Doi Inthanon National Park hosts the highest point in Thailand at 2565.3341 meters above sea level and has an impressive collection of birds, animals, plants and flowers within its border. As Chiang Mai is starting to heat up and smoke, it is a nice retreat from the city.
Our journey began with our friend channeling his inner race-car driver and zipping us an hour from Chiang Mai City to the first park check-point. With the check-in reached in record time we made a U-turn to visit the temple we’d just passed. The temple design was a bit different and we wandered the grounds taking in the Chinese elements and had our fortunes read.
In Thailand, one method of fortune reading is with a container of numbered sticks. You hold the base of the container and tilt it slightly while gently shaking, until a single stick falls out. The stick has a number which corresponds to a fortune. In populated temples, the sound of sticks being rattled echoes through the temple which I find most wonderful.
My first trip through Thailand my friend translated my fortune for me but these days the fortunes are in Thai, English and Chinese. Something new I learned this trip is that if you get a bad fortune, you can leave it at the temple and not take it home with you (a pretty handy piece of information!). I decided to keep this fortune which seemed overall to be positive, although it did say: “It’s better not to move away because your current resident will bring you good lucks.” Sorry mom, guess I’m staying!
With our fortunes read, we drove to the Park gate and shelled out the 300Baht (about $10) per person to enter the park. We were provided a brochure with a mix of English and Thai and a map of sites to see.
We spun up the mountain until we reached a waterfall I’d read was beautiful, “Wachirathan Waterfall.” We piled out of the car and within a few feet could see a large waterfall with enough water to make it worth noting. The air was a bit cooler and smelled fresher even as the sky was grey from the smog created by the “burning season” (in which farmers in SE Asia burn their fields in preparation for a new year of planting).
We gazed up at the waterfall and took our share of photos. In addition, a Thai man was taking photos of each of us. We were a little confused by this but it served to confirm my dislike of taking pictures of strangers going about their daily life, even when it is interesting and exotic to me. Our friend later said that there was a shop amongst the gift shops selling those photos. I found this a bit odd considering the photographer hadn’t told us that as he was taking the photos so we missed another potential souvenir purchase!
With some mediocre coffee and a “biscuit” (my friends are British/German), we headed off to the next waterfall “Sirithan Waterfall”, which was also lovely. This one we only took a moment to gaze at though. Where there was a path that lead to the base of the waterfall, it was decorated with the word “Danger” so we decided to skip it as we weren’t feeling particularly motivated for a hike.
On this rare trip, I actually did research ahead of time so knew that there was really nothing to see at the highest point and instead most photos came from the two pagodas that were dedicated to the King and Queen of Thailand for their 60th birthdays. We turned off for the pagodas but were shooed away by the security guards to find parking elsewhere which was quickly solved. With the additional entrance fee of 40 Baht, we hopped into a songthaew waiting to take us to the pagodas, for the shortest drive up a tiny hill, under 3 minutes. We exited and were greeted with views of a pagoda to each side.
The pagodas commemorated the King and Queen’s birthdays and were built by the Royal Thai Air Force. The darker pagoda on the left for the King: Phra Mahathat Napha Methanidon (or Phra Maha Dhatu Nabha Metaneedol Chedi) and the one with the purple tint for the Queen: Phra Mahathat Naphaphon Phumisir (or Phra Maha Dhatu Napabol Bhumisiri Chedi). I missed the sign for the King’s pagoda but the Queen’s sign said it took 900 days to build at a cost of 135 million baht, in 1992. (With the exchange rate in 1992, that would have been over 5 million dollars.)
These costly pagodas could be accessed by a sets of stairs OR an escalator, which we took, delighting in this random modern perk.
We were soon at the pagoda base for the King and circled it to see the various scenes in relief and take in the view. Unfortunately the view that day only returned a brownish gray sky with few details and just a hazy mountain outline in the distance. While disappointing, it did inspire me to return outside of the burning season!
