While I was living in Chiang Mai, Thailand and volunteering with The Life Development Center in collaboration with Venture With Impact I was invited on an overnight trek around Doi Inthanon. I set off with my fellow volunteers for an outdoor adventure trekking around Doi Inthanon, the tallest mountain in Thailand, to search for waterfalls, interact with local hill tribes, and get lost in Thailand’s lush nature.
Our adventure was led by a local Karen tribesman named Sam who invited us to stay in his family home and get a glimpse into his daily life as he showed us secret waterfalls and introduced us to the handicrafts and agriculture of his people. Here are all the breathtakingly beautiful places we found around Doi Inthanon.
MAE YA WATERFALL
Our day around the highlands of Doi Inthanon National Park started at the massive Mae Ya Waterfall. The gigantic natural waterfall cascades over tiered rocks and is just as wide as it is tall! It’s dangerous to enter the fall and walk along the slippery rocks but there are plenty of fresh water wading pools that are safe to swim in further downhill.
ROYAL AGRICULTURE PROJECT
Next, we traversed to The Royal Agriculture Project which was founded in 1969 by His Majesty the King Bhumibol Adulyadej after the monarchy banned the growth of opium which was the main source of income in the area. The opium fields were burnt down and replaced with incredible gardens that cultivate native flowers such as roses and orchids. Don’t miss the beautiful couple of black swans that float elegantly on the surface of the pond.
KING AND QUEEN PAGODAS
The highlight of a day-trip to Doi Inthanon is to pay a visit to the stunning King and Queen pagodas nestled near the top of the mountain’s peak. The mountain was named in honor of King Inthawichayanon who dedicated much of his time as the ruler to preserving Thailand’s nature. The king’s ashes are buried elsewhere on the mountain but a beautiful brown pagoda was erected in his honor in these gardens in 1987. Across from his monument is a lavender structure for his queen which was built in 1992 in her favorite color, which just so happens to be my favorite color, too! The pagodas were built 5 years apart intentionally, to represent their difference in age, the queen was 5 years younger and her pagoda is also 5 meters shorter than the kings!
KING INTHANON SHRINE
The ashes of the beloved King Inthawichayanon, who was known as King Inthanon, are buried on the mountain underneath a simple yet serene shrine that’s guarded by majestic elephants. Thai people come here to pay respects to the ancestral monarch and leave offerings of jasmine garlands.
Similar to the Mossy Forest in Cameron Highlands, Doi Inthanon is situated near the clouds at 2565m above sea level. This altitude allows for moss to grow in abundance. We strolled through the wooden walkway to take in our peaceful surroundings and even came across a Thai Buddhist monk practicing a meditation walk in the jungle. A serene moment indeed. Near to the Mossy Forest is the highest point of Thailand!
PHA DOK SIEW WATERFALL
After sightseeing around Doi Inthanon our trek began as we entered the jungle. Along the way, we came across so many incredible waterfalls hidden deep in the rainforest. Several didn’t have names so you won’t be able to trek to them without a local guide but you can visit the Pa Dok Saew waterfall if you book a day trip to Doi Inthanon with Take Me Tour.
Get a 200 baht credit towards you first Take Me Tour experience by using the exclusive discount code MFLTLTPROMO.
MAE KLANG LUANG VILLAGE
We trekked for about two hours until we arrived at the Mae Klang Luang village where were warmly greeted by our host family. The simple single room home was equipped with mattresses and mosquito nets and not much else–don’t expect luxury on an overnight trek around Doi Inthanon. This was not glamping but a way to live as the locals do, which was an incredible experience. This village was the first to offer authentic homestays on Doi Inthanon so do stay here if you have the chance but be prepared for no air con, hot water, and outdoor squat toilets. You’ll live, trust me!
For dinner, we were invited to join our guide Sam and our host family for a homemade feast of local delicacies. We sat on the floor of the kitchen, which was situated in a treehouse, around bowls of curries and personal portions of locally grown rice. Sam made sure to prepare me a few vegan options such as the most delicious tofu yellow curry I’ve ever tried and shared stories and a bottle of rice wine.
We woke up with the sun and visited local businesses around the Mae Klang Luang village. We passed by stilt houses, newborn piglets, and bright pink pineapples. Our visit was after the burning season which is the time of year many of the men in the village focus on rebuilding and repairing various structures and women work on handicraft work. Although it was a weekend fortunately when we stopped by the textile cooperative there was a local woman who was weaving a traditional colorful Karen scarf and was happy to show us the detailed process of her craft.
Next up we fueled up on local caffeine at the Mae Klang Luang Coffee factory where we learned about the local process of growing, harvesting, and processing coffee beans. We got to taste test the coffee and it was spectacular! A few bags of coffee are great gifts to bring back as an ethical gift for loved ones at home.
As we sipped our black coffee Sam got busy crafting a rod of bamboo into chopsticks for each of us with his machete! I’m continuously amused by how many sensible skills people have in Thailand. I for one could never whittle a pair of useable chopsticks with a knife, let alone a massive machete.
TREKKING AROUND DOI INTHANON
The second day was dedicated to trekking through the dense jungle that envelops Doi Inthanon. Sam tried to get us to go for the full five-hour trek which is more challenging but with the blisteringly hot Thai summer sun shining on our backs we opted to go for the slightly shorter three-hour trek. It was mostly intermediate but there were several parts of the trek where we were walking along sheer drops where we could have pummeled into the forest with a single misstep.
The most terrifying aspect of the trek though was crossing a tiny bamboo bridge that was barely wide enough for one foot to step at a time and hung in limbo over a ferocious stream that stemmed from a waterfall. Fortunately, we all made it across unharmed and were rewarded with a swim in the waterfall as our guides prepared us an eco-friendly lunch of pad thai prepared in banana leaves over a fire. We ate our lunch with the chopsticks Sam made for us so we didn’t have any single-use plastic waste which was fantastic.
Absolutely beat after 2 days of trekking we were ready to crash but alas we had one more waterfall to see, the mighty Wachirathan! I’d been here before when I visited Doi Inthanon with my family but it was no less stunning the second time around to see this powerful waterfall crashing down the side of a mountain. If you only have time to see one thing on Doi Inthanon on your way down from the King and Queen pagoda it’s very easy to stop by here as there’s a road that leads right up to the falls.
If you’re spending at least a week in Chiang Mai it’s absolutely worth it to dedicate one night and two days to trekking around Thailand’s tallest mountain, Doi Inthanon! Take Me Tour, one of my trusted responsible tourism partners, offers several day trips to Doi Inthanon. There’s a low impact day tour that focuses just on seeing the Queen and King pagodas and waterfalls or a combined day trip of Doi Inthanon and the Grand Canyon.
I was a guest on the overnight Doi Inthanon trek courtesy of Venture With Impact. Thank you Nam of Laugh Travel Eats for taking these photos of me! This post contains affiliate links. Please read the Miss Filatelista disclosure policy for more information.