Best Hikes in Chiang Mai – Doi Pha Ngom
Best Hikes in Chiang Mai – Doi Pha Ngom
March is perhaps not the best time to go hiking in Chiang Mai. With the burning season in full swing the air quality is often in the news for all the wrong reasons with the air quality index (AQI) regularly displaying over 100 in Chiang Mai. Despite this, the prospect of sitting around doing nothing didn’t appeal to me and the lure of a hike in the mountains was to much so a friend and I decided to take our chances and attempt the long hike to Doi Lanka Luang (ดอยลังกาหลวง) also known as Doi Mae Tho (ดอยแม่โถ). Before going on I should point out that it was a failed attempt due to fading light and so this is more of an account of the hike to Doi Phaa Ngom which is the summit before Doi Lanka Luang.
I didn’t know to much about the hike, other than what I had read via personal accounts online such as Wikilocs which is perhaps the best source of information but having hiked to Doi Lanka Noi on a previous occasion though I knew it was going to be a long and difficult hike to the summit which stood at 2031m or 6663ft.
The trailhead is approx. 90km from Chiang Mai city, heading North East on the 118 highway. Just before the border with Chiang Mai is a very small road on the right heading 3km up the mountain to a communications tower. Part of the reason we didn’t summit in time was that the road was blocked by a locked gate meaning we had to walk 3km to the trailhead and an extra 3km back to the car but a sign was on the gate for people to call to get through so be sure to call if you are to visit – 0813878243. Because of this we only started around 12.30pm from the official trailhead which is marked with a sign in Thai with a simple map of the complete 19km trail which ends at Baan Mae Dtoon Luang.
The trail in March is easy to follow and relatively clear as a lot of the brush has died back in the dry season so we had few issues finding our way. The start of the trail is easy enough following a thin single track trail dug into the side of the mountain with a couple of short descents before the first real climb to a ridge providing some nice panoramic views. Another short but steep descent followed before a steep long climb to a 1600m summit with stunning views and a good place to take a break.
With Doi Lanka still a long way off in the distance we could see that time was running out so decided the best we could do was to complete the smaller summit of Doi Pha Ngom which was still an hour or so away and looked a challenge in itself as the steep bluff loomed up ahead. It actually looked more difficult than it was but it would no doubt be a lot more challenging in the rainy season scrambling up the steep final section. It was a worthwhile effort though and after just under 3 hours we reached the top with spectacular views all around as well as impressive views of Doi Lanka to the East.
By now it was 4pm so after a quick bite and drink and after a flurry of camera action we started the hike back down along the same route, eventually walking the final road section in the dark at 7pm and heading back to Chiang Mai.
Overall this is a fantastic albeit technical hike and one of the best hikes in Chiang Mai in my opinion, there is a lot of variety of terrain and stunning views for the most part as you traverse a narrow ridge for a lot of the hike. Had we had the time to complete the hike to Doi Lanka there is an additional descent of a couple of hundred metres followed by quite a brutal climb to the summit so allow 10 hours for the return hike, or perhaps plan to camp overnight at Doi Lanka. There were also a couple of other signs of campsites along this route. There is quite good phone reception on the summits but none as you descend into valleys.
- Between 3-4l of water
- Energy rich snacks such as mixed nuts, fruit or chocolate or something more substantial such as bag of fried rice
- Good hiking shoes
- Walking stick is useful for the constant up/down and rough terrain
- Garmin GPS or tracking system, if using a phone take a battery pack and download maps.me app for the option of offline routes
- Multi tool
When to Go
As mentioned March is not the best time for hiking in Chiang Mai but it was quite pleasant on the day we chose with blue skies above and the foliage still green. The smog over Chiang Mai in the distance was quite bad but visibility seemed to improve as the day wore on. The best time for hiking in Chiang Mai is between November and February just after the raining season and in the cooler season. The trail may be more overgrown however so a guide would be recommended. Contact Active Thailand for inquiries for hiking in Chiang Mai or check out our blog for more of the best hikes in Chiang Mai.