Camping in Doi Inthanon National Park (Pt 1)
Doi Inthanon is Thailand's highest peak standing at 2,565 Metres above sea-level. I spent three nights in Mae Sariang and then started my first leg of the famous Mae Hong Son Loop although I would not be riding the loop the usual way as I had quite a large detour in my plans. I rode along the wonderfully scenic 108 road and then diverted to the 1088/1092 before arriving at the lower elevation of Doi Inthanon itself.
This was a little confusing as I was inside the main feature of the National Park but had not been through any entry point to pay the fee. I rode to the 'Roof of Thailand' just to see what there was to see but as I was going to be coming back in the next couple of days I did not wander far from the bike, the road was in fantastic condition. On top of the peak was a newly built National Observatory which seemingly replaced its predecessor which is a few kilometers down the road, there was also a car park and it seemed not much else, but I would be back for a better look. Part way up the mountain was another area that seemed to be attracting more tourists than the peak. but we will come to that later.
I rode back down the hill and past a ticket checkpoint and headed to the campground. There are many private campgrounds in the area a lot of which are glamping businesses but I was intending to stay in the National Park grounds. I followed the directions Google gave me and found the campsite entrance, I was told that to enter I would need a ticket and this could be obtained from the National Park Headquarters which I had passed around two kilometers ago. So I rode to the HQ to be told that they did not issue tickets and I would have to go to the Checkpoint Two, the same one I had passed at the base of Doi Inthanon some 15km back. So I made the the thirtysome kilometer round trip and ended up back at the campsite with my ticket.
The 300 Baht entrance ticket would allow me five days access to the parks attractions, which are scattered over quite a wide area, I was also free to enter and leave the park if I wanted to explore. I was also charged 20 Baht for the bike and 30 Baht a night for camping. As I would find out this was fantastic value for money, there is so much to see and explore in the park that four nights was about right. The big difference between this and any other of the National Parks campsites I had stayed at was the amount of amenities on the doorstep, so bars and restaurants directly outside the gate, a two minute walk to get supplies and have an evening out was a bonus as far as I was concerned.
The campsite grounds were large, an had many options. There seemed to be one main area for people with their own tents, across from which I would estimate there was around a hundred tents erected and ready for rental. There were a whole selection of bungalows and lodges for rent and hardstandings for mobile homes, seemingly with working water and electric facilities. Riding around the grounds was easy due to the fantastic quality roads within the site. I pitched my tent early in the afternoon on a near empty campground and then rode off for a bit of an explore, by the time I returned there was a good number ot tents pitched and quite a few of the rentals were occupied. This was without doubt the busiest site I had stayed on but that wasnt a bad thing as everybody seemed to consider others and behaved accordingly. The campsite had a number of friendly dogs and these would wander round from tent to tent seeking out snacks, they never became aggressive or seemed to beg, they were among the healthiest looking dogs I had seen in Thailand.
That night was seriously cold, a combination of the hideous hoody bought in Mae Sariang and the sleeping bag I had bought at my last campsite just about prevented hypothermia from setting in.
On day two I returned to Doi Inthanon and after showing my ticket at Checkpoint Two I rode the 9km to the top of the mountain. I parked the bike and then wandered of onto a trail that I thought would take you to the peak and a wonderful view, It did lead to the peak but there was no view as this is covered in dense forest and so was a little disappointing, had I done a little research I would have known this beforehand. The National Observatory is not open to visitors and I am not sure if this is because construction is still ongoing or whether this will always be the case.
On the way back down I stopped at the the area I had noticed a couple off days before and parked up my bike and paid a small entrance fee, I think this was only 40 Baht and it was definitely worth it but I don't like to pay an entry fee after already paying an entry fee, I would actually have preferred to pay 340 Baht for the original ticket, I know this might not seem logical but because nearly everyone who buys the original ticket also enters this area then it would stop people like me from feeling conned, this was also the only attraction I found in the National Park that required an additional fee. After a short walk up a quite steep road you enter a very well maintained garden area, the highlights of which are the two Chedi or Pagoda's which were built to celebrate the 60th birthdays of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his wife Queen Sirikit and are known as the King and Queen Pagoda's, or I believe Phra Mahathat Naphamethanidon and Nophamethanidon in Thai.
This area made up for my expectations of the peak, the pagodas are on raised plinths and tower above beautifully maintained gardens, these gardens along with ornamental waterfalls and many places to sit are I believe maintained by the Royal Thai Air Force and as such are not part of the National Park hence the entrance fee which recovers some of the cost of maintaining these grounds. The pagodas which face each other are reached via a long series of steps, or for the less energetic such as me there are also escalators. To visit both pagodas requires a climb up-down-up-down there are no downward escalators and I never noticed any lifts, although these may have been available.
Although they complement each other the pagoda's are not identical, the most obvious difference being in colour. Each pagoda has decorative mosaics running around the base and the views that are missing from the peak are present from both of these high points. There are also trails running from just below these pagodas but I didnt take any of these and believe that you need a local Hmong guide to do so.
There are many other things to do in the park and these will be coming in part two of this blog.