Hiking Around Doi Suthep/Pui National Park
Hiking Around Doi Suthep/Pui National Park
Visitors to Chiang Mai cannot miss Doi Suthep/Pui looming over the city standing at a height of 1685m at the highest point. Doi Suthep/Pui was designated as a National Park in 1981 and covers an area of 261sq kilometers consisting mainly of evergreen forest at 1000m+ and deciduous forest below. Whilst the National Park has suffered from quite serious encroachment of the years and burning in the dry season it remains an important area in particular for the 300 species of birds which have been recorded in the area. The temperature can drop as low as 6 degrees centigrade in the winter season and remains slightly cooler year round thanks to its elevation.
Visitors to Chiang Mai more often than not visit the buddhist temple of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Bhubing Palace, the winter residence of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his family and one of several Hmong villages which dot the landscape, these attractions whilst worthwhile tend to be very touristy, the villages in particular and offer little in the way of a cultural experience. That said for first time visitors to Chiang Mai it is a worthwhile excursion with many scenic viewpoints on the main road up the mountain.
An often-overlooked activity in Chiang Mai is hiking around Doi Suthep/Pui National Park which is a very rewarding experience for those with a little more time to spare in Chiang Mai. There are several Facebook groups dedicated to hiking in Chiang Mai and Doi Suthep has dozens of trails, many of which will not see a person all day despite offering stunning scenery and the opportunity to allow you get closer to nature than on other excursions in the National Park. Many of the trails are used by farmers or by the Hmong villagers so they are well trodden, mountain biking in Chiang Mai is also popular and these trails are often used by bikers.
What to Expect When Hiking Around Doi Suthep/Pui National Park
Depending on the trail you choose to take you can expect a variety of terrain, from steep single track terrain to relatively gentle double track used by farm vehicles. You will see plenty of forest but wildlife is limited due to illegal poaching and regular fires in the burning season. If you’re lucky you may see some eagles or wild boar but beware of snakes such as the spitting cobra. There are a couple of nice waterfalls, albeit not particularly spectacular. Monthathan waterfall is the most popular and reachable via road but is also accessible from a trail leading down Doi Suthep. A little further up the steep valley from Monthathan waterfall is Sai Yok waterfall which is often off limits if the conditions are too wet. The trail to Sai Yok forms part of what was a popular trail some time ago leading from Doi Suthep temple to Ban Khun Chang Khian Hmong village. Sections of it are beautiful but other parts have fallen in a state of disrepair, lets hope it is maintained in the future for hikers to enjoy.
What Are the Best Views on Doi Suthep/Pui National Park?
If you’re feeling fit and want to hike to the summit you may be in for a disappointment as there are no views from the highest point of Doi Pui (1650m). That said an area nearby called the North ridge offers stunning views for those who make the effort and the ridge is again seldom visited so you may be lucky and have the area all to yourself. Adjacent to the North ridge is Doi Pha Khlong which can be reached if you walk through the more popular Hmong village further down Doi Suthep/Pui. If you don’t want to walk all the way from the bottom then take a Songteaw to the village and allow for 3 hours return journey to the summit, it is highly recommended with clear trails and more stunning scenery.
How to Prepare
If you are considering hiking around Doi Suthep/Pui National Park it is worth making a few considerations. The mountain range is riddled with trails and many of them are dead ends, usually ended up at a hut used by farmers or a house / field so it is highly recommended you take a smart phone and download an app such as maps.me beforehand which shows a surprising number of marked off road trails. This is invaluable as you can plan a tentative route beforehand and avoid unnecessary detours leading to nowhere. Bare in mind these apps are battery sapping so it is recommended to take a battery pack in case you stay out longer than intended.
For those considering hiking the time of year should also be taken into account. The best time for hiking is from November to early Feb with the coolest temperatures, least amount of rainfall and best light. Burning is a serious problem between February to May and can be dangerous not only breathing in the smoke but also the danger of being trapped by flames. With a serious smog issue you will not have any views either so best to skip this time of year. Whilst it is not serious trekking I would recommend good footwear, trainers may suffice but with lots of roots and ruts it is best to wear a pair of hiking shoes or boots, decent hiking trousers and a breathable top. Pack a rain jacket and warm jumper in the winter, as soon as you stop near the summit you will feel the cold very quickly. The mosquitoes can be very annoying so bring plenty of repellent. Finally, it is good to tell someone you plan to go hiking around Doi Suthep/Pui National Park and try and plan a tentative route in advance and let someone know. There have been cases of people needing rescuing and going missing so best to be prepared.
Where To Start?
There are many places around the foot of Doi Suthep/Pui to start your hiking trip. From Chiang Mai zoo you can start hiking up the main road and upon reaching Wat-Pha-Lad Temple you can follow a single track trail which eventually leads to the summit. From the convention center to the North of Chiang Mai you can walk through a Dhamma center at the end of the road and from there another single track marks the start of a trail. Chiang Mai university is a popular place to start hiking up Doi Suthep and if you want a more gentle hike then take a Songteaw partially up the mountain and use an app to plan your hike from a certain area. Just remember you have to get back and the Songteaw may not be available after a certain time!
If you are looking for more than a day hike then consider a multi day trek. Trekking in Northern Thailand is a memorable experience allowing you to discover unique aspects to Thailand. Learn more about trekking in Thailand.