Bare Foot Holy Hikers

I first went up to a stupa about half way up a ridge on the back of Doi Inthanon with a group of monks and locals from the Mae Win area on New Year’s day 2011.  We met at a temple known for it’s vipasana meditation teaching at 6 am on New Years Day. About 200 lay people joined most of the monks from the temple and a few dogs for a New Year’s day pilgrimage that the monks do every year to a small stupa that they have built on a ridge about half way up Doi Inthanon. The temple had prepared a feast of food for us to eat to give us energy for the climb.

The monks walked bare foot up to the stupa. We cut through the forest, getting lost a couple of times and came out on a spectacular ridge on the back of Doi Inthanon. We made extremely slow going as many of the locals from around Mae Win were not overly fit. I was amazed that so many people from around Mae Win turned out to do this hike up a mountain. Mae Win is a very small country town, most of the community had turned up to scale the back of this mountain. After we had got out of the forest and onto the ridge, the views were spectacular. This ridge we were on was on the North side of Doi Inthanon which I have called the back of Doi Inthanon because as we all know there is a road that goes up Doi Inthanon, it is on the South side of the mountain. We all walked around 5 km that day up the mountain.

Beyond the Stupa

Beyond the stupa that we climbed up to that day the ridge continued all the way up to the peak of Doi Inthanon. But there was a snag, the ridge ahead of us kind of petered out, by clambering over rocks and edging along we came to the edge of what was easily negotiable, and we could see in front of us that the ridge dropped down for a few meters and then petered out to a thin almost knife edge.

We took several very enjoyable trips up to this stupa all the time trying to fgiure out if it was possible to go further. We had been told it was possible to edge our way over the very scary looking cliff that was beyond the stupa. A lovely lady I met who was an experienced hiker told me when we went up there with the monks that she had gone across there with a group of hikers.

We went up that ridge several more times. It is a a lovely trip. We found another way up the ridge that starts near a Royal Project that we rather like to stay at and follows the ridge all the way up.

We got close to the abyss many times and gazed across longingly. We wondered how my friend and a group of other hikers had managed to get across there. As their traversal had been described to me, they had straddled the knife edge of the ridge and inched there way across and then possibly pulled each other and their bags up the small cliff, without even a safety rope! But we just didn’t see how that could be safely done. The knife edge dropped away steeply on each side for hundreds of meters and then there was a small cliff to climb with very steep drop off on each side!

Ropes and Belaying

I was very glad to meet an experienced rock climber who knew about such things as safety ropes, belaying and rappelling. After surveying the situation up there together, we actually lugged climbing ropes and rappelling harnesses up to the cliff area thinking that with ropes we could safely get across. Luckily we did not attempt this. We eventually had to decide we were not prepared for the worst case scenario that beyond what we could see there would be something impassable. There would be no way for us to easily come back! Once we rappelled down the cliff it would be very difficult to get back up.


So rather dejectedly we admitted defeat. We started heading back down the ridge. Then we found what we had already assumed would be impossible! There was a small rather illy defined trail that led of to the left just 200 meters before the stupa. We decided to check it out despite it probably being a dead end down to a toilet spot for campers or to a water source perhaps we thought but it turned out that the trail went down below the cliff area on the ridge and came back up onto the ridge on the other side. The ridge is so steep on both sides we just hadn’t thought that was possible. Going down the trail below the notch in the ridge there is one of my favourite views during the hike, it looks out over forest buried between ridges across the canopy which seems pretty much undisturbed forest and you can see all kinds of birds flying into and out of the forest canopy. Further along the trail there is a hole in the ridge big enough to walk through and a little ledge on the other side from which you can look out on the spectacular view over the valley.

Discretion IS the Better Part of Valour

Up above this ledge you can see a 150-200 m sheer drop. This would have been the cliff that we would have had to negotiate if we had got past the rather difficult section of the ridge that we had been contemplating going across. We would have been in a pretty nasty spot as going back once we had come to the sheer drop would have involved someone free climbing up the cliff we would have had rappelled down.


Having got past our mental plan to transverse the scary part of the ridge, and gotten past the physical notch in the ridge itself, we made it all the way up to the peak of Doi Inthanon. After getting back up onto the ridge again we found a path that headed pretty much straight up through forest to the peak. We came out onto the road just near the peak to join the numerous tourists who had done the sensible thing and driven up the road. 🙂

Some Rather Nice Bungalows Nearby

Below are some pics of the rather nice Royal agricultural research center bungalows and gardens in Khun Mae Wang we have stayed at several times. I have included a way point for the center in the attached GPS. I am told that there is also a rather nice Royal Project to stay at on the West side of the ridge in Khun Mae Wak hill tribe village which I have yet to check out (GPS waypoint included is from ESRI map – Chiang Mai Royal Agricultural Research Center, Mae Chon Luang). The center in Khun Mae Wang rents out there VIP bungalows which have beds for 3 at around 800 B a night. And for an extra 300 B will supply you with a charcoal barbecue fashioned out of half an oil drum and a metal grill, including charcoal but no food. There is a kitchen there that can prepare food for you but you should order dinner before 5 and eat soon after. The VIP bungalows are quite basic with difficult to operate gas showers but have lovely great big balconies looking over the beautiful gardens and the valley beyond.

The phone no to book ahead for the VIP cabins of which there are 4 (as well as two other larger cabins that might not be as nice) is 053-114133 (then press 0) this is the number of the booking centre. You can also call directly to the staff there on 0819602033

Pics of One of Our Attempts to Climb the Back Way Up to the Peak Of Doi Inthanon

Many of these pics were taken by Kurt I believe, thanks Kurt!

GPS Stuff

The altitude graph below shows this is a not very long hike in terms of distance, it is only 9.3 km but in that distance you climb over 1000 m in altitude.

Doi Inthanon Altitude Graph - altitude against distance for the hike all the way up to the peak

Doi Inthanon Altitude Graph - altitude against distance for the hike all the way up to the peak

Here is a gpx file that includes tracks to get up to Doi Inthanon and way points of places to stay and here is the same info as a kmz file which you can directly open in Google Earth.