I removed my shoes (as is customary) entered the pagoda, my senses instantly delighted in the touch of the cold marble floor and the beautiful song echoing through the small room. I thought it was a lovely recording but then I recognized it as ‘Amazing Grace’ and it faded away. A tourist had been humming it but quit after a moment which was a shame for it was truly beautiful. The room had fantastic acoustics. I was curious to make a sound too but with the continual stream of visitors bowing before the Buddha, including female monks, it seemed inappropriate.
I left and instead partook in the beautiful flowers in the garden. My friend pointing out Snapdragons and put on a brief ventriloquist act making the flowers talk, much to my delight. The garden was filled with bright colors and gardeners keeping them well hydrated. Pansies and poppies were in abundance and I happily snapped away at flowers I’d probably never seen before in person.
The second pagoda had another escalator but I took the stairs as my friend said it wasn’t working, only to eventually pass me on the escalator (which had turned on), hooray for exercise! This pagoda again had the same wonderful acoustics but here a Thai woman was trying them out who laughed and apologized as I entered. Again, unfortunate, for the sound was nice. In this pagoda I did try out a single sound and was pleased with the etherial echo returned.
With another tour through a pretty garden, we moved on to the highest point, which as noted, did not have a view but did have a sign to commemorate our accomplishment. We followed a short trail to the memorial to a previous King Inthanon (which was at a slightly higher incline that the sign). The memorial consisted of a stupa with a ceramic herd of elephants surrounding it.
We’d unintentionally found the Ang Ka Nature Trail and followed it through the canopies of trees. I loved the moss that grew over all the shaded surfaces and the air was even cooler although I sadly never found a need for the jacket I’d brought. The trail ended at a presentation about the different ecosystems in the park and a display of all the various animals and birds that made the area its home: over 38 mammals and 385 birds! While we saw none of the mammals, James and I were intrigued to find out there were *suppose* to be a Malayan sun bear and white-handed gibbon (not to mention slow lorises); why can’t I ever see cute primates in the wild?
With no place to be, we stopped at the little coffee shop and did a bit of bird watching spotting a few different kinds while we enjoyed our coffee. We sampled the local delicacy of a sausage with waffle batter around it (pretty sure it is a 100 year old recipe) and tempted the birds with the dough as it crumbled.
Driving up the mountain we’d passed strawberry stands and farms so that was my next focus. I encouraged a stop at what I thought would be a fresh fruit stand but instead seemed to contain ever manner of dried fruit and nut. As I am hardwired for reciprocal behavior, their allowing me to try the pistachios meant I had to buy a bag and I quickly moved away before I ended up buying each dried fruit variety too.
Within a few steps though, I found what I was actually after: strawberries, in Thai, it is pronounced “straw-bear-EEE!” [for many newer western word it sounds the same but the word rises at the end as if you are really excited about it, like “Tee-VEE!” (TV), fit-NESS! (fitness) or “i-team!” (ice cream). It is important to note if you don’t rise the word at the end, they don’t know what you are talking about]. The strawberries looked like wild ones as they were much smaller than those commonly found in a store and they were so, so sweet. At 30B (about $1), I couldn’t pass them up and bought a bag. The next day I regretted not having bought about 3 more bags, they were that good.
Avoiding any other purchases, we kept descending until we reached the Doi Inthanon Research Station (or Inthanon Royal Project). It was developed as a solution to the local hill tribes growing/producing opium and serves as a research station for highland crop growing and supports several local hill tribes. We arrived about 30 minutes before close but the security guard encouraged us to go in.
It proved to be another lovely garden complete with new-to-me flowers and swans, white and black, in a small lake. An event was being set-up so we had the added benefit of hearing a band warm-up as we strolled through the gardens. It was a nice place to visit (cost was 20B) and turns out there were even lodges to stay there, definitely tempting to think about! At that late hour it was so quiet and peaceful. I’d love to spend the night there and do a bit of star-gazing, I bet you can see thousands of stars there.
As the day wound down, we left the wonderful park and headed to our favorite Italian restaurant (run by a guy actually from Italy) to top off a great day with friends.
More photos from our day: