Get off the beaten track on a Doi Inthanon Tour!
If you’re bound for Thailand, you’re most likely going to head North to Chiang Mai to visit the elephants, shop in the night markets, and slurp mouthwatering khao soi. Although it’s easy to get caught up in the tourist crowds and spend your evenings drinking Chang beers at Zoe’s, you’ll want to escape the city that invites ten million tourists each year.
Northern Thailand is a dream for backpackers who want to get out in nature past the outskirts of Chiang Mai and trek into the mountains. When you make your plans to head to this lush paradise, make sure to plan a trip off the beaten path. A perfect way to get away and indulge in nature is to head to Doi Inthanon National Park, home to the highest mountain in Thailand and a whole host of fascinating flora and fauna!
About Doi Inthanon National Park
Just about two-hour drive southwest of Chiang Mai lies Doi Inthanon National Park, also known as the ‘Roof of Thailand’ due to it being the highest point in Thailand.
Not only is it home to Thailand’s tallest mountain at 2,565 meters, but it’s also the country’s largest national park, covering a whopping 482 square metres. Known for its dense jungles, rushing waterfalls, and endless hiking trails, you will see parts of Thailand that seem rather untouched.
The two most famous Doi Inthanon waterfalls are Mae Yai and Wachiratan. Mae Yai is 100-metres tall and in the wet season is really something to see. Wachiratan is more easily accessible (40-metres) and at weekends you will see Thai families visiting the spot for a picnic and a dip (fully clothed) in the lovely swimming pools that the waterfall creates.
Due to the elevation, the temperatures in the park are considerably lower than other parts of Thailand meaning that trekking is a much less sweaty affair! Temperatures range from 10-12 degrees Celcius in the higher places.
Creatures in the park include the mammals; wild boars, gibbons, deer and the birds; buzzards, tiny sunbirds and colourful cochoas. (There are 362 different species of bird in the park.)
As well as two chedis (small religious monuments dedicated to the Thai Royal family), the park has been home to the Karen Hilltribe people for hundreds of years and as you are trekking you will come across several rustic villages where locals farm the land around them.
The Best Time to Visit Doi Inthanon National Park
Northern Thailand has three main seasons: rainy, “cool”, and hot.
The best time to trek would be mid-November through mid-February which is technically the “cool” season. However, cool is a loose term in Thailand as the weather will average around 17 degree C (62 degrees F).
By mid-February, the smoky season has begun and you’ll want to avoid areas surrounding Chiang Mai through March due to poor air quality. The smoky season is a yearly occurrence when farmers burn their fields to get ready for a new season of crops.
Then during the rainy season between April and October, you run the risk of getting stuck in torrential downpours which may make your trek at Doi Inthanon a bit muddier than expected. Rainy season can be unpredictable and although it doesn’t shower every day, you don’t want to risk rolling an ankle on a slippery trail.
What to Pack for a Doi Inthanon Tour
Bring a small daypack that you are comfortable carrying during your two-day trek. If you have more luggage for your backpacking travels, leave it behind in storage at your guesthouse.
During the hike, you will want to wear hiking boots or tennis shoes, sunscreen, and long pants. Although some people wore sandals and shorts, I wore leggings to avoid getting my legs scratched up by the plants along the trail.
In your small backpack you should bring:
- Flip flops or a change of shoes for the evening
- Bug spray (although mosquitos don’t make their way up higher altitude!)
- Warm clothes for the night
- Toilet paper or tissue
- Flashlight or head torch
- Extra water bottle (you get two at the beginning)
- Book for downtime
- Extra cash
Doi Inthanon National Park Entrance Fee
The entrance fee for Doi Inthanon National Park is 300 THB, which is the same price as it is to enter most of the national parks in Thailand. Children can enter for 150 THB. If you are a Thai citizen or an English teacher in Thailand, the price is just 50 THB!
