Category Archives: Chiang Mai

Lucky Elephants Go to Haven

Elephant Haven

One year ago I visited the Elephant Nature Park north of Chiang Mai. The camp was created by Sangduen Chailert (Lek) who has been working to protect Thai elephants throughout her life. Many elephant camps around Thailand exploit elephants to make a profit. Lek’s camp was created as a sanctuary for elephants. Her aim is to purchase mistreated elephants and allow them to retire at her camp which is located in some beautiful misty, green mountains in Northern Thailand.

Lek’s story sounds like the making of a Hollywood movie. She was featured in a National Geographic video which exposed the brutality of the phajaan. This term can be translated to mean “crush” and is a technique used to “crush” the spirit of a wild elephant and thereby tame them. The phajaan involves locking an elephant in a tiny pen which prevents any movement. The young elephant who is newly separated from their mother is beaten, deprived of sleep for several days, and jabbed with sharp spears. This is done until the elephant submits to human commands.

The National Geographic documentary exposed this inhumane practice. This video was shown to the visitors of Lek’s camp and her assistant, an Australian woman named Michele, told Lek’s story. Michele explained that shortly after the video was released, the animal rights group PETA held an international press conference, at which they played the video and then called for a complete ban of tourism in Thailand. The entire country lost face.

As a backlash to this tactic, Lek was completely vilified. A price was placed for Lek’s assassination and she was forced to go into hiding. While living underground, one of her baby elephants was poisoned and murdered.

Lek with a rescued elephant

Several years later, the uproar has died down and Lek is no longer in fear for her life. She can be found spending her days caring for her herd of elephants and seeking new animals to rescue. She was featured in the October issue of National Geographic and Time Magazine named her as one of Asia’s forty heroes this year.

The camp itself is absolutely amazing. It feels like a Disney movie. Each of the elephants has such an interesting story and very distinct personalities. One elephant was blinded by its abusive owner. This elephant is watched closely by two other elephants who act as its eyes. There were old elephants, a baby elephant, and a “white” elephant, together forming a family that is the herd.

One elephant had recently been captured in Chiang Mai after having gone on a rampage and destroying much of a restaurant. Police captured the elephant and didn’t know what to do with it, so they delivered it to Lek. The night we were there, the drunken owner arrived and insisted on retrieving “his” animal. The elephant had already bonded with the other elephants and was doing wonderfully at the camp. However, there was nothing Lek could do to stop its owner from forcing the frightened animal into the back of a truck in the middle of the night. The scene was heartbreaking.

The elephant is a national symbol of Thailand. Yet, elephants and their owners are forced to beg for money in the streets of Bangkok. Many of the animals are abused and they are disappearing from the forests. I highly recommend visiting Lek’s camp and supporting her cause. Visit the camp website and consider supporting a very good cause.

Protecting a baby

A Trip to Chiang Mai

Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

The famous temple on Doi Suthep

Chiang Mai is recognized as the capital of Northern Thailand. The city itself has a lot to offer but it is also a major hub for a variety of trips that include hiking in the mountains, visiting hilltribe people, elephant and bamboo raft rides and handicraft villages. The city is about 700 kms north of Bangkok and if you drive straight here it will take you at least 10 hours. This is now my fourth visit to Chiang Mai in the last 12 years. The first time I came by overnight sleeper train which was both convenient and comfortable. The second time I flew here as the prices of domestic air flight have become very reasonable. The last two occasions I drove to Chiang Mai. I didn’t do this because it is cheaper than flying. In fact, the cost of petrol has gone up so much now that that the price of an airline ticket is cheaper. However, I really love the experience of driving on the open road and the convenience of being able to pack in the car just about everything, excluding the kitchen sink. And with a car you never need to worry where you will stay each night as you can just drive around until you find a hotel with a vacancy. (More on driving in Thailand later)

