A big secret outside of Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai Travel Blog

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For those of you who would like to get off of the "tourist trail" while visiting Chiang Mai I want to share my most recent trip with you.  I was invited to spend the Songkran holiday with friends at Doi Khun Tan (4Th highest mountain in Thailand)....and am I glad I did!  "Doi" translates to mountain in Northern Thai, while "Khun tan" refers to the numerous streams flowing down from the mountain.

We stayed in one of the 6 cabins available through Payap University at Yaw 3.  It slept a max of 15 and we had a very comfortable 12 people in our cabin.  There were also three hong nam located inside of the cabin...one with a hot water shower!  A generator provides electricity from about 6:30 PM (at this time of the year) until 10 PM at both the cabins and the dining hall/game room.  Other friends stayed in some of the additional cabins located on this elevation. (We had a total of 25 in our group ranging in age from 70+ down to 2 years old)  There are 6 additional cabins available through the Park Service located on Yaw 2 but I can't comment on them since I only saw them as I climbed up and down the mountain.  They look new and seem to be very nice though. 
Because we had notified the University, a "cook staff" was available to us and we enjoyed three really great meals a day...(although the hot dogs at breakfast did leave a bit to be desired....)  Drinking water, coffee and tea were available all day at the dining hall/game room.   Most evenings we had a campfire and cooked marshmallows and enjoyed them with graham crackers and Hershey's bars....YUMMY!  I understand from my friends that the staff is not always available, but there is a caretaker who lives up there who can help you out if necessary.  Also, if you're not in great shape to make the climb from the parking area some very nice Thai men are available to take your packs and food up to the Yaw for 150/THB.  They even took one of our group up on the back of their bike for an additional 150/THB....If you take the train from Chiang Mai the climb is about 4.5 or more hours, but from the parking area it's only about 1.5 hours (if you haven't been climbing in awhile like me this was a good thing!)  The views along the way are spectacular....and when you get to the top....OH MY!  It's Thailand like you've never seen her before!
Located in the mountains of northern Thailand, Doi (mountain) Khuntan national park is home to many interesting species of flora and fauna as well as historical places. One of its distinguished feature is the Thailand's longest railroad tunnel (Khun Tan tunnel), which is 1,352 meters long. Doi Khuntan National Park contains the mountains straddling Lamphun and Lampang provinces. Established in 1975, it is the14Th national park in Thailand.
The three seasons are hot season from late February to June, rainy season from July to early November, and the remainder is the cold season.  It actually got so cold up there we were sleeping under two or three blankets....(supplied by the Payap/KhunTan staff in all of the cabins....along with bottom sheets and small pillows) 
Khun Tan tunnel
Construction of the tunnel at Khuntan, which was cut through solid granite bedrock, began in 1918. Khuntan tunnel was nicknamed the "cemetery of laborers" as it is said that over 1,000 workers died while constructing the tunnel due to suffocation, accidents, malaria, tigers and fighting amongst themselves. It is said that the workers were opium addicts (how they became addicts is unknown) who agreed to work because they were given opium in addition to the wages.

Yaw 1 (900 meters elevation)
In 1917, the State Railways of Thailand built a vacation house at camp (Yaw) 1 while building the railroad and tunnel in the valley below.

Yaw 2 (1,035 meters elevation)
Camp (Yaw) 2, was first used by the British Bombay Company as a rest camp. During World War II, the Thai army used this site as one as one of its "Yutasatan" or strategic camps. After the war, former Thai Prime Minister M.R. Kukrit Pramoj bought the land and built a vacation home at Camp (Yaw) 2.

Yaw 3 (1,225 meters elevation)
While the tunnel was begin built, American Christian missionaries living in northern Thailand also took advantage of the cool climate and beautiful surroundings of Doi Khuntan and built a retreat at Camp (Yaw ) 3. Payap University in Chiang Mai now operates the bungalows.

Yaw 4 (1,373 meters elevation)
Doi Khuntan also saw activity during World War II. The Thai military used the highest peak of Doi Khuntan or Camp (Yaw) 4 as a look-out point for military operations. It was at this time the term "Yaw" or "Yutasatan", which translates into "strategic camp", was introduced. A visit to Camp 4 (the peak) provides a beautiful view of the valleys and surrounding mountains of Lamphun and Lampang.

The forests of Doi Khuntan have changed dramatically in the past century due to human disturbance. The forests can be divided into three types according to the elevations.

1. Lowland elevations (325 - 850 meters). Originally a teak forest, the lowland elevation is composed of a degraded mixed bamboo deciduous forest and deciduous Dipterocarp - oak forest.

2. Middle elevations (850 - 1,000 meters). This is a transitional area where the lowland deciduous forest and upland evergreen - pine forest mix to from the mixed evergreen and deciduous forest. Two species of pine trees in Thailand: a two-needle pine (Pinus merkusii) and three-needle pine (P. kersiya) are found here.

3. Upland Elevations (1,000 - 1,373 meters). The forest in this range is composed mostly of evergreen hardwood trees and a minority of pine (Pinus merkusii) forming an evergreen - pine forest. Much of the forest and watershed on the west side of the national park have been disturbed; however, healthy conditions are seen on the eastern side.

In addition, Doi Khuntan offers year-round viewing of wild-flowers such as orchids, gingers and lilies. Doi Khuntan is botanically very diverse. Numerous edible plants and fungi are found in the park.

Some wildlife still exists in Doi Khuntan, including the Siamese hare, porcupine, wild chicken, wild boar and weasel, a variety of birds, reptiles, spiders and insects. The effects of hunting, logging, frequent fires and human encroachment have greatly reduced their numbers. In the past, gibbons, tiger, elephants, bears, wild cattle, serow, slow loris, barking deer and many other species were also residents of Doi Khuntan.

In addition to hiking the trail (approximately 8 km from Khun Tan train station near the tunnel) to the summit, people can also visit the four waterfalls. Daht Moei waterfall is easily accessible and is located on the 6 km round trip hiking route from the park's headquarters. Mae Prai waterfall is more magnificent and is accessible by a 12 km round trip trail from the park station at Mae Prai in Chat district, Lampang province.

How to get there and facilities
Tourist can reach Doi Khuntan national park by railroad or car. It is approximately 1.5 hours from Chiang Mai. By train, get off at the Khuntan station and hike 1.3 km up the hill to the park's headquarters. By car, take the superhighway between Chiang Mai and Lamphun. Turn off at the Meatha road and follow the signs to the park.

Doi Khuntan park has 6 bungalows for rent, and areas for tent camping.
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photo by: Stevie_Wes