Chiang Mai to Doi Inthanon – How to Get There
Doi Inthanon is located approximately 90 kilometres from Chiang Mai and it takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to drive directly from the city to the park. Without your own wheels, however, it can be quite a mission working out how to get to Doi Inthanon National Park on public transport!
Your options to get to Doi Inthanon from Chiang Mai are…
Option 1 – By motorbike (Fun!)
You can hire a motorbike for 200-300 THB for the day from Chiang Mai and make your own way to Doi Inthanon National Park along Route 108 which is a major road. Be sure to take a sweater as it can get cold up in those hills! This route is only for experienced motorbike riders and we wouldn’t recommend that you do this if you have not driven a bike before.
Option 2 – By public transport (Messy. Not recommended)
You can reach some way to the park by public bus from Chiang Mai, but the service stops at the turnoff to the park, when you turn right onto Route 1009. From here, you would have to take a songthaew (red truck). The problem with this option is that the park is huge and it is difficult to reach the trails without your own transport. Plus, it can take over three hours to reach the park from Chiang Mai this way.
Option 3 – By private car (Pricey)
Some people hire a car from Chiang Mai to Doi Inthanon National Park. This will cost you around 1,500 THB per day (approx. $45 US) and will wait for you while you explore various trails.
Option 4 – By group tour (Recommended option)
The most popular way to explore Doi Inthanon National Park is on a small group tour from Chiang Mai and for good reason. While I’m not usually a fan of group tours and prefer to go places independently, visiting Doi Inthanon National Park is one of those places where booking a tour with a local trekking guide makes much more sense than doing it alone. This is surely one of the best Chiang Mai day tours available!
A group tour to Doi Inthanon is the recommended choice for a few reasons:
Price – First of all, the price for a one-day tour with Ethnic Hill Tribe Eco Trails was $58 USD. This includes the National Park fee (approx $10 US), all transport from Chiang Mai (including pick up and drop off at your hotel), all meals whilst trekking, an English-speaking trekking guide, two litres of water and insurance. As you do the sums in your head, you start to see that taking a tour is the best value for money experience when you think about what’s included.
Make The Most Of Your Time – Secondly, the park is massive, a knowledgeable local guide can give you expert tips on the best trails to explore and the best places to spot interesting flora and fauna. It is quite impossible for someone visiting for the first time to know where to go. You also don’t want to get lost here in this vast expanse of jungle!
Knowledge – Travelling with a local guide who is knowledgeable about the area and knows how to give you an authentic experience can really enhance your experience. You will learn about animals, plants, fruits and the unique cultures of the local indigenous communities who live here, such as the Karen Hilltribe.
Why Ethnic Hill Tribes Eco Trails?
Ethnic Hill Tribe Eco Trails are a small family-run tour operator, based in Chiang Mai, focused on ethical tourism and sustainability. The company was created after Kischa (co-founder) met and fell in love with Thai trekking guide, Mit, (co-founder) on a jungle trek in Chiang Mai.
Together, they founded Ethnic Hilltribe Eco Trails to give people the chance to get off the beaten track outside of Chiang Mai and experience the amazing hiking opportunities in the local hilltribe villages in the area. At the same time, they wanted to protect the indigenous communities from so-called ‘zoo-like’ tourism that can damage communities and takes away much more than it gives.
They have seen first-hand how education and training local communities in sustainable tourism can lift people out of poverty. When done correctly, it can be beneficial to all.
As a local travel writer based in Chiang Mai, I was asked to review the Doi Inthanon National Park Tour for South East Asia Backpacker Magazine as part of their community writers’ program. I was delighted to accept! As a Thailand bucket list destination, I finally made it there after having lived as an expat in Chiang Mai for eight months!
Doi Inthanon Tour From Chiang Mai – My 2-Day Experience
Even if you are sceptical about group tours (like I am!), by the end of your expedition with Ethnic Hilltribe Eco Trails, you will be glad that you made the decision to enlist some local expertise!
