Chiang Mai is a province and also a city, Thailand’s second largest city in fact. The population of the city proper is quite small, less than 200,000, but the entire metro area hits one million, still a far cry from Bangkok’s 10 million-plus located 435 miles south. Though the area is famous for elephant trekking and visits to hill-tribe villages, I opted for a visit to the highest peak in Thailand. I can now boast I have been to the top of the Himalayas. OK, granted these are the easternmost peaks of that chain (who knew?) and they are not snow-capped though temps may actually just reach freezing this time of year. I’m still counting it.
The 8,415-foot Doi Inthanon is surrounded by rich forest – some of it cloud forest – waterfalls, limestone caves, and the wilderness is home to the most recorded species of birds in Thailand at 362 and counting. Motorbikes are popular but with the steep drive and the crazy driving, not to mention the quickly dropping temperature as sunset approaches, we figured a rental car was the best option.
The views are breathtaking and the waterfall tour alone is worth seeing. Throughout the park are food stands near the major sites and the park offers camping, hiking and some rentable cabins. Near the summit are a couple of chedis (bell-like structures) to honor the King and Queen of Thailand. When the clouds roll in just below them it is mystical. At the summit is a stupa containing the ashes of Chiang Mai’s last king Inthawidhayanon who understood the importance of Thailand’s forests and the tremendous water source here. For the drive back down I livened up with some of the mountain’s own coffee at a stand near the summit information center. Strong stuff.
By the way, cars in Thailand don’t have heaters. This is not something one ever thinks about in Bangkok, but when the temp hits 40F at sunset, that’s a different matter.