On Thursday, J. and I drove to the highest point in Thailand: the summit of Doi Inthanon. Our journey was a roller-coaster ride of elevation and emotion. It was also a relatively expensive side trip.
Doi Inthanon National Park is one of the original 14 National parks of Thailand. It covers 482 square kilometers and spreads from the lowlands at 800m altitude up to its 2565m peak. To get there, J. and I loaded up the bike and headed south down the canal road. The weather was perfect. At the turn to Hang Dong, we kept straight and entered a section of the canal road we hadn’t been on. The road narrowed to two lanes with the now smaller canal on the right. Footbridges of various styles crossed the water every few hundred meters. Larger concrete bridges were rarer. Each bridge marked a dirt road that went off into the mysterious countryside.
One of many small footbridges over the canal on the two lane section of Canal Road.
The park entrance is less than 70km from Chiang Mai, so we made it there in good time. But we had started late, and I was anxious to get to the summit before the clouds rolled in and obscured the view. At the park gate, I eyed the clouds. Our clear day was fleeting. We paid the ranger the excessive foreigner entry fee of 400bht($12) each, plus 20bht for the bike. The price has flipped back and forth between 200-400bht since I was last here. As of a year ago, it was the more reasonable rate. Yes, I know it’s just $12, but here that’s a lot of money for just getting in somewhere.
Tickets in hand, I gunned the bike as much as you can gun a 125cc 4-stroke that’s loaded with two corn-fed hotties. On the straightaway, I zipped through the verdant scenery at 60kmh. But on the hills, the gear dropped to 1 and the speed to 10. We made it to the top around late afternoon. As I feared, clouds had obscured a lot of what I assume was an epic view. I was pissed. If only we had left two hours earlier. If only the bike didn’t slow down on the hills. If only, if only. I was also bummed that we were charged a small fee to see the stupas considering one was closed for construction. But I wandered around the insane gardens of the Air-force-built purple Nopphaphonphumisir Stupa to clear my head. It didn’t take long. There was still a sliver of a view between the clouds, and the air was crisp and cool. I apologized to J. for the first of many times on the trip.
Broad rapids in a stream near the visitor’s center.
The rocky bend in the stream was getting pounded by a torrent of water. There was a small section of the bank where you could safely stand next to the chaos.
Nopphamenthanidon and Nopphaphonphumisir stupas.
View of the valley from a stupa.
The highest point in Thailand was nothing special. Just a geometric-looking science station, woods, walkways, and a shrine. It was unclear where the actual point is since there were two signs. But at both, our view was obscured by trees. The walkway through the woods was nice and moody through. It felt like we’d bump into ET.
A neutrino detecting station at peak. It was dedicated to the princess. Photography forbidden. Why?
Altar of mostly elephants at the highest point in Thailand.
On the way down, the clouds had cleared a little. The view along the winding road was amazing: expansive valleys on both sides. We passed one valley with a gnad-dropping beautiful view of rice terraces. That view remains one of my favorites. I just wanted to run and roll around in the green grass. I wanted to be in some bad 80s movie where I switch bodies with one of the hill-tribe farmers. Hi-jinx would ensue as we slapsticked our way through all kinds of unfamiliar customs. The farmer would be played by Kirk Cameron. But the terraces were full of stinky mud and that movie would never get green-lighted. As the sun hugged the mountain edge, I flashed a toothy smile to one of the farmers. He didn’t see my thumbs-up.
Helicopter landing pad. I guess it’s for the air-force to get to their stupas.
View on the way down the mountain.
Spirit house hidden on the side of the road.
Very non-jungly feeling woods.
Covered flower farm.
Insanely beautiful rice terraces in a valley.
A farmer’s house on stilts. If you squint, you can see dragonflies in the top right corner.
Of course we had to get a closer view of the rice.
