Chiang Mai is known as much for its abundant cultural traditions as for its proximity to nature. Surrounded by mountains, lakes and waterfalls, there’s always a natural wonder to discover in this northern province. If you’re planning to add nature activities to your Chiang Mai travel itinerary, we recommend visiting one of these national parks.
Doi Inthanon is Thailand’s highest peak and is one of the foothills of the Himalayas. Reaching 2,565 metres above sea-level at its highest elevation, temperatures remain fairly cool on the mountain, making it a popular outdoor destination year-round for both day trips and overnight camping. Don’t let the balmy weather in Thailand fool you, you will definitely want to pack a jumper for this trip.
Take a hike along the stunning Kaew Mae Pan Nature Trail or try the shorter Ang Ka Nature Trail. Doi Inthanon National Park has several waterfalls to explore, the largest of which is Mae Ya Waterfall which cascades over 250 metres in several drops and is nearly 100 metres wide at its best viewing point. An excellent area for birdwatching, the nearly 500 square kilometre park is also home to a variety of wildlife, including the Asiatic Black Bear. If you’re lucky enough to visit during January or February, the cherry blossoms bloom spectacularly during this time of year and shower the forest with pink petals. Also located in Doi Inthanon National Park are the stunning Phra Mahathat Naphamethanidon and Nophamethanidon Chedis built in honour of the Late King Bhumibhol and Queen Sirikit, now the Queen Mother, on their 60th birthdays.
One of Chiang Mai’s most visited national parks, Doi Suthep-Pui National Park stretches west from the city and covers 265 square kilometres of Doi Suthep Mountain and beyond. It’s proximity to the city centre of Chiang Mai makes it easy to get to and a very popular destination. Hire a private car, take one of the infamous Songtaew Red trucks up winding roads, or trek to the peak on foot following the “Monk’s Trail”.
Located at the top of the mountain is Wat Pra That Doi Suthep. If you can make it up the 309 steps flanked with jewelled Nagas (or take the tram if you please) the temple at the top is gorgeously decorated in the Lanna style. The much-photographed golden Chedi is located inside the inner sanctum where Buddhist worshippers walk sunwise around the chedi with their offerings of incense, candles and lotus flowers. From the temple, you also get a great view of the sprawl of Chiang Mai city.
Other attractions on Doi Suthep are Bhuping Palace, Nam Tok Huay Kaew Waterfall, and the Hmong village on Doi Pui Mountain. Bhuping Palace is the northern winter home of the royal family. Visitors may tour the gardens which are famed for their roses, beloved by the Queen Mother. Nam Tok Huay Kaew is a popular area within the park for bird watching and for picnicking near the small waterfall. You may also want to visit the Hmong village and learn about one of Thailand’s hill-tribe groups and shop for handicrafts.
Less high up than the first two parks though still hilly, Mae Wang National Park is a popular destination for trekking and rafting. The national park is actually a collection of parks and conservation areas spanning over 700 square kilometres. The geography and topography of this area is unique, with canyons and pillars carved out where the Ping River used to run. What remains is known as Pha Chor Canyon, and is one of the park’s most popular sites. Whitewater rafting, as well as more sedate bamboo river rafting, can be enjoyed at this park, in addition to jungle trekking.
Many of Chiang Mai’s elephant camps also can be found around Mae Wang. Though we advise against visiting any elephant camps that offer rides and shows, if you would like to interact with elephants, we would recommend Chai Lai Orchid, a social enterprise which also runs an elephant rescue operation.
Whether you enjoy exploring jungles on foot, want a chance to see birds and wildlife, or just like to sit in a beautiful place and take in the view, a trip to one of these three national parks, just a short drive away from the Chandra Residence, are a great chance to get away from the concrete jungle and surround yourself with lush green nature.