Exploring Thailand’s highest peak

The highest peak of Thailand is high up in the mountains of Doi Inthanon. The peak  is situated 2,565m above sea level and is home to two chedis, for the King and Queen of Thailand. Driving to the peak in the Doi Inthanon mountain is a popular destination for expats living in Chiang Mai. It is often missed by tourists being around 2 hour’s drive from the city. Despite the drive, it was a must-see on our sightseeing list being the highest mountain in Thailand. So we ventured to the mountain at the weekend, driving through some of the most spectacular scenery we’ve seen!

Starting off in the centre of Chiang Mai, you head towards Hang Dong and onto the small Thai village of Sanpatong, where there’s a huge locals market to explore. It’s around an hour until you hit those incredible scenic views but well worth the wait. Paddy fields to your left and farmer’s fields to your right, with amazing mountain views all around, it’s definitely worth the drive just for those views.

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Knowing we still had an hour left of our journey and more driving through the national park, we made a very last minute decision to stay the night in the surrounding area of Doi Inthanon. When I say last minute, I mean driving along the highway at 50 kmph, passing a Tesco Lotus and Lee (my boyfriend) suggests stopping to get some overnight necessities.

Overnight decision making on the highway

Overnight decision making on the highway

With the decision made and a steady 2 hours later you arrive at the entrance to the Doi Inthanon national park. Stop off for some lunch near the first of many waterfalls in the park, you’ve already begun to see those much anticipated sights. Pass the national park checkpoint, where its 300bht/ adult to get in for foreigners, and head up the mountainous roads to the Doi Inthanon temple at the very top.

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Along the way you’ll spot signs for various waterfalls, I definitely recommend having a stop at Wachirathan waterfall. Driving on the road leading up to the waterfall, you can see it before you even hear it, which usually isn’t the case with waterfalls in Thailand, especially in the rainy season. Anyway, this waterfall was incredible! By far the best waterfall I have ever seen. After taking a while trying to get the perfect photograph, we continued our route to the top of the mountain.

Lee (my boyfriend) at the stunning Waterfall!

Lee (my boyfriend) at the stunning Waterfall!

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After driving through breath taking scenery, we spot the top of the King’s pagoda peeping out from behind the mountains. Breathing a huge sigh of relief that we’re near the highest peak in Thailand, you turn around and get an incredible view of the province of Chiang Mai below.

Amazing views all around!

Amazing views all around!

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Continuing on route, we finally arrive at the summit of the mountain and the two chedi’s built for both the King’s and Queen’s 60th birthday anniversaries. Find the much needed coffee shop closed, and head up the escalators to view each chedi. There are idyllic gardens you can look around too, and on a not so cloudy day, my guess is you could get a spectacular view of the mountains below at the designated view point.

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Noticing the time and turning around, we decided to look for somewhere to stay whilst driving through the clouds. There aren’t as many bungalows as we thought there would be, and all the ones we saw were full! We did find a cute little set of huts called Inthanon Eco Huts, but they wanted 800bht for a tiny, and I mean tiny room. Deciding to search outside the park, we headed out. Bear in mind “heading out” means another 40 minute drive through the jungle, with the sky getting darker and darker by the second. We finally found a hotel on booking.com 4km from the entrance to the park, which was just 450bht.

 

Next day, driving back to Chiang Mai, we spotted a temple we had noticed the day before, Wat Phra That Doi Noi. This temple is situated at the top of a small hill, with steps leading all the way to the top.

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Reaching the top, we noticed the temple is under reconstruction, so you get the chance to write your name on one of the roof tiles which is a great little touch for 15bht.

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Another amazing view of the mountains all around and its situated overlooking the Ping river. A recommended stop for anyone making the scenic journey to Doi Inthanon from Chiang Mai.

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The hidden temple of Wat Umong

Having been to many destinations surrounding Chiang Mai at the weekends, you often miss what’s right in the centre to explore. One Sunday, wanting quite a relaxing day, we sought out the unique temple of Wat Umong. Located to the west of Chiang Mai’s old town, 1km south of Chaing Mai University.

Entering the grounds, you find you drive into a small Buddhist village surrounded by Monks’ residence and a meditation centre. The grounds of the temple itself span around 15 acres of land and it really is as impressive as it sounds! Parking up and venturing up the 100 or so steps to reach Wat Umong’s famous pagoda, you’re surrounded by loads of chickens, you literally have to dodge them to continue your route! When you reach the top, you step out with a view of the biggest pagoda I have seen in the whole of Thailand!

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Exploring the surroundings of the pagoda, we noticed we were touring the temple backwards, although we weren’t the only ones, thankfully! Continuing backwards along the route you reach a set of underground tunnels leading to Buddhist shines in every corner you turn! Incredible to see and lovely to witness the respect people show to these underground shrines.IMG_8226IMG_8229 IMG_8232

The view of the land was just as incredible on the outside. There’s a whole area dedicated to Buddhist statues, most of them broken but you can tell they have been there for many many years, adding to the uniqueness of the temple. IMG_8239

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Outside you might spot a chicken climbing a tree or distinctive spiritual paintings and signs all around with inspirational words to add a bit of positivity to your life, although a few were lost in translation!