It was now evening, and J. and I were in search of tents to camp in. We’d read that they could be rented in numerous places around the park. Lonely Planet made it seem easy. But we couldn’t find any. The park office said they didn’t have them and suggested we go to a hill-tribe village 5km down the road to ask. The village was in a beautiful rice-growing valley. We pulled up to an abandoned office for some bungalows along the river. Three kids were running around with sticks. One boy had a cut on the edge of his lip that made him look like The Joker. A dog was staying a safe distance away. After waiting a moment, a small, casual looking younger man cam up to us. We mentioned tent. He looked at the office and saw there was no one there. He appeared embarrassed. After checking the back room and dialing his phone, he wandered off towards the bungalows yelling the manager’s name. No dice. He came back and we looked at each other awkwardly. My Thai was far worse than his English. Luckily, a truck of field workers drove up behind us. One of them knew English, Thai, and a hill-tribe language. I asked the man on the truck about the tents. He asked the man. The man said something. I didn’t understand. I asked the truck how much? He asked the man. The man discussed it with the truck. The truck told me a number that seemed high. It appeared that we would be buying tents rather than renting them. I asked the truck about the bungalows. He asked the man. The man told the truck. The truck told me the price of the bungalows: high. J. and I were getting a weird vibe. I know that they were doing us a favor because the manager wasn’t there and I doubt the place was even open this season. But the room rate was high and it was unclear what we would do for food. As cool as it would have been to wake up next to rice fields and a river, we thanked them and went on our way.
Our gas was now running low. The gauge blinked. Where to get gas? We drove back to the park headquarters and asked them about their bungalow rates. The lowest we could go was 600bht ($18). We looked at the bungalow. It was okay, but would have only been about 300bht anywhere outside of the park. The manager was very friendly though, and we didn’t have any other option but to pay hime. We were grumpy and disappointed that we didn’t get to camp on the cheap. We walked down the dark main road to a market we had seen earlier. But by this hour it had closed. Dammit. We went to the only restaurant around, a sprawling empty place on the headquarter grounds. We thought it would be pricey, but our dishes were only 30bht. Full on Phad Seiewe and carrying a bagful on snacks, we went back to the bungalow.
One the way back, we noticed that all of the covered flower patches had their lights on. The glow through the white plastic was eerily beautiful. All around us on the hills were rows and rows of flowing flower gardens. We decided to investigate. One road lead to wet shoes. Another had too many people tending the flowers. Undaunted, we walked down the main road and up an unlit dirt road into the hillside. We could see nothing but the faint translucent glow of the plastic. Flower shadows danced in the breeze. Above the canopies, bats fluttered around feeding on the bugs drawn to the light. Aside from the breeze and the sound of a stream, the hillside was silent. After walking up a few hundred meters, our eyes adjusted to darkness. Then a motorbike barreled up the road, blinding us. Its red taillight disappeared. We tried walking up a trail, but it ended up being a drainage ditch. Further up the road, we came upon the motorbike, parked and abandoned near a shed. We explored the flower beds a little more, coming close to what looked like a large plastic hammock with someone sleeping in it. I suggested we head back. We did.
Our expensive bungalow.
Flower fields glowing at night.
Another shot from along the dirt road.
Our bungalow wall.
In morning, we had a fried rice and instant coffee breakfast. We began our drive home, stopping to see waterfalls along the way.
Gas station in the Ban Kun tribal village.
More flowers growing along the road to Siriphum Waterfall in Ban Kun.
Kids playing in an irrigation spillway.
Garden trail to the base of Siriphum Waterfall.
I’ve never seen a leif like this before.
Misty Wachirathan Waterfall.
J. at Mae Klang Waterfall.
At Mae Klang waterfall, J. and I stopped to eat lunch at one of many platforms built along the river. A smiley old lady walked down the bank to take our order. In Thai, I asked what she made. She said chicken. I said okay. Chicken, two sticky rice, and Coke thank you. She came back with a platter of grilled chicken. I had ordered a whole chicken I guess, no doubt one of the chickens that had been running around the restaurant. It was a lot of meat, but delicious. Midway through the meal, I made the mistake of feeding chicken to an adorable cat. He became very demanding. Another cat joined him. Luckily we had plenty of chicken to spare. I wanted to offer them a saucer of Coke too.
Bamboo restaurant platforms along the river at Mae Klang Waterfall.
Our platform was built over the water.
Sticky rice and a whole grilled chicken.
A rambunctious and affectionate cat waiting for chicken scraps.
After we had finished eating, it started pouring rain. It’s the most rain I’ve ever been outside in. Despite the umbrella above us, the table was getting drenched. The lady came down and led us to her kitchen/bed. We waited out the worst of it where she had prepared our meal. As expected, a whole chicken is kind of pricey: 130bht($4).
The kitchen of the restaurant where we waited during the downpour.
With the worst of weather behind us, we began our drizzled journey home.
It’s nice to be back in a dry apartment.