Camping in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is blessed with having an abundance of mountains which make for great camping locations. Whether in a National Park or not, mountainous areas are generally open to anyone to explore on foot, bike or motorbike and rules for camping are generally relaxed. With many mountains above 1000m altitude the conditions are generally favourable for a night under the stars with temperatures generally between 5-25 degrees at night depending on the season.
When Should You Go Camping in Chiang Mai?
Camping in Chiang Mai can be enjoyed any time of year but certain times are better than others for various reasons. For example the rainy season may put a lot of people off for obvious reasons but the forest tends to come alive in the rain and the air is crisp and clear so there is no reason not to camp during this time as long as your gear can hold up to the weather. The dry, hot season may be the worst time to go with poor visibility due to burning and daytime temperatures between 30-40 degrees. It’s almost impossible to remain hydrated as well, especially if you’re bikepacking and then there is the added risk of forest fires as well so its usually best to avoid this time of year. The best time is between October – January which is the winter season. Whilst temperatures may drop to just a few degrees at night, there is little chance of rain and the visibility is usually at its best this time of year so as long as good preparations are made, camping in Chiang Mai can be a memorable experience during this time.
What Should You Consider for Camping in Chiang Mai?
The options for places to go camping in Chiang Mai are almost endless so its worth considering how far off the beaten track you want to go, how much time you have and what you’re looking to do in terms of activities. Do you want to hike to a camping spot or bike? Is glamping your thing and you’d prefer to drive to a place to camp? If you want epic views then its best to head to higher ground, if you like to have a swim then head to a valley or lower ground. If you don’t have any gear but have your heart set on camping in Chiang Mai then consider a tour company such as Active Thailand who specialize in such activities. If you do have your own gear you have to consider whether its suitable for the season, the winter often catches people by surprise so a decent 4 season bag is essential. A good quality waterproof tent is equally essential in the raining season.
Our Camping Trip in Doi Pui National Park
Recently a group of us went on a camping trip inside the Doi Pui National Park, which despite its proximity to Chiang Mai city still has some relatively remote places within the park. The best way to cover some distance is on mountain bikes so our plan was to get a songteaw from the zoo to near the Hmong village and bike to a ridge called Doi Pha Klong to set up camp. Despite only going for a night its surprisingly difficult to pack for a bikepacking trip. Once you factor in the tent, sleeping bag, food, cooking utensils and your water supplies you essentially have no more space so some thought is needed prior to the trip.
Thankfully my summer tent was thin enough and short enough to fit on the downtube of my bike so with a bungee cord and some cable ties I was able to firmly fit the tent to the bike. The same with the sleeping bag, as April is the warm season I took my small 2 season bag and tied it to the handle bars. Because of this I was able to take my 30l bag which wasn’t to heavy or clumsy for cycling with. Unfortunately there was no water supply near our camping area so we each had to take between 4-6l of water with us which is usually the biggest challenge when camping in Chiang Mai.
Despite being the dry season when burning is prevalent we had a break in the weather with some heavy downpours which cleared the air and cooled the temperature down so once we were on the summit the temperature quickly dropped to 18 degrees which took us somewhat by surprise. The views were spectacular however and as the sun set we finished collecting firewood, enjoyed some chicken and cashew nut with rice for dinner and settled down for the evening drinking our meager rations of wine and whiskey.
Sunrise the next day was beautiful, Doi Pha Klong offers almost 360 degree views in places so we were treated to some stunning vistas of the surrounding area as we cooked up our bacon, beans, sausages, mushrooms and toast for breakfast, washed down with some fresh coffee. We had a 18km ride ahead of us, however knowing the trail well we knew most of it was downhill so we were all excited to get going for the fun ride down to Chiang Mai. The trail is one of my favourites in the area and you can see more details about the Buddha Footprint trail here.
The trail follows a dirt double track through some fantastic scenery as you drop 1000m in altitude from the top to bottom. The trail is technically easy, fast and flowy and a great way to end the camping trip. Once at the bottom we stopped off at Huay Tung Tao resevoir, a popular place to relax just a few kilometers from Chiang Mai city and after some lunch and a swim we headed for home.
What Should You Take Camping in Chiang Mai?
Below is a list of what I would recommend for a camping trip in the region. This list is just for reference.
Tent – you will get away with a cheap 1 layer tent in the summer as I did for my recent trip, other times of the year I recommend investing in a good waterproof tent as lightweight and compact as possible.
Sleeping bag – 4 season in the winter, 2 season other times of year. Even in the height of the summer it can be chilly so don’t consider taking a sleeping bag liner and nothing else.
Cooking gear – A self contained cooking set is a good purchase, these are sold in most camping or outdoor shops and include frying pans, deep pots, sometimes a kettle and cups.
Gas cooker – Whilst cooking over a fire is nice, a gas cooker is good for a quick coffee or if there is a large group of you it helps speed up the cooking. I have a Jetboil gas cooker which is highly recommended.
Knife/multitool – A swiss knife or leatherman type tool will come in handy for a variety of tasks
Firelighting – I usually take firelighters from local stores, these are pieces of wood soaked in resin so they are light and efficient at starting a fire. I break them down into 5cm bits so they dont take up much space in my bag. Take at least 3 lighters incase of breakages / water damage.
Clothing – dress appropriately for the season but if camping in summer / winter don’t be lulled into thinking it won’t rain, take a small waterproof jacket just incase as well as a jumper. Even if its hot during the day the temperature drops quickly at night. The jumper can double up as a pillow when you turn in.
Food/drink – Take as much water as you can fit in your bag, at least 4l for an overnight trip. Physical exertion will dehydrate you very quickly in Thailand whatever the season so it’s essential to take enough for 2 days. Snacks like nuts or energy bars are handy.