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Continuing along the route, out of nowhere you find yourself at a huge lake surrounded by Chiang Mai’s amazing jungle views. There’s the option to feed fish in the lake or the hundreds of pigeons hovering around for food instead. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a tiny turtle hidden in the waters too! Lovely place to unwind and relax for a while in the heat, but only if you can avoid the inevitable bird muck landing on you that is!

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Location of Wat Umong

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Driving loop around Muang On Cave

The great thing about living in Chiang Mai is that you are never too far from the glorious countryside Thailand has to offer. 15 minutes driving out of the centre and you are on open roads surrounded by paddy fields. You don’t even need to plan to go to a destination as the drive is idyllic in itself.

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Taking a drive north east of the city, stopping off for an incredible English breakfast at ‘The Sausage King’ you head into Chiang Mai’s countryside. A lovely 20 – 30 minute scenic drive and you arrive into the small, unique village of Doi Saket. A traditional Thai village, so different from the tourism of Chiang Mai. Looking up at around 100 steps to the sight of Wat Prathat Doi Saket, the view is incredible and a great photo opportunity too!

Continuing the drive through the small back roads of Doi Saket, I spotted the most unique Pagoda I’ve ever seen in Thailand! Pure white on the outside with golden Buddha statues hidden within the rows, in a silent area with no one around. Lovely find I must admit!

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Carrying on the road, you pass the Roong Aroon hot springs.  Smaller than the San Kamphaeng springs but a lot less touristy and only 20bht to get in. In fact, I think there were only two other people there. You could buy a few eggs for 20bht and cook them in the springs, or have a relaxing rest in their hot foot spa, which was great for a few minutes until it got too hot!

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Next on the loop was the destination we had in mind from the start, the Muang On cave. Arriving and being attacked by mosquitoes wasn’t enjoyable, but the stairs leading up to the start of the caves were very grand!

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Half way up the steps there’s a Buddhist shrine and a view point looking down from the mountain top at the stunning land below. At the top you reach the entrance, at only 30bht for foreigners, don’t be fooled by the women renting flashlights, you don’t need them at all. The caves are very well lit.

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The entrance is very scary for anyone slightly claustrophobic. There’s a steep staircase hidden by the darkness and you have to duck under part of the cave. The sight you enter after is incredible.

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I’ve never seen a cave so big inside, even compared with the caves in Chang Dao. There’s a reclining Buddha and shrines scatted around the caves. There was even part of the cave that was shaped like a face. Too good to miss having one of those annoying novelty photos next to it though!

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After leaving the cave, you continue on the same road, which brings you out near the San Kamphaeng springs, if you fancy seeing two in one day. Head back into Chiang Mai to finish the loop with the most idyllic scenery on either side.  A great day to see the sights surrounding Chiang Mai!

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Thanks for reading!

A last minute getaway to Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai is a popular destination for a short getaway for Expats living in Chiang Mai. Having only recently become expats ourselves, we hadn’t yet ventured to this part of Thailand. Late on a Thursday night Lee, my boyfriend, suggested the trip. Friday was fully booked so we opted for Saturday morning giving us one night there.

After a sleepy 3 hour coach journey, we arrived in Chiang Rai. Checked in to our guesthouse and rented a bike. Didn’t fancy driving our own bike here, especially being the rainy season so renting here was easier. 250bt later, we had our own transport and headed to Chiang Rai’s main attraction, The White Temple or Wat Rong Khun as its known to locals.

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As the name suggests, this temple on the outskirts of Chiang Rai, is completely white, including the white catfish we spotted in the water too! It definitely stands out as a temple so different to those you usually see because of its quirky design.

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You could tell a lot of thought and determination went into creating it. Don’t get me wrong, all the temples I have visited in Thailand have so much effort and time go into them, this one was just very unique.

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Even the bathrooms were golden!

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Inside the temple itself, the walls were covered with marvel film characters like batman, spider-man and even minions too! Not something you expect to see inside a Buddhist temple that’s for sure.

Driving back, we headed to the North of Chiang Rai ‘Baan Dam’ (The Black House). I was the designated navigator (not that anyone should trust me as navigator, I’m sure my boyfriend would agree). Thinking we were lost, even with google maps for direction, we continued along the suggested route, taking us down dark roads and past a lake. We even saw a woman walking two cows, having to slow down so they didn’t get scared and knock our bike into the lake, a pretty daunting experience I must say.

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Arriving at our destination 1 minute past 5 o’clock, we found the place had just closed! Took a few photos of our trip anyway, couldn’t have travelled that far getting lost and not document it!

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We continued being tourists into the evening and visited Chiang Rai’s night bazaar. Small in comparison to the one in Chiang Mai but the minute you enter you notice the difference. The stalls are not catering for tourists with elephant t-shirts and wooden frogs. Instead they have something different on each stall, a traditional Thai market. Quite a few stalls were closed though because the Saturday walking street was on across town.

Heading to that we found a quiet and relaxed atmosphere, we were some of the only farang’s around. Didn’t need to negotiate prices either because they were very reasonable! We headed to where we heard music and saw a live band surrounded by hundreds of local Thai’s dancing to a particular routine they all knew. It was amazing to see and such a nice surprise to end our night on.

Sunday was pretty much the same in the way of being tourists before heading back to reality in Chiang Mai. Headed out to find the tea plantation at Singha park. Half an hour’s drive from the centre, we arrived to see a giant Singha beer statue at the entrance to the park.

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There’s a small coffee shop too which serves the best apple pie! Considering I’m British and haven’t had one for so long, it was incredible and you’re served a huge slice too! There were limited areas you could drive your bike through the park but we opted for that instead of waiting an hour and a half for a tour bus.

Despite the rain, the Tea plantation was great to see, it was just a shame we couldn’t taste any of it. You could buy some in their overpriced gift shop but we gave that a miss.

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IMG_8041 Heading up to a restaurant with a 360 degree view point, the views across the park were stunning.IMG_8077

Decided to check out Chiang Rai beach on the way back. The name grabbed our attention being far up north.

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Although we knew it wouldn’t be an actual beach, we arrived to another amazing view looking out at the Kok river and sat for a while in a little bamboo hut to admire the scenery.

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Perfect way to end the trip and a great recommendation for anyone seeking a visit to Chiang Rai.

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Off the beaten track

Ever gone out for the day walking a nature trail and it turns out to be one of the best experiences you’ll have? Well that happened to me last weekend during a hike up the Doi Suthep mountain. So we (my boyfriend and I) started off by doing some research online to find a fun hike and found the nature trail to Wat Palat. It’s a small, lesser known temple within the mountains of Doi Suthep so we thought we would check it out. Driving up Suthep road and parking behind the back entrance to Chiang Mai zoo, we spotted the start of a nature trail with a map in Thai. Not being able to read any of it, we headed along the route anyway.

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Started out at about 4pm so it wasn’t too hot in the famous Thai heat, it took us around 1 hour to reach the temple. The nature trail was quite well used so we knew which way to go. We were literally the only ones around which added to the experience, although hearing the slightest little noise freaked me out.

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Having just rained about an hour before, I had in my mind that the trails would be full of snakes and spiders, thankfully there wasn’t any in sight, well until later but I’ll get on to that. There were mosquitoes everywhere you looked and even with a ton of repellent on, they still swarmed around you, so be prepared! About 20 minutes in, I could hear us getting closer and closer to the sound of water and we found a small waterfall hidden amongst the trees. Unfortunately there wasn’t a way to get down to it so we didn’t get the refreshing break I was longing for.

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Continuing along the trail you have the most breath taking scenery as you walk through the middle of the jungle, it’s amazing what you can find to do here in your spare time.

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Scenery like I’ve never experienced before, and then we reach a view point overlooking the whole of Chiang Mai, it just doesn’t get any better!

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After numerous water breaks, we finally crossed a wooden bridge and reached some steep steps.

IMG_7822The view that meets you at the top is incredible! The most stunning of temples and again an amazing view over Chiang Mai, met by the peak of the waterfall we spotted earlier.

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Just as we reached the top, the inevitable rain started. Hiding under some trees for shelter, we spotted a Monk calling us over to a dry spot, where we spent the next hour learning more about the reason behind training to become a monk and his daily routine. Crazy how much people can fit into one day!IMG_7897

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted what looked like a huge leaf that had fallen from a tree, turns out it was a long grass snake getting closer and closer to us! On closer inspection, my boyfriend realised it had a lizard in its mouth, struggling to keep its hold. Kept us lightly entertained for the next 50 minutes, slowly seeing this lizard getting smaller and smaller, didn’t even know snakes ate lizards!

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After our entertainment during the rain, the guy training as a Monk decided to give us the most amazing guided tour, explaining things we hadn’t thought about before.

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Along the trail up to the temple we had seen a lot of colourful ribbon tied around trees, assuming it was to stop people cutting them down. In actual fact a lot of Buddhists believe the trees have female spirits inside them and the ribbons are there to give them some clothes for dignity. Very interesting to find out!IMG_7794

Walked around the temples for a while, stunned at the amount of effort and detail that had gone in to making them over 600 years ago, it was incredible to see!

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So much history all in one place and one of the nicest temples I have been to in Thailand.

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We eventually made our way down, chasing not only the huge rain cloud above but also the last bit of light before sunset hit! I definitely recommend checking it out one weekend, by far one of the best days I’ve had living in Chiang Mai and some of the most incredible scenery to match too!

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