The main part of the city is defined by the moat and the remnants of the old city wall. Most of the guesthouses are towards the east side of the city and between the eastern moat and the Ping River. It is not that easy driving around the city. Apart from narrow lanes there are also one way roads. When I was driving around I was always worried about turning left down a one way road. They don’t always put up signs and they just presume you should know. Chiang Mai also has pedestrian crossings with traffic lights. I didn’t realize this at first and I kept running the lights and nearly knocked down a few tourists. (I am so used to Bangkok driving where you ignore pedestrians crossing the road.) After a while it started to makes sense. The road on the outside of the moat takes you around the city clockwise. Every now and then you will come across a u-turn which puts you on the road that takes you counter-clockwise around the city on the inside of the moat. Tourists without their own transport can flag down the red songtaews which roam the city. Unlike the songtaews back home, if you pay them enough they will become your personal taxis. Otherwise they pick up other passengers going the same way. Just tell the driver where you want to go. These cost about 10–15 baht when shared. When I came here the first time I rented a tuk tuk for the morning and used this to see the city sights.

The number one attraction is undoubtedly Wat Phra That Doi Suthep on a nearby mountainside. On my last trip this gave some splendid views of the city and surrounding countryside. However, this time I couldn’t even see the mountain from the city. The steep winding road to the top is about 10 kms long and is exhausting even if you are driving. However, we passed a few people along the way who were cycling and even some who were walking! But, the rewards at the top are rewarding with its golden chedi sparkling in the bright sunshine. Within the city moat there are about a dozen or so temples. But only a handful are considered highlights and are visited by people on the city tour. These are Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Chiang Man and two just outside which are Wat Suan Dok and Wat Chedi Chet Yot. However, I think you will find other temples within the city that are not only just as interesting but certainly more beautiful. It is delightful when you discover these hidden gems for yourself.


Umbrella Village at  Bo-Sang

There is more to Chiang Mai than the temples. Shopping, of course, is a major part of any tourists schedule to this city. The most famous center for shopping is the Night Bazaar. Both sides of Changklan Road, near the Ping River, are lined with hundreds of  mobile vendors. During the daytime, you can also get good prices at the nearby Warorot Market. If you are in the city at the weekend then it is well worth visiting the Sunday Walking Street Market along Ratchadamnern Road. If you can find a guesthouse down a soi off this main road then you would be in a perfect place. The nearer to Thapae Gate you can get means the nearer you will be to the Night Bazaar. Chiang Mai is also the center for handicrafts. You can join tours where they will take you to factories to see things like the making of the colourful umbrellas and silk clothes. If you are driving yourself, just head east towards Bo-Sang Village for the umbrellas or south to Thawai Village for woodcarving.

On my last trip to Chiang Mai I visited Doi Inthanon which is the highest peak in Thailand (if you didn’t know by now, “doi” means mountain in northern dialect). It is 2,565 metres above sea level and even in summer it can be quite cool compared to Chiang Mai which is only 100 kms away. During winter it can go below freezing and is one of the few places in Thailand where you will see ice. You can join overnight trekking tours to this national park (don’t forget foreigners have to pay 200 baht entrance fee) or do it yourself. There are many trails which are clearly marked. It is also worth visiting the twin pagodas which celebrate the 60th birthdays of their Majesties the King and Queen. The flowers here are very beautiful. There are a number of waterfalls you can also visit.

On my first visit to Chiang Mai I joined the hilltribe trek which many backpackers do. You can book these at any tour agency in town. They usually last for two nights and three days. Most of them have the same schedule but they visit different areas. For example, Mae Taeng, Doi Inthanon or Pai. The latter town is fast becoming the place for backpackers to hang out and they often go straight there from Khao San Road. When I did the trek over ten years ago, the agency guaranteed that we wouldn’t meet any other tourists during the trek. I wonder if they can still give such guarantees. On the first day they took us to a waterfall where we had lunch and then in the afternoon we walked for several hours to reach a Karen village. This is where we spent the first night in a wooden hut. I remember our tour guide giving us a demonstration of how to smoke opium. The next day we walked for about three hours before we reached an elephant camp. Here we rode an elephant for about two hours which I assure you was more than enough time. We ended up at a Lahu tribe village where we spent the night. The last day we walked a short way to the river where climbed aboard some very rickety bamboo rafts. We then drifted downstream for about two hours. At the point where the river met the main road we were picked up by minivan and whisked back to Chiang Mai. You can also do this trek for two days.

