|Doi Inthanon It's the highest mountain in Thailand and the centrepiece of a National Park, So we booked a trip to see it.
We were picked up at the hotel at 08.00, so early breakfast. The minibus was very comfortable despite it being full, with 13 passengers, driver and guide. Our group consisted of four Germans, one of whom must have been on something as he didn't stop talking, three Koreans, three Thais, an Australian and us two. Not really a recipe for a lot of conversation but the Germans spoke a bit of English and we enjoyed the Australian lady's company - she seemed to share the same outlook as us.
The mountain is about 100 km south of Chiang Mai, The roads were in good shape, with four lane highways most of the way, so we made good time and about an hour and half late we arrived at the park entrance. Our first stop was a waterfall, very pretty, it had been renamed after the current queen, discarding the original name (that I have forgotten!) when the park was created by Royal decree. The park is heavily forested so views only occurred occasionally and as we climbed higher we were in the clouds, so no views!
The second stop was also a waterfall, this time renamed after the king, on the same occasion. Much bigger than the first, it was quite spectacular, lots of spray and rainbows. Very pretty. We had a typical Thai lunch here, which was a bit mass produced but ok. We were only one of several minibuses, songthaws, and cars in the car park, but it didn't seem too crowded.
We then drove to a Karen people village to see the terraced rice paddies, corn (maize) fields and to visit a small weaving shed. Here were three girls weaving the traditionally-patterned fabrics which were really pretty, so we bought some! The village was very small and the dwellings all pretty close together, to preserve as much of the land for growing their crops. A few scrawny chickens and that was it.
We then proceeded to the summit, at over 3,500 metres, it was cool. The Thai guide and driver put on thick sweatshirts, while we were still in thirst and shorts. It was 18 degrees C, so did feel cool after Chiang Mai which was at 30 degrees! On the summit was the grave and memorial to the last Lanna king (the Lanna are the dominant people in Chiang Mai province which used to be an independent kingdom until the turn of the 19th century). He is still venerated; the were offerings of flowers on the grave stele, and we saw a couple of people placing offerings and praying.
We went off and followed a nature trail through the forest for about half an hour. It was fascinating, much moss, bogs and ancient trees, including rhododendrons, oaks and myrtles. The climate here is pretty constant, always cool, and very damp. We heard a number of birds but didn't see any until we came upon a small glade where about a dozen or so small, sparrow-like birds were flitting about, calling to each other. A very pretty sight.
Back to the bus and our penultimate stop which was the royal pagodas. These were built only a few years ago for the kings 65th birthday, one for him and one for his wife. One on each side of a small valley, higher up to give great views, but as we were in the clouds, no view today. It was a bit surreal, the pagodas were obviously modern, made of very expensive materials and each had an escalator (!) up the valley side to the pagoda and the surrounding gardens.
Last stop was at The King's Project. Many years ago this area was prime opium poppy territory, so the king decided to try and eliminate the opium trade by introducing high value crops. They now grow flowers, many different nuts; macadamia, cashew, peanuts etc., and high quality fruit and vegetables. The roadside stalls certainly showed everything beautifully presented, very clean and indeed of high quality. Some of the stall holders were in traditional dress which were very colourful.
So, back on the bus for the journey back to Chiang Mai. Dinner was at a place recommended by Trip Advisor, but it had changed hands since the last review and the new owners didn't quite make it. Shame, the food was ok, but not as good as we expected, never mind, put it done to experience.