Sunday, March 31, 2013

Mae Hong Song Loop Part 5: Doi Inthanon

View from the top of Doi Inthanon
We left Khun Yuam somewhat early Thursday morning to start the drive to Doi Inthanon, the tallest mountain in Thailand and a huge national park. Eric had read really great things about Doi Inthanon and we planned on staying 2 or 3 nights before returning the motorbike in Chiang Mai. Although the drive was just as beautiful as all the other days, the novelty of traveling by motorbike was wearing off for me. It was our third day in a row of driving (we should’ve stayed two nights in Mae Hong Song) and my butt was definitely feeling it.

The road going into the park was exceptionally windy and steep and we spent a lot of time in first gear puttering up the mountain. We saw a sign for a campsite and turned off the main road into the national park to find an amazing, yet empty, campsite. It was a bit too empty and we found only one man working at the information building to have little to no information. We didn’t bring our tent on this trip and learned that you could only rent them at headquarters, which was about 30 km away.
Freezing and bummed about the expensive hike
Before going to headquarters, we drove to the top of the mountain (this is Thailand so of course there is a 

road that goes to the top and not a hiking trail). It was actually freezing at the top so we didn’t spend much time up there. We tried to do a hike that Eric had read about that was near the top and supposedly had great views. Unfortunately it cost 200 baht each to do this hike (paying to do a hike that “requires” a guide-no thank you). This should have been an early sign to us about the type of operation this national park was running. When we finally made it to headquarters, we learned that renting a tent, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads cost the same as staying in a nice guesthouse, but we paid up since our only other option was a lot more time on the motor bike to get to the nearest town. We then drove over to the campsite to see enough camouflage tents set up to house an army, all of which were empty, so we took our pick. This just made what would have been a kind of disappointing experience a hilarious one that was so stereotypically Thai.

Thing started looking up when we were able to share our silly experience with another random American at the campsite who had just gotten out of a 2 week meditation retreat. The three of us took advantage of the evening by walking to 2 of the few free attractions at the park- a waterfall and a research center/garden. The waterfall was a small hike from the research center, which was more like an immaculately groomed arboretum. We strolled through the gardens and thoroughly enjoyed our evening activity before dinner.

Another strange thing about the park was that there were a few different villages in the area that became the park, but the villagers weren’t kicked out or anything so our campsite was across the street from a village with food stalls, a school, and small grocery store. The people were very friendly, though, and it was convenient having good cheap food so accessible.


So obviously we decided against staying in Doi Inthanon more than one night and parted ways with our new friend Friday morning. She planned on hitch hiking her way to the top of the mountain and we planned on checking out some more waterfalls and a cave. We were hoping for some hikes, but the waterfalls were basically on the side of the main road (but still beautiful) and we never ended up finding the cave. The side of the park that we exited from is very close to a main highway, which was quite a change after over a week of windy country roads and we made our way into the bustling city of Chiang Mai.

It really was an amazing trip and different from anything I have ever done, especially in Thailand. If I were to do it again, I would stay two nights in Mae Hong Song and then go further south to Mae Sariang bypassing Khun Yuam and Doi Inthanon. I would highly recommend Chiang Dao and Pai to anyone traveling in the north of Thailand and Mae Hong Song if you have more time or are on the western border. Traveling by motorbike in those regions allowed me to see what I envisioned when I thought of Thailand before moving here. That is, rural villages, beautiful unscathed mountains (besides the burning), and truly friendly people. Definitely a trip I will remember for the rest of my life!

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