Walking on the Roof of Thailand

Kew Mae Pan is perfect for experiencing a breathtaking sunrise, as it offers stunning views from above the misty valley.//Photo by National Park Department

Kew Mae Pan in Chiang Mai province, considered as one of Thailand’s best scenic natural trails, has finally reopened to the public after undergoing five months of rehabilitation. Nature enthusiasts can once again explore this picturesque trail and immerse themselves in the beauty of the high mountain and deep valley.

Stretching for approximately three and a half kilometres on the “Roof of Thailand” on Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain, the Kew Mae Pan trail offers a tranquil three to four-hour circular walk to explore a waterfall, sub-Alpine meadows and flowers, and wildlife.

A waterfall along the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail in Doi Inthanon National Park, ChiangwooMai.//Photo by National Park Department

Into the woods

The entrance to the Kew Mae Pan trail is located at KM.42, near the iconic twin pagodas in Doi Inthanon National Park. Hiking Kew Mae Pan is free of charge, as it is covered by the national park entrance fee. However, visitors are required to hire a local guide from the hill-tribe Hmong people to ensure they don’t get lost in the woods. The guide, with basic English-speaking skills, charges THB 200 for leading a group of up to 10 visitors through the trail.

Kew Mae Pan offers a circular hiking trail, ensuring you’ll return to the starting point upon completing your journey. The trail is divided into three distinct stages, comprising a total of 21 stations. At each station, you’ll find informative signs in both Thai and English, providing insights into the rich tapestry of landscapes and ecosystems that grace this area.

Led by your Hmong guide, you’ll swiftly arrive at the first stage of Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail, where you’ll find a rainforest adorned with lush moss and vibrant ferns, all vying for their share of sunlight. This evergreen forest plays a pivotal role as a watershed area, crucial for capturing moisture from the surrounding clouds. The forest floor is blanketed in a thick layer of leaves and organic matter, which, thanks to the chilly climate, decomposes slowly. This pristine section of the forest remains untouched by human activity, preserving its superb condition.

Open grassland and exceptional views

After venturing through the dense forest, you’ll emerge into an area of grassland bathed in brilliant sunlight, offering a delightful contrast to the shaded woods. Within this tranquil sub-Alpine meadow, the landscape transforms from lush green during the rainy season to a striking golden brown in winter. Station No. 9, equipped with a wooden platform, presents a panoramic vantage point for capturing awe-inspiring mountain vistas. This location is perfect for experiencing the dramatic sunrise, allowing you to witness the sun ascending above the misty valley.

Doi Inthanon National Park is covered with frost in winter.//Photo by National Park Department
A wooden boardwalk winds its way through the forest on the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail in Chiang Mai.//Photo by National Park Department

In addition to its mesmerizing landscape, Doi Inthanon National Park shelters the long-tailed goral, also known as the Chinese goral. Observant visitors can catch a glimpse of these elusive goat-antelope creatures as they navigate the park’s steep cliffs and narrow crevices, often residing in small herds of four to five.

: Goral navigate the steep cliffs and narrow crevices of Doi Inthanon National Park.//Photo by National Park Department

Leaving the goral observation point, your Hmong guide will lead you along the narrow pathway, known as “kew” in the northern dialect. This is the very origin of Kew Mae Pan’s name, derived from the nature trail that winds between two slopes diverging in opposite directions. To your left, the slope descends into a forest, where majestic and sturdy trees thrive in lush greenery. On your right, the mountain dramatically drops into a deep valley, blending with others to create a captivating contour of bluish-green.

Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail is celebrated for its magnificent rhododendron arboreum flowers. Continuing your journey, you’ll encounter numerous rhododendron trees, lovingly called ‘kulap pan pee’ or the ‘thousand-year rose’ by locals. These evergreen shrubs, bedecked with a splendid array of bright red flowers, capture attention all along the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail. The vibrant rhododendron blossoms are a welcoming sight for the new year, as they bloom from the first month and continue to grace the trail until March, creating a brilliant natural spectacle for visitors to behold.

Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail winds its way through sub-alpine meadows carpeted with wildflowers.//Photo by National Park Department
Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail is celebrated for its magnificent rhododendron arboreum flowers.//Photo by National Park Department

Continue your exploration until you reach stations 14 and 15, where you’ll be treated to a view of the Phra Mahathart Napamaythaneedol Chedi and the Phra Mahathart Napapoommisiri Chedi, affectionately known as the King and Queen pagodas. You’ll then make a graceful transition from the open grassland back into the welcoming embrace of the forest.

The culmination of your journey along the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail awaits at station 20. Here, on a tranquil podium nestled deep within the forest, you can find a moment of serenity as you sit and savour the soothing symphony of rustling leaves and the gentle whisper of the wind through the trees.

Planning Your Trip

The Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail is situated within Doi Inthanon National Park, approximately 100 kilometres west of Chiang Mai town centre. The trail welcomes visitors daily from 6 am to 4 pm (the last entry allowed) between November and May.

While some tour operators in town organize day trips to the national park, it’s essential to inquire beforehand if the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail is included in the itinerary. Alternatively, renting a car, with or without a driver, provides the flexibility for a scenic road trip to Thailand’s highest mountain. Along the route from Chiang Mai to Inthanon and beyond, numerous attractions await exploration.

Doi Inthanon is a highly sought-after winter destination, so it’s advisable to plan your trip meticulously to avoid large crowds of tourists.

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