Northern Thailand – National Parks, Waterfalls and Temples

Buddha at Wat Ban Den

During our three weeks in Chiang Mai we made two excursions into the countryside as well as our day trip to Chiang Rai.  The first one was to the Doi Inthanon National Park, one of the most popular national parks in Thailand and about 2.5 hours west of Chaing Mai.  The park is famous for its waterfalls, remote villages, viewpoints and the highest mountain in Thailand reaching 2,565m above sea level.  In addition to the tourist facilities at the peak of Doi Inthanon there is a Royal Thai Air Force weather radar and the Thai National Observatory.  From the parking lot there is a walkway to the actual summit and after that a wooden boardwalk nature trail through the forest.  There are no views from the actual summit because its in the middle of the forest.  The fee to enter the national park was 300 Baht (USD $8.80) each.

  • Signage near the peak


5km below the Doi Inthanon peak are the Twin Royal Pagodas (chedis).  These chedis were built in 1987 and 1992 respectively to honor the 60th birthdays of the King and Queen of Thailand.  There is a viewpoint with nice views over the valley, although according to our driver its rarely clear up here.  Around the base of the chedis are beautiful gardens and fountains.  The fee to visit here was 100 Baht (USD $2.94) each and that includes a shuttle from the parking lot.

  • The King's pagoda


The national park has many waterfalls but one of the most impressive is Wachirathan Waterfall, popular due to its location just off the main road and easy access.  This multi level waterfall drops around 40 meters and the volume of water falling down the cliff makes this a waterfall worth visiting, and lovely rainbows are created in the mist below the falls.

Also within the national park is the Mae Ya Waterfall, a multi-tiered cascading waterfall plunging 250 meters over 30 levels, but you can only see the bottom 50 meters from the viewing area.  Its bigger, and we thought more beautiful than the Wachirathan Waterfall.  To reach the Mae Ya waterfall the walk from the parking lot is around 600 meters uphill, maybe that’s why there were fewer people here than Wachirathan.  At the parking lot are a few stalls selling snacks and fruit if you need to grab something before walking to the falls and enjoying a picnic while there.

Mae Ya Waterfall

Our second trip into the countryside we left Chiang Mai at 7am and went directly to the Bua Tong Waterfall, aka the Sticky Waterfall.  I had seen photos with crowds of people here, so we arrived shortly after 8am and were the first ones there, just as we had hoped!!  Not far from the parking lot there is a set of wooden and concrete stairs near the waterfalls descending through the forest to the bottom of the waterfall.  Once there we scoped out our route and walked UP the waterfall, there are four sections to the falls and ropes at the steeper parts to help pull yourself up.  It was fascinating how grippy the rocks are, as long as you stayed on the buff-colored rocks.  There were some slippery rocks closer to the edges, but we were cautious where we stepped and had no trouble.  Why are the rocks grippy?  The water flowing over the rocks has such a high level of dissolved minerals that it coats the rocks it flows over, that’s pretty amazing.  We had so much fun and enjoyed having the waterfall to ourselves that after reaching the top we went back down and did it all a second time.  I think this was one of our favorite things we did in Chiang Mai and surprisingly it was free!

  • Early morning at the base of the waterfalls


After the Sticky Waterfall we headed to the massive temple Wat Ban Den, one of the largest temple complexes in Chiang Mai province.  This place is huge, relatively new and they are still building, so it can be a bit overwhelming.  Many of the structures here are guarded by very colorful and large mythical Naga serpents on each side of the stairs.  And while there were Buddhas in temples everywhere the most interesting one was the huge Burmese-style reclining Buddha.  Wow, what a place, it seems to go on forever!!

  • Naga guarding the temple entrance


There was one more temple on the itinerary, Wat Pa Dara Phirom.  Located just 15km north of Chiang Mai this is a 100-year-old royal temple and considered one of the most significant in Chiang Mai.  Not as large as Wat Ban Den, but still interesting.  However, we must admit to feeling some temple fatigue so did not have as much interest in this temple as maybe it warranted.


After the waterfall and temples we drove to a lovely restaurant in the countryside for another authentic Thai lunch before making our way back into Chiang Mai.  One final stop before getting back to our apartment was the Bo Sang Umbrella Center.  Famous for producing hand-made bamboo umbrellas and parasols we walked through the outdoor area observing the artisans at work. The umbrella making skills have been passed down from generation to generation and their work is beautiful.  Too beautiful to use in the rain, and totally impractical for a nomad to own.  Along the walkway to the umbrella workshop are photographs of Princess Diana who visited here in 1988.


We have enjoyed our day trips outside the city and they served to confirm that we really prefer the countryside to city living.







Our private driver to Doi Inthanon cost 3,500 Baht (USSD $100) for the day and the Sticky Waterfall day cost 3,000 Baht (USD $85) and while this seems expensive for Thailand, a group tour did not cost much less.  For the extra money we preferred not to be in a group, have the flexibility to stay as long as we liked at any given location, and create our own itinerary.  Our drivers name was Day and he can be contacted via WhatsApp at +66 87 187 9616, let him know Susan & Blair recommended him.  He is a very safe driver and fun to hang out with.






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