Yod and Pisak, the Thai guides who led us through the experience, were extremely insightful about the land we were trudging through. They fed us nuts from the ground, cinnamon from the trees, helped us ford small streams, and saved us from large spider webs that obscured our path. It really added to the whole ‘jungle’ experience and I never would have eaten fresh fruit from the trees without having a couple of local experts on hand!
Day 1: Arriving at the Park + Trekking 15 Kilometres
Our songthaew (red truck/taxi) picked everyone up at their guesthouses in Chiang Mai and we were on the road by 8:00 am. After a break for coffee, we made it to our destined trailhead at Doi Inthanon National Park around 10:30.
Pisak and Yod certainly know how to entertain as they sang their way through the entire trek and picked out nuts and fruit from the ground for us along the way.
Although some may find it awkward to trek with a bunch of strangers for six hours, I can assure you that the actual experience was the opposite. Everyone in our group became fast friends. Ranging in ages from 19 up to late 50s, we were all able to keep a comfortable and equal pace.
Halfway into our trek, we landed at a postcard-perfect waterfall that served as our lunchtime backdrop. The rushing waterfall behind massive banana leaves looked like a magical setting for the perfect photo opp. We all munched our pad thai while feeling the cooling mist of the waterfall hit our backs.
While given the option to relax and swim, we unanimously decided that after an hour we were ready to continue on toward the next viewpoint. We trekked on through the dense jungle, swung from branches over streams, and avoided the spider webs as we learned more about the local area.
It’s certainly nice to have someone tell you which plants to avoid due to poisonous leaves! We picked up flying spiders that we all classified as “cute.” The trails were marked clearly; however, without a guide, it would have been very easy to take a wrong turn or get tangled in a massive spider web!
Eventually, we made it to our viewpoint that overlooked an enormous Buddha statue among a skyline of mountains, villages, rice fields, and the bright blue sky.
I sipped the last of my water worried about if we would be able to get a refill back at the homestay. But our guide, Yod, made it clear that we were staying near a 7-Eleven. If you know anything about Thailand, they are obsessed with 7-Eleven!
In the late afternoon, we finally stumbled upon a little hillside pop up village with about eight bungalows. After having spent over a year here and there in various parts of southeast Asia, I had never seen accommodation as picturesque as what was before my eyes. Our group was relieved that we could finally relax and rest our tired muscles.
“Excuse me, Yod, where’s this 7 Eleven you spoke of?” I asked.
He pointed to a small blue cooler and we both laughed. The “7 Eleven” cooler is kept stocked full of water, beer, and snacks that you can buy upon arrival.
While we hydrated with a few beers, the group began to split off as the one day trekkers lazily got ready to head back to Chiang Mai. That left three of us trekkers to relax under the straw-covered picnic table and settle in for the evening.
In the background, we could hear Pisak singing while he cooked us a delicious dinner of stir-fried veggies and tom kha gai. We snapped photos of the quickly changing sunset that made the mountains look like a watercolour painting. It was a wonderful evening chatting under candlelight until the beers kicked in and we were ready for bed.
Day 2: An Amazing Sunrise + Hiking 10 Kilometres
How often do you get to wake up to this view?
We woke up with the sun around 6:00 am. I groggily stepped outside to watch the sky turn from pinkish-orange to blue. The wildflowers in the background were swaying with the morning breeze as the birds sang in harmony.
After taking in the views, I went back to bed knowing we were in no rush to start the day. A few hours later, our small group of three enjoyed a home cooked breakfast of eggs, veggies, fruit, and the oh so wonderful southeast Asian insta-coffee.
It was relaxing knowing that we had no pressing agenda or alarms bothering our morning. We slowly ate, brushed our teeth, and soaked in the warm morning rays. We didn’t want it to end.
Eventually, around 10:30 am, we laced up our boots and got back on the trail. Pisak led the way happily singing and preventing us from taking a wrong turn. It was nice to have a smaller group and we ended up going faster than expected.
After hiking through hilly greenery for about an hour we veered toward an area that opened up to a rice field. It seemed to be a secret valley with mountains peeking down on us. The cows greeted us and we picked up some fruit from the ground for a mid-trek snack.
The area was as photogenic as Thailand always seems to be. We slowly made it to a main road and found ourselves in a village that consists of about 70 families.
After just two and a half hours we had made our way to the Buddha we had seen the day before from the distance. Just a few hundred steps up the staircase entrance completed our trek where we relaxed and ate our lunchtime noodles.
We soon found out that we had trekked much faster on day two than what tended to be the norm. Because of this, we had to relax and wait for another group behind us before heading back to Chiang Mai.
Part of travelling in Thailand, and Southeast Asia in general, is waiting and being flexible with your time. Don’t expect to be on a strict schedule and just go with the flow. So bring a book, art supplies, headphones, and relaaaax!
What is accommodation like on a Doi Inthanon Trek?
The huts that we stayed in overnight were basic but comfortable. The ones that we stayed in during the trek with Ethnic Hill Tribe Eco Trails, were actually built by the indigenous communities themselves in a form of sustainable tourism. The bungalows are surprisingly comfortable and after all that trekking, believe me – you’ll sleep like a log!
In general, your homestay will provide you with blankets, your own private bungalow, toilets, and a cooler to buy extra water, beer, soda, and snacks. Keep in mind that if you are going to stay at a homestay during your Doi Inthanon trek, it may well not have any power outlets.
Group Sizes on a Tour to Doi Inthanon
As mentioned, the group sizes are typically small. My group consisted of nine trekkers and two guides. Although some of our group signed up for the one-day trek, staying the night and getting a full two-day experience was definitely worth it! Three of us spent the night and the other six trekkers seemed a bit sad that their Doi Inthanon experience was coming to an end.
How Much Does a Doi Inthanon Day Trip (& 2-Day Trip) Cost?
The price of the two-day, one-night trek with Ethnic Hill Tribe Eco Trails is $58 USD for a one-day or $116 USD for a two-day trek. While you may hesitate to splurge on a trek for that amount, remember everything that is included in this price.
You get round trip pick-up and drop-off at your hotel. (In comparison, if you rent a songthaew on your own you would pay 1,500 baht ($45 USD) per day.) During the two days, you also get four meals, private accommodation, two guided hikes, two water bottles, and breathtaking views that you cannot see from anywhere else in Thailand. The National Park fee of 300 THB ($10 USD) is also included in the price.
When you add it all up, you can see that taking a small group tour really does offer a very good value money way to see Doi Inthanon National Park!
Overall, was it worth it? YES. I certainly would not have been able to navigate the narrow trails and forks in the road on my own. The guides were professional and they made it an experience I will always remember.
So get out of town, take the path less travelled, and trek on over to Doi Inthanon National Park with Ethnic Hill Tribe Eco Trails. It’ll be a trek to remember while supporting locals who genuinely love teaching travellers about the jungles in their backyard.
Doi Inthanon Trekking Tour – Do’s and Don’ts
- Be flexible. Not everything always goes as planned. Yes, the group is small, but with any group tour, there may be some “not originally planned” circumstances that can pop up.
- Make friends.
- Take your time and enjoy it. The trek is not a race and there is a lot to see during your two days at Doi Inthanon National Park.
- Take a lot of photos.
- Ask questions. The guides speak English well and love chatting about the park. Let them educate you.
- Overpack. Less is more. You will most likely wear the same clothes for two days straight. I made the mistake of bringing clean clothes for day two even though I wore the same thing the entire time.
- Schedule anything else in Chiang Mai during these two days. You may not get back until evening on day two and have to consider traffic when driving in or out of the city.
- Stare at your phone. Go on aeroplane mode and stay off of social media during the two days.
You can book the Doi Inthanon Tour by Ethnic Hilltribes Eco Trails here.
Further Reading: Trekking Chiang Mai