trail was a complete accident!
I’m not a massive fan of hiking (so shoot me), and I hadn’t done much research ahead of time; there was a massive language barrier so unfortunately when I asked the park staff how long the hike would take, no one could answer my question. So off I went (what’s the worst that could happen?), with no idea how long the trail was and what I had just signed up for.
Luckily, Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail is only approximately 3 KM long and is a relatively easy hike with plenty of areas where you can sit down and catch your breath. It is only accessible with a guide and the fee is 200 Baht. The trail offers 21 stations with detailed explanations about the plants and ecosystem as well as several stunning view points. The best part? I hardly saw any other tourists while hiking along this trail in March, though the trail was significantly more crowded when I visited 2 years later in November.
Although my guide didn’t speak any English, she was patient and even snapped a few photos for me – although tips are not compulsory, it most certainly was appreciated. The entire hike takes approximately 2 hours or 1.5 if you are a fast walker.
It’s important to note that Mae Pan Nature Trail is closed for reforestation from June 1 to October 30 each year.
4. Royal Pagodas and the Gardens
The royal pagodas are located just a few minutes’ drive from the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail: Phra Mahathat Napha Methanidon and Phra Mahathat Naphaphon Bhumisiri (try saying that 3 times fast) were built to commemorate the birthdays of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his Queen. The pagodas are surrounded by a beautiful garden with stunning foxgloves and plenty of butterflies (and bees).
There is an additional entrance fee of 40 Baht to enter this section of the park.
5. Wachirathan Waterfall
The Doi Inthanon waterfalls are pretty darn spectacular. Wachirathan is a gorgeous dual stream waterfall that is incredibly easy to reach – it is just steps away from the parking lot. It’s popular with tour groups so don’t be surprised if you see a fair few people here. There IS a log that you can walk out on for an unobstructed photo opportunity, just watch your step! (UPDATE NOVEMBER 2018: The log doesn’t appear to be there anymore.) Unfortunately, no swimming is allowed here.
6. Sirithan Waterfall
Slightly less popular but still beautiful, Sirithan Waterfall is a short walk down from the main road. The viewing platform is fairly far away from the waterfall itself, so consider bringing a zoom lens.
7. Mae Ya Waterfall
Mae Ya is probably the most popular waterfall for visitors to Doi Inthanon National Park. You can get up close to this waterfall so you can snap some long exposure shots to get that milky look. It is fairly out of the way so it is not uncommon for drivers to ask for an additional 500 Baht, and you will need to walk 600 meters or so from the parking lot to get to the viewing platform.
Where to stay in Chiang Mai
For a relatively small city there are plenty of things to see and do in Chiang Mai. If you are planning your trip, I would recommend staying for 3-5 nights to make the most of your time in Chiang Mai. Click here for a list of other things to do in Chiang Mai including chasing waterfalls, checking out the night markets, visiting a ginger farm and getting a massage!
If you only have a few days, then the best place to stay in Chiang Mai is within Old Town. If you are a longtime reader of Yoga, Wine & Travel then you’ll know that I am a sucker for beautiful, boutique hotels. See You Soon Hotel and Cafe in the heart of Old Town is an amazing hotel with a handful of spacious and newly renovated rooms and stunning & tasteful decor. The rooms sit atop a wonderful cafe (try the mango and sticky rice) with tasty food and drinks, and the wifi connection is very stable and fast throughout the property.
It is also located right next to the Sunday market so you can roll back to your room after stuffing your face full of street food. Click here to check current rates at See You Soon Chiang Mai.
I would also highly recommend Nawa Sheeva, about 2 blocks away from Wat Chedi Luang and the Tha Pae Gate. This small boutique hotel has incredibly friendly staff, clean and spacious rooms as well as a small private pool, though the wi-fi can be a little unstable at times. Click here to check current rates at Nawa Sheeva.
If you are looking for a slightly more modern hotel with a pool in Chiang Mai, then you’ll want to check out BED Hotel Chiang Mai Gate. This boutique property is an adults only hotel in Chiang Mai and offers clean and spacious rooms. Click here to check current room rates at BED Chiang Mai Gate Hotel or click here to find some other highly rated accommodation options in Chiang Mai’s Old Town!
Has this article inspired you to plan a Doi Inthanon day trip? Charter a private car and driver for the day in Chiang Mai by clicking here (there is a 500 Baht surcharge for Doi Inthanon), or join a group tour to Doi Inthanon by booking online here. However, most group tour itineraries skip quite a few of these landmarks in the article – if you want to visit ALL of the landmarks you should charter a vehicle.
Interested in another amazing day trip destination from Chiang Mai? Why not head north to Chiang Rai to see the unique temples and museums?
Looking for more travel tips and recommendations? Check out all of my Thailand travel guides here!
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