Elephant camp

If you have limited time or don’t fancy staying overnight in a hilltribe village, you can join one day tours. This is what I did on my second visit to Chiang Mai when I flew there with my sister. We joined a tour that took us north to Chiang Dao Elephant Training Camp. We actually passed there this afternoon and we stopped briefly to take some pictures. We arrived too late for the elephant bathing show which started at 10 a.m. However, we saw most of the elephant show. The guy at the ticket office felt sorry for us and only charged us 30 baht each instead of 60 baht.  The show was actually quite good as it gave demonstrations on how the elephants used to work in the forests shifting logs and stacking them in piles. Most of the people watching this were on package tours. Afterwards they went on an elephant trek into the jungle for about an hour. We didn’t join them but I guess we could have done. The full price of 60 baht was pretty good when these one day tours cost about 800 baht. It is easy to catch a bus this way and they will drop you off at the front gate. When I went on this one day tour before, they took us on a short bamboo raft ride as well in the afternoon. Then on the way back we stopped at an orchid and butterfly farm.

During our last trip to Chiang Mai we drove the loop west through Pai and on towards Mae Hong Son. Here we visited the long necked hilltribe. Then on the return leg we stopped at Doi Inthanon. This time we are driving the loop the other way. We have already spent one week in Chiang Mai and it is time to move on. But would need a month here to see and experience everything properly. The route we are on at present is taking us north-east to Thaton, Doi Mae Salong, Doi Tung (Mae Fa Luang), Mae Sai,  and then down to the Golden Triangle, Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai, Phayao, Nan, Phrae and back across to Lampang. We won’t be going back to Chiang Mai but instead we will then head back home via Tak. More about this part of the trip in a few days. As I am writing this it is pouring with rain so hopefully this won’t disrupt our sightseeing tomorrow.


For this trip I took along with me only two guidebooks. (Usually I take at least half a dozen guidebooks.) These were “Chiang Mai & Northern Thailand” written by Joe Cummings for Lonely Planet and the very informative “Exploring Chiang Mai” written by Oliver Hargrave. For road maps to drive here I used “Thailand Road Atlas” published by Lotus Image and “A2Z Atlas of Northern Thailand” published by PN Map. The two city maps I bought were the Nancy Chandler Map of Chiang Mai and the Personal Compact Guide for Chiang Mai. However, once in Chiang Mai it is possible to pick up a variety of free street maps as well as tourist information at the Tourism Authority of Thailand office.

“A Lot of Thai” – Thai Cooking School

A Lot of Thai

Today I spent an enjoyable day learning how to cook Thai food at the “A Lot of Thai” home cooking class in Chiang Mai. For about a month now I have been trying to decide which Thai cooking school I would attend while on holiday in the north of Thailand. There are about 20 schools in this city and I wanted to help people choose the best value for money course. I did shop around quite a bit. I visited a number of cooking schools, spoke to some of the students and also observed their visits to local markets. I was going to attend a couple of classes before I made my final decision. However, after today, I can unreservedly recommend “A Lot of  Thai” as an excellent choice for a Thai cooking school in Chiang Mai. This should be your first choice of school if you want to learn how to cook Thai food in a homely atmosphere. The school is run by Yui and her husband Kwan. Unlike other schools, Yui doesn’t delegate teaching duties to younger assistants. She not only has excellent Thai culinary skills but she also speaks English with a good accent and with great confidence.

