Doi Inthanon is renowned as one of the best places to visit whilst in Thailand. Being in Chiang Mai and only a couple hours drive away we couldn’t leave without experiencing the incredible scenery the national park had to offer.
8am sharp our Honda Jazz was delivered once again from North Wheels, soon after we set off on our second road trip around northern Thailand. The car was a stark contrast to our shiny new Honda City of the last trip. With trim hanging off on all sides, dents in all the doors and scrapes which went the length of the car, it was clear that this Jazz had seen some action. The auto gearbox seemed confused at what it’s purpose was in life, constantly changing it’s mind what gear to be in, the brakes suffered with a spongey pedal and less than ideal stopping performance. The rattles of interior trim was disconcerting but provided a neat game to work out where the noise was coming from. However we had to make the best of it, because we were taking this heap up to the peak of Thailand’s highest mountain, and down again… worryingly.
Having driven so extensively on the previous trip, Tom immediately settled back into the swing of the chaotic roads and traffic. Heading west out of Chiang Mai our route took us through the busiest and most challenging area to drive in the city, the outskirts of the old town. Following the perimeter of the old city walls and the flanking moat the roads see huge volumes of traffic at peak times. The roads are barely wide enough for two vehicles, however it is not uncommon to find yourself edging along four abreast perilously close to another car and a couple motorbikes with a Tuk Tuk up your arse.
Once out of the city it was plain sailing to our first stop of the day, the incredible Mae Ya Waterfall. Located roughly half an hour into the national park it provided the perfect first stopping point, with a carpark and street food sellers located only 200m from the waterfall. When entering the national park visitors need to pay for a day pass, 300 Baht (£7.03) per person as well as 30 Baht (£0.70) vehicle charge. We purchased our pass at Mae Ya Waterfall, had it stamped for the day, parked up and took the 200m stroll to the falls themselves.
We were in awe of the sheer size of this waterfall when we caught our first glimpse of it! It was a far cry from the little waterfalls we were used to in the Yorkshire Dales and Northumberland. The weather made for an intense experience, 35C in the shade and a “feels like” temperature of 42C, photographing in the sun was like cosying up to your turkey in the oven at Christmas. Equally the ants were enormous, more like small dogs than insects, Tom was concerned they’d carry off his camera bag when he wasn’t looking.
After having some food from one of the street sellers for a bargain price we hit the road again, retracing our route to rejoin the main route up the mountain. Our next stop, the Mae Klang Waterfall, was only another thirty minutes away. Following the river to our right we arrived to a line of shanty looking cafes and food sellers. Using makeshift floating seating areas on the river themselves it looked a very pleasant place to sit and eat. Parking up we wandered across the bridge and up the hill towards the well signposted waterfall. Once again the heat in the direct sun made the walk almost unbearable. As Tom sat and watched the locals swimming and playing in the murky waters of the mountain river, he said he’d love to get in and cool off. However, knowing Tom, he’d have an allergic reaction to a fish and drown, so decided against it.
The waterfall was challenging to photograph because the bright midday sun was blowing out the highlights and compositionally there was only one place to stand. Whilst the waterfall looked nowhere near as big as the first one we saw it was still a very sizeable falls. Whilst the area surrounding the falls was equally as interesting and amazing, the floating cafe wooden seating areas and locals playing in the water made for a great atmosphere.
Back on the road and a twenty minute drive to our penultimate stop to yet another waterfall, but the biggest of all! The mighty Wachirathan waterfall. Set back away from the main road and down a very twisty narrow road the waterfall is audible as soon as the car door cracks open. The spray from the falls is fired hundreds of meters horizontally, so be prepared to get very wet! The viewing area was awash with soaking people trying to take selfies with the waterfall without their phones being destroyed through water damage. Tom tried to set up his camera, covering it with one of his 100 shower caps he bought from Amazon, however it was futile. The spray was so immense there was no way to get a photo!
Once we re-joined the route up the infamous mountain, we had a 90 minute drive to the summit, where things got tough for the little Jazz! Struggling it’s way up some of the steeper sections of the climb it was imperative to carry some speed and momentum where possible. The road is constantly cornering, with no straight sections we can remember in the entire hour and a half of driving. Nearing the summit we caught a glimpse over a viewing area just how high we were, looking down on clouds whilst still driving is a surreal experience. However we encountered one of the problems with being at this altitude at the summit.
A cloud engulfed the top of the mountain and we were plunged into what seemed like evening light, then the heavens opened! Thunder and lightning whilst inside a cloud is also something to behold! Happily we descended to the temple which is only 100 meters or so below the summit and it was back to intense bright sunshine! However the temperatures here were a lot cooler than we experienced earlier in the day.
The temple itself is as amazing as you’d expect. The botanical gardens are a vibrant array of colour and smells. All with the backdrop of clouds and a view for miles.
When it was time to leave it was dark and we were starving, descending the mountain road in the dark with what seemed like brakes operating substantially lower than 100% was intimidating, especially as earlier on we saw the aftermath of a Toyota 4×4 rolling off the road into the wooded area below! However the descent was smooth and we arrived home safely, after another amazing, unforgettable day!
Here is a map of our journey illustrated by Megan: