What a fun hike this is. It’s not a very well known hike and the only people we saw during this hike were Thai people. And not just Thai people, but Thai people from non-touristy places in Thailand that were real excited to see foreigners. One of the groups even took a photo with us. It was nice not feeling like a locust for a change 😉
Back to the hike – It’s a proper hike through a Thai jungle. And getting to the short of it, I surely recommend it to anyone enjoying a solid walk in the outdoors.
In the Khun Tan area there is also an elephant hospital you have to check out called Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital. As well as bustling local market with all sorts of goodies you’ll find missing in the Chiang Mai market scene.
Hiking on Doi Khun Tan
Antonia and I got so lucky dodging the rain. Waking up at 6:15am I heard the rain falling outside. Before my eyes are even open, I’m feeling that “Oh Shit…” feeling. I don’t want to spend alllll day in the rain: biking in the rain, hiking in the rain, elephants in the rain, biking in the rain. “Ugh!”
“Oh well, I’ll get ready and see what happens. Maybe we just don’t go and throw away the 250THB spent on the bike. Meh.”
One hour later, “Oh wow…check that out. The rain isn’t raining anymore.”
With that bit of fortune having past we happily rode down to Doi Khun Tan. It took about 1.5 hours from leaving the apartment to starting the hike. A mostly uneventful ride – Antonia even said out loud, “I wonder when we’ll be leaving the urban sections…” Those gray buildings go on and on and on. As you’re getting pretty close to the park you’ll start seeing those small green mountains out in the distance and soon you’ll be driving through them 🙂
Some of the jungliest driving I’ve done in Thailand happened just here at Doi Khun Tan. It’s so great driving through here. Nobody is on the road, especially at 8:30am during low season, but I’m always honking around those turns. I don’t trust nothin! As always, it’s super fun going around those sharp mountain turns.
Eventually we got ourselves up to the information center and the final gate where they ask for 100THB/person and 20THB motorbike fee. It’s a really nice building and the people are so nice and happy to talk to you. They tell you all about the hike, they give you a trail map, they tell you about the bungalows and camp sites available. It’s nice to see that money is being put into the national parks of Thailand 🙂
After the information center we continue driving up another kilometer…ish? And finally it’s time to start hiking! There are 4 stops, or “Yo”s (“Yo” is the Thai abbreviation for a military strategic point), along the way (the 4th being the summit). Each stop has a sign post with the historical significance and story behind that site. The coolest one to me is at Yo2. This place was first set up by the British Bombay Company as a rest camp. Then the Thai army used it during World War II as a strategic point. Then, after the war, the land was bought by a former Thai Prime Minister who proceeded to build a vacation home. And if you wanted to, you can stay at a guest house or bungalow at Yo 2 🙂
Unfortunately for us, it is the rainy season. And as things go during the rainy season, it is cloudy and it is rainy. We went in expecting as much, but it is still really sad when you get to the top of a mountain that is supposed to have a near 360 view and all around it just looks like purgatory. But just one more reason to come back (like I need more reasons to come back to Thailand!).
The typical hike (from where we parked our bike) is a 5km hike to the summit, so 10km total. But you can make it a longer hike and sneak in some waterfalls (though they aren’t terribly impressive) by taking a separate path starting at the information center.
Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital
Don’t get confused with the “Conservation” nearby
Something really nifty and convenient is that the road through Doi Khun Tan goes all of the way through (unlike Doi Inthanon, which is one-way up and then back down). So we entered on the West side (west siiiiddeee), and then exited on the South side. And on the South side you can visit the Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital! Which is a fantastic organization that is exactly what it sounds like. Hurt, injured, and sick elephants are cared for at the facilities here.
The founder, Soraida Salwala, wanted to start FAE Hospital ever since she was eight! As a child she saw an elephant injured on the side of the road – hit by a truck. She asked her dad to stop and help the elephant and he told her there was nothing they could do. That moment created a dream and vision that ended up with FAE Hospital. I wish I had found my calling at age 8, but here I am writing a blog (No. I wasn’t dreaming of becoming a blogger back then ;p).
It’s completely free to come here and they’ll happily show you the different elephants they are caring for now and tell you all about them. Many of the cases come from farming work on the Myanmar border where the elephants step on left over land mines, which typically leads to amputations of their lower leg joint. So now they have a tool shed on site that enables them to build prosthetic limbs for elephants! – The first ones ever built!
But this isn’t the kind of place where you get to wash, feed, nor even touch the elephants. You do get to stand close and see beautiful 3-year-old elephants and 60-year-old elephants doing their thing.
NOTE: There is an elephant “conservation” next to the FAE Hospital. Do not confuse the two please!! This is one of the many fake conservation sites that allow elephant riding and take poor care of their elephants.
And then to top it all off we stumble into a market driving back to Chiang Mai. Located just off the main road, close to Doi Khun Tan, there is a large covered market. We did our trip on a Sunday, so I don’t know if this is a weekend market or an everyday market. It was excellent though! I saw things here that I haven’t seen before. And the prices were noticeably cheaper by 10, 20, or 30 baht. We bought a HUGE bag of passion fruit for 30 baht; then back in Chiang Mai we saw a bag of passion fruit for 50 baht that has ⅔ of what we found 😀
We also stumbled into a temple with a ginormous statue. There were many steps leading up to the temple and from the big statue there was a very nice view to be had as well.
How To Get There
We rented a motorbike and drove ourselves down – I mean…this is my number one recommendation for going anywhere anytime! If you drive yourself down, fill up your tank at the final service station just before you’d turn left to get to the Doi Khun Tan national park.
You can also see the route we took by selecting the square button in the top-left corner of the map. This will bring over a menu. Check the box for “Directions from…” There you go 🙂
But, if you are on an even tighter budget and you’ve got time to spare, you can take a train from the Chiang Mai train station to the Khun Tan train station. You’ll do an extra 8km total hiking from there. This would be cool for three reasons:
1. It’s the highest elevation train station in all of Thailand
2. It’s also got the longest tunnel in all of Thailand (~1352m)
3. You can actually start the hike from the train station. It’ll add about 4km one-way and a lot more climbing, so you’re in for a long day! But an awesome one 😀
Here is an excerpt from a TripAdvisor comment about training to Khun Tan:
“Did a day trip from Chiang Mai today to the summit of Khun Tan. It Is a great escape from the city. I caught the 8:50am train from Chiang Mai, and got up to the visitor center by about 10. The total hike took me about five hours, and that was including the looploop to the waterfall. The hike up was fantastic, I did it on my own and had no concerns and the view at the top is spectacular. The loop to the waterfall wasn’t worth it in my opinion, especially in the dryer season the water wasn’t running very fast and it’s a lot of extra uphill and downhill. Overall it was a fantastic day from the city – I got the 18:20 train back to Chiang Mai and was back to my hostel by 8 PM”
The table below shows you the total costs for 2 people. Antonia donated 200THB and I donated 100THB. Plus the entrance fees were 100 each and 20 for the motorbike (30 for a car).
|Transport||Motorbike and Fuel||$380|
|Activities||Kuhn Tan Entrance Fee|
FAE Hospital Donation
|Food||Random Market Stuff|
Normal Cheap Food
|Other||Alcohol & Gifts||$0|
Have a great time hiking! If you like what you read and want to see more, subscribe to my mailing list 🙂
Let me know how your hike went! What cool things did you see??