As we had our own transport, we drove ourselves to Yui’s house which is just outside the city center down a quiet soi. Yui greeted us at the front gate and invited us into her house. Kwan had gone out in his VW minivan to pick up the two other students from their hotel and hadn’t come back yet. So we took this opportunity to chat with Yui about her school. She told us that she used to teach at the famous Thai Cookery school for a couple of years. At the same time she attended the local AUA school in the evenings in order to improve her English language skills. In 2001 she married Kwan (they had been dating since 1998) and together decided to open a home cooking school at his parents’ house. A year later their son Sid was born. Kwan quit his graphic designer job in order to support Yui full time. However, he used his skills to produce their excellent brochure and also the Thai Cookbook which they give away for free to every student. There are 29 recipes of popular dishes that they teach at their school. There are also instructions for making curry paste and dips. But the best thing are the18 pages of pictures detailing the ingredients that are used in Thai cooking. I would have bought this cookbook for sure if I had seen it for sale in a book store. (We will be giving a copy of this cookbook away to one lucky reader. Details at the bottom of this page.)

A short while later the other two students arrived and Yui took us through to the kitchen for the first demonstration. Today we cooked six dishes. These were: pad thai, tom yum kung, spring rolls, green curry, stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts and mango with sticky rice. There are four courses you can choose from which are run on different days. This is the popular one which is taught four days a week. The other three courses are run on the three remaining days of the week. Yui will teach the class even if there is only one student. Maximum class size is eight people. Unlike other schools which are run in homes, there is plenty of room for all of the students to stand around the demonstration table. There is also plenty of room between each of the work stations. This is quite important as foreigners are generally larger than Thai people and need plenty of elbow room. Yui said comfort is very important at her school. Although it is Thai custom to sit on the floor to prepare food and even to eat, she knows that not all foreigners find this comfortable. So she prepared spacious workstations with high stalls and a Western style dining room table.

A lot of the ingredients had already been prepared in advance by the grandmother. However, Yui demonstrated how to chop up things like garlic. She showed us  how to chop off one end and then crush it before removing the skin. Then it was finely chopped. All of this was done at her workstation first. Here she showed us how to prepare the ingredients and then how to cook the food. She kept talking the whole time giving us plenty of tips. One tip which I will certainly use is to put the garlic in cold oil first. So may times I have added the garlic to hot oil and before I was ready with other ingredients the garlic was going from a golden brown colour to a burnt colour. This way you have more time. Once the demonstration was over we went back to our workstation to cook the dish ourselves. Yui kept hovering up and down each station making sure we had everything prepared correctly before starting the cooking. If there was something we couldn’t remember then she would quickly help us. Surprisingly, each of the dishes were quite easy and I think everyone ended up cooking some excellent looking dishes. They even looked like the real thing. Even mine!


The brochure says “Please don’t have a big breakfast”. I would say don’t have any breakfast as you will be snacking on  six dishes throughout the day! In the morning we ate pad thai at 10.30 a.m. Then a little while later we sat down to eat the tom yum kung soup. Next came the spring rolls but we were so stuffed by this time that we asked if we could take these home to eat later. At about midday, Yui and Kwan drove us to the local Nong Hoi market. This actually worked out as a nice break from cooking. Most schools do the market visit first thing in the morning. You go with your teacher carrying baskets in order to buy the ingredients for the meals you are going to cook that day. In theory that sounds like a good idea. However, it does means you concentrate on just the dishes you are cooking. Yui had already bought all of the ingredients before the class had begun. This meant she could spend all of the time at the market explaining about the different ingredients.

I have watched six different schools do this part and I can tell you that Yui was the most competent. Her English was un-mistakenly the best which helped a lot. Also, she knew what she was talking about and was happy to answer our questions. Listening to some of the other teachers they sounded like they had memorized a speech. Yui also had a good rapport with the vendors as this was her local market. The other day we had visited Sompet market which was both smaller and inferior. Yet at least six different cooking schools took their students here. I felt sorry for the vendors as there were so many foreigners milling around. I told Yui that she should put in her brochure that she could almost guarantee that you wouldn’t bump into any other foreigners at her local market. However, another group did turn up, but the market was so big and they actually left before we had finished drinking our iced coffee.

I learned a lot at the market. Yui didn’t restrict herself to just the ingredients for what we were cooking that day. She showed us things like the different kinds of rice (her family prefers brown rice as it is more healthy), the different Thai fruit which is in season and how to choose a ripe mango, the large selections of Thai dessert, the numerous kinds of noodles and of course the wide range of vegetables. The different varieties of basil are always confusing but she clearly explained the difference. When we were finished, she telephoned Kwan and he came to pick us up in the VW. We were away for about an hour. The time had gone really quick.


In the afternoon we were taught how to cook three of my favourite dishes. These were green curry, stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts and the wonderful dessert of mango with sticky rice. The above is the result of my work which I am pretty proud about. Once we had finished cooking these three dishes we then sat down at about 2.30 p.m. to eat them. Hopefully you will allow me to say that they were really delicious. Honestly, they were! As it was the end of the course, Yui sat down to chat with us while Kwan cleared the dishes. Actually, that was one of the best things about attending this course. Not only was everything prepared for us, but we were given clean woks and cooking utensils between each dish. I think that if this was any other cooking school the teacher would have kicked us out when the course ended at 3 p.m. However, Yui remained chatting with us for over an hour.

So, how much did this one day class cost? Well consider first that it included a six dish meal. And then there is the cookbook which I would have bought if I had seen it in a bookstore. Then there is the excellent cooking course and of course the visit to the local market. All of this only cost 900 baht (about $27) which was excellent value for money. Yui said that if you ring her or Kwan yourself  she will even give you a 7% discount. Their home number is 053 800724 and mobile number 089 853 9680. Don’t forget, you do not need an agency or your hotel to do this for you as they both speak excellent English. Also, please remember to say “Hi!” from me. I am missing them already.

Thai Cooking Classes in Chiang Mai

One of the main reasons I am in Chiang Mai at the moment is to check out the situation of Thai cookery classes. I not only wanted to attend a couple of classes for my own benefit, but I also wanted to write some reviews for the website. I had done most of my research in advance. On the Internet I had discovered that there were at least 15 cooking schools in Chiang Mai alone. In comparison, I think Bangkok only has two or three. Before I left I wrote emails to all of the schools asking if I could visit them to take pictures. Only five schools bothered to write back to me. These were: A Lot of Thai, Thai Farm Cooking School, Air’s Thai Culinary Kitchen, Chiangmai Thai Cookery School and Gap’s Culinary Art School.

Once I had arrived in Chiang Mai I did some more research. First I checked out the free magazine to see if any of the schools were established enough to take out advertising. I only found two adverts: Chiangmai Thai Cookery School and Baan Thai. Apparently, these were the first and second school respectively that were established in Chiang Mai. All of the other schools just seemingly jumped on the bandwagon. I next visited the Tourist Authority of Thailand. Here I found an excellent brochure made by the cooking school A Lot of Thai. It was really nicely done with beautiful pictures of the dishes and a handy map of Chiang Mai. The person at the information desk handed me a list of cookery schools which has now added a few more to my already long list.

Next I visited a few of the Tour Agencies. There must be hundreds of these in Chiang Mai. If you want to book treks, elephant rides, bus tickets, dinner theatre tickets etc., then you won’t have much trouble.  These agencies are like 7–Eleven and you will find them on almost every corner! Although these agencies acknowledge that there are other cooking schools, they are always trying to push you into signing up for their favorite school. The name “Pad Thai” came up a few times. It is really difficult to know how sincere these people are. Are these schools genuinely the best or are these just the ones that pay out the highest commission.? Most courses seem to be around the 800–900 baht figure. However, I hear that some greedy agencies can demand up to 250 baht commission per person. To counteract that, I saw on some brochures and adverts that they say you should ring the schools directly and not go through an agency. Some even offer you a discount if you do that.

This morning, I went to visit Sompet Market as I had heard this was a good place to buy fresh produce. I was mainly going to take pictures rather than buy anything. You will find this market on the eastern side of the old city close to the moat. By the time we arrived it was 10 a.m. and there weren’t that many people around. I was the only foreigner there and there were probably about a dozen or so Thai customers. I wandered around taking a few pictures of ingredients and people shopping. Then I spotted a group of foreigners arriving. They were all carrying shopping baskets. I then realized that this must be one of the local cooking schools bringing their students to the market for a visit. I went closer to see what the teacher was saying. She was explaining about the different vegetables. There were about six students in the class. I tapped one on the shoulder and asked what cookery school he was attending. He gave me a blank look and then turned to his friend. I thought maybe they didn’t understand my question but it turned out that they had no idea!

A short while later another group of foreigners turned up with their Thai teacher. Then another and another and another. We were there about 30 minutes and in total I counted six groups! I am not joking when I say that the foreigners were now outnumbering the Thai customers. We did our best to listen to what the teachers were saying and also to find out what school they came from. Most of the teachers were young and their English wasn’t really that good. They had a strong accent and no confidence. Some didn’t seem to say much and others seemed to say too much! During my research, I got the impression that the teachers were all very experienced and were quite often the owners of the schools. But now it was starting to look like that they were sometimes passing the classes onto younger, less experienced people.

Baan Thai

One of the schools that was sending their students to Sompet Market was Baan Thai. I was impressed with their website and was keen to visit. But, I was disappointed that they never bothered to reply to my email. With so much competition I think it is really important that they have an Internet presence. But, maybe they didn’t need to worry, as like their brochure proudly boasts, that they are “recommended by Lonely Planet”. But that means nothing. From experience, once these places get themselves featured in LP they then never bother to improve their business. As Baan Thai didn’t seem to be far away we decided to go and take a look for ourselves.

We found the cookery school down a narrow soi that was really only wide enough for a car and a half. It was a quiet soi but it looked like that many of the private houses had now been turned into guesthouses or restaurants. Parking was a real problem for us but I guess most of their clientele are backpackers and they would be walking. The funny thing is, we counted four cooking schools here alone! It looked like that everyone fancied themselves as cooks and teachers. It was a bit like them saying, “Well if my neighbour can do it then so can I!”. So, they bought a few cooking stations and put up a lean-to around the back for the classroom. Simple really.

I was really hoping that Baan Thai was going to be more than just a cooking school that operated round the back of someone’s house. I was impressed with their advertising and website. I had heard they were the second cooking school in Chiang Mai. But, to be honest, I was a little disappointed. The pictures on their web site had made everything look so spacious. But, it wasn’t. We inquired whether the owner was at home but was told that she was away. It didn’t look like she taught any more. The front room had a low table where the students could sit on the floor and eat their creations. Around the back we found the students in the middle of a lesson. There were only four of them. They seemed happy though I felt that the teacher seemed a little unsure of herself. Maybe she hadn’t had much experience yet.

When you come to pick a school you need to decide whether you want the small personal touch from a school run in a family home or a more professional school that can have 20 in a class. I like the idea of a family run school. But, the owner would also have to be the teacher. Once that person delegates their work to other people then that place loses the personal touch. Tomorrow I will be attending my first cookery class. I have chosen A Lot of Thai partly because it has small classes taught by the owner, but also because the husband of the teacher was so chatty in his several emails to me. I will let you know later how I got on with this class.

Camping on the highest mountain in Thailand

Sign at the Summit of Doi Inthanon

The layout of Doi Inthanon National Park

When it gets hot here in Chiangmai during the months of April through May we load the pick-up truck and head to the highest mountain in Thailand at Doi Inthanon National Park.

Soon after entering the park gate, the road climbs steeply through a cutting before leveling out, passing the Doi Inthanon National Park Information Center, overlooking the Mae Klang river on the left. The road passes through open dry forest and after crossing over to the left bank, follows the course of the river, overlooking it. In the dry season, the leaves of the trees become yellow and red, before being shed.

As the road climbs gradually, an evergreen gallery forest begins develop along the banks of the river, supporting many tall and stately trees. Soaring birds of prey can sometimes be seen over the steep ridge on the north side of the road. The more level areas in the vicinity of the river are now cultivated and support small areas of orchard or vegetable gardens.

Above the waterfall, the road once again crosses over the Mae Klang River and continues to ascend the mountain, following the north bank. The surroundings change very abruptly in character, and pines predominate in many areas.

The next area supports Hmong and Karen villages, there are many government offices and residential buildings, including the headquarters of the National Park and various highway and construction works. Here is where the campsites are but you first must check in at the Park Headquarters. There are also cabins for rent however most are rented well in advance.

Here we are above 1500 meters and the temperature is like a beautiful spring day. Time to find a camping spot. Its lunchtime, so we travel up the road about 100 meters from the Park Headquarters to the Doi Inthanon Birding Center. There are several restaurants near the park headquarters but the food is not very good. Mr. Dang and his wife at the birding center are excellent cooks and fun to be around. Here is where all the bird watchers gather to talk about sightings. We will talk about bird watching later.

From here the road winds uphill sharply and past a park checkpoint. Just a little further is a mountain ridge with excellent vistas on both sides of the road. If the weather is clear, at one spot you can see the city of Chiangmai on your right. Just a little further on your left is the twin Chedi dedicated to the King and Queen. These beautiful Thai structures are a must visit. You will need to walk up several flights of steps to reach them but well worth it.

Next stop is the summit. Here we get out of our vehicle and walk up the steps to the shrine dedicated to the Lanna Thai King who first designated this area as a national park. Walk behind the shrine to a concrete pillar and stand on it. You are now on the highest point in Thailand.

How we got there, what we did.

We departed Chiangmai at 9 am it was already 35 degrees C. and started the short 1 1/2 hour drive to the park. We left Chiangmai by highway 108 through Hang Dong and Sanpatong and then about one kilometer before Chom Tong turned right on highway 1009. There is a big sign in English stating “Doi Inthanon” where you turn so it’s easy to find. Continue 8 kilometers to where the road forks and then keep to the right where you will see the park entrance. The entrance fee is 200 baht and they have free maps and information for you that you will need. A copy of the park map can be seen online and might be a useful reference as you read this article.

Your first stop should be the Visitor’s Center a kilometer or so past the park entrance on the left side. There they have more information and many exhibits and a slide show about the park in English. You need to know the park rules that levy stiff fines if broken (such as for picking flowers); these rules are written on the back of all the maps and brochures. After getting all the information we needed we headed straight to the Park Headquarters at Kilometer marker 31. As we approached the booth for accommodations reservations both we noticed a thermometer and found it was a perfect 26 degrees C. We decided to spend our first night in a tent and second night in a bungalow. We made our reservations for the bungalow. Since we were going to ride around the park the park ranger kept our bags for us and we proceeded to the campgrounds to pitch our tent. Tents can be rented for 60 baht and blankets at 15 baht each.

After putting up the tent we were getting hungry and headed back to see our friend Mr.Dang at the Doi Inthanon Birding Center. Mr. Dang?s restaurant is open from 7 am to 8 pm serving delicious Thai food at great prices. While having lunch we were told that a 7- man soccer match was being played this afternoon on the soccer field next to the restaurant on the Park Headquarters grounds. The match was between a Karen hill tribe village and a Hmong hill tribe village located in the park so we stayed and watched the action under the shade trees drinking ice-cold beer. We made plans to do some hiking on the Gew Mae Pan Trail near the Doi Inthanon summit (above 2000 meters tomorrow) so today was for relaxing, which I myself am very good at doing.

Just before dark we ate our dinner, again at Mr. Dang?s, got our things from the park ranger and went to our campgrounds. In May there aren’t many people in the park so a secluded place to put our tent was easy to find. We built a nice campfire and I spent the evening reading while my wife did her crochet. The only sound was that of the crickets and with the smell of pine and clean fresh air drifting off to sleep was a total pleasure I haven’t experienced in many months while living in the crowded city. The next morning we awoke early and packed up the tent and returned to the park ranger and again he kept our bags for us. I checked the thermometer and it was a cool 18 degrees C.

We had our breakfast at the birding center headed toward the summit passing fruit and flower stands owned by Hmong Hilltribe people. Here we stopped to have a look and across the street were green houses filled with beautiful flowers. The growing of flowers is a Royal Project so the hill tribe people can live in harmony with the park’s conservation plans instead of doing their traditional slash and burn farming.

Hiking in real rain forest

The 2.5-kilometer Gew Mae Pan Trail begins about half a kilometer past the twin Chedis at kilometer marker 42. We decided to leave our vehicle at the Chedi and walk the horseshoe shaped trail to the end and return the same way. This turned out to be a good idea as the mountains were covered with mist and clouds and the view although beautiful was limited on our way out. On the way back the clouds had lifted and the view was spectacular.

The trail begins through dense forest with lush ferns and moss covering the tree trunks. Wild orchids and colorful birds are plentiful. It’s uphill most of the way, crossing streams and climbing over and ducking under logs. The temperature is perfect for hiking and the sounds of the many birds and creeks are very enjoyable. After about an hour you come upon a clearing looking toward the west. When we arrived clouds were rushing up from the valley floor to meet us.

The next portion of the trail is through dense forest again crossing several streams. The park has provided small bridges to make crossing the streams easy. The last part of the trail is through a lovely evergreen forest with pine trees much different and larger than those found at our campsite.

We returned the way we came following the trail to the clearing and this time the clouds had lifted leaving a spectacular view of the valley floor and surrounding mountains. Two hawks were circling above, diving to the valley floor then lifting again on the air currents along the cliff edge, their screeching echoing through the canyon below.

We spent a total of six hours on the trail and saw only two other people. They were Thai photographers doing a story for a nature magazine. We could have stayed longer but hunger was setting in so we returned to the restaurant at the Birding Center.

This evening was spent in our comfortable bungalow. We made reservations the day before. The bungalow has electricity and is equipped with a king size bed in the bedroom and a single bed with table and chairs in the living room. It has a big but simple bathroom with shower and Thai style toilet. Simple accommodations for only 300 baht per night and the bed was very comfortable and the night quiet.

The next day we spent visiting the many waterfalls in the park. The first one was very close to our bungalow and actually two waterfalls named after the King and Queen and called Siriphum waterfalls. The next two waterfalls were also close together and the road getting there was a little difficult but worth the effort. We went just past the second check point at kilometer marker 38 and turned left toward Mae Chaem and traveled about 8 kilometers. Here there is a sign where you turn right and travel the dirt road for 2 kilometers to the ranger station. From there it’s a 500-meter walk to Mae Pan waterfall and 200 meters to Huai Luaeng waterfall.

Our last stop was on the way out of the park at Mae Ya waterfall. To get there you need to go back to Cham Tong and just before you get to highway 108 you will see the sign Mae Ya waterfall. Follow the signs for about 14 kilometers from here. There will be a checkpoint where they collect a 200 baht fee to enter. Just tell them you have been staying in the park and show them the receipt and they will let you in for free. This waterfall is great for photographs and over 250 meters tall. Try to go on a weekday, as the weekends are very crowded with Thais picnicking and swimming.

We had a great time although we didn’t see everything such as Brichinda cave. We would also like to spend some time bird watching. The Park staff was a great help and very friendly and I would recommend this trip to anyone. So next time it gets too hot in Chiangmai head to Doi Inthanon National Park.