OverviewDoi Pha Hom Pok (ดอยผ้าห่มปก), also spelled Doi Fah Hom Pok, is the second highest peak in Thailand and located in far northern Fang District in Chiang Mai province not very far from the Myanmar border. It is truly a unique area, surrounded by natural beauty and almost untouched by foreign visitation. Although it is surpassed in elevation only by Doi Inthanon located about 200 kilometers to the southwest, it offers a far different experience than either Doi Inthanon or nearby Doi Chiang Dao not far to the south (the third highest in Thailand). Doi Inthanon, being the highest in the country, is heavily visited and a popular driveup with several nature trails and waterfalls at the lower elevations. Doi Chiang Dao offers a relaxing and beautiful trekking experience with spectacular views of the surrounding limestone peaks. Sort of a same-but-very-different blend of the two, visits to Doi Pha Hom Pok involve a nice but reasonable hike yet is often accompanied by dozens of other local visitors seeking to experience the cold, beauty, and a unique sunrise on a remote summit away from home.
Doi Pha Hom Pok is the highpoint of the Thailand’s northernmost national park which bears the same name. The name Doi Pha Hom Pok translates to ‘mountain covered by a blanket’, a reference to the thick forest covering the higher elevations of the park. The cool weather, morning fog, and seasonal rains fill the forest with mosses, ferns, and lichen to enhance the experience. There are many orchids, plants, insects, and other small animals to see as well. In addition to a visit to the summit other activities surround the area that shouldn’t be missed. See the Other Activities section below.
Typical visits to Doi Pha Hom Pok begin before dawn at the highest campground in Thailand, the Kiew Lom Campground. Often there are several dozen other visitors who begin the trek in the early morning hours, mostly Thai visitors seeking to experience the cold in the midst of a tropical climate. If fact, there is a good chance that despite the crowds there will not be any other western visitors at all! The highlight arrives as sunrise as the sun appears over the sea fog (talay mok) and hundreds of photos are taken… even (in my case) as the clouds resist cooperating.
Doi Pha Hom Pok is located outside Fang in Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park near the Myanmar border in far northern Thailand. Fang is a virtually unspoiled town located in a wide valley filled with rice patties and bordered by thick forested mountains. Very few, perhaps no, other western tourists are likely to be encountered here though it makes for a reasonably popular destination for many Thai visitors. The weather is much cooler than in most areas of Thailand, and there are plenty of shops and stands where cheap jackets, hats, and mittens can be purchased for those planning to visit higher elevations. Many locals lack a robust understanding of English though most will understand more than enough for you to get by. Still, if you have even a basic understanding of a few Thai words it can often get you a long way.
The easiest way to reach Fang is to rent a car locally in either Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai and make the journey on your own. There are both international and independent car hire services available, and I’ve found both to be acceptable (note, however, that many credit cards cover insurance on car rental services, and independent local hires are often cash only deals). A GPS is a great asset; rent one if you can. If you are in the country for an extended period it would be worth purchasing one.
Reaching Fang from Chiang Mai is simple enough, just head north on Route 107 from central Chiang Mai for 150 kilometers, passing Mae Rim, Mae Taeng and Chiang Dao en route. There are a couple of curvy sections through the mountains, but they are also quite scenic. Route 107 heads directly into the center of Fang. Expect the drive to take about two and a half hours.
If approaching from Chiang Rai follow Route 1 south of Chiang Rai for approximately 22 kilometers and turn right onto Route 118 towards Mae Suai. After another 27 kilometers in Mae Suai turn right again to Route 109 as signed for Fang. Route 109 heads over a mountain pass and after 60 kilometers reaches Route 107 just 7 kilometers south of Fang. Turn right at the intersection and head north. The drive from Chiang Rai takes less than two hours.
By bus or songthaew:
Public buses run from Chiang Mai to Fang and like elsewhere in Thailand are extremely economical. There are also buses from Fang District to the national park office. Note that there are not many (probably any) local motorbike hire options available as Fang is not an area that many western visitors tend to frequent. Unless used to the dirtbag backpacker lifestyle, renting a car will probably be more favorable.
Reaching the park entrance from Fang:
Road signs clearly mark the directions from the Route 107 bypass west of Fang to the Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park entrance. The distance is about 7 kilometers from the bypass and 9.5 kilometers from the town center. After turning west off the Route 107 bypass as signed, bear right after about 200 meters onto Route 4055 towards Pong Nam Ron. The road is a bit of a country road, but well paved and easy to follow. Pay attention to the signs, take your GPS if you have one, and don’t hesitate to ask for directions if you need them. Everyone is very helpful!
Any visit to Doi Pha Hom Pok should be preceded with a stop here at the park office to make arrangements to visit the summit, stay at Kiew Lom Campground, or address any other inquiries. Be sure to pick up a map, brochure, and ask about other attractions in the area too.
The only access to Doi Pha Hom Pok is via the popular and well maintained trail beginning at the Kiew Lom Campground in Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park. The route is easy to follow even before dawn and has a good path all the way to the summit, though it is briefly dusty or slippery at times. Note that there is no water available en route and consequently you will need to bring a supply with you.
Trip statistics from Kiew Lom Campground:
3.5 kilometers one-way, 361 meters net elevation gain (only small amounts of additional elevation gain on the return)
The trail begins at Kiew Lom Campground, the highest in Thailand. The campground is a large area packed with tents in season located at 1924 meters elevation. If you arrive in the dark restrooms are located just downhill to the east, and the trail begins left (west) of the main visitor center above the campground. The route passes through forest and gains elevation intermittently, at times very steeply so. It is extremely easy to follow with just a few ups and downs throughout the entire route. A few distance markers are passed and there are also several interpretive signs with information on the surrounding flora and fauna (although as of this writing they are all entirely in Thai).
Thick forest shades mosses and other plants under the canopy for most of the journey, kept cool and moist by fog that frequents the area. As you approach the final steep push to the summit the forest gives way to brush and finally an open area where a large maker notes the top. In season there will likely be very many (often several dozen) Thai tourists gathering at the summit area for the opportunity to bundle up in the tropical cold and watch the sun rise over the morning fog below.
Flora and Fauna
The forests in Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park include dry dipterocarp forest at the lowest elevations, mixed deciduous forest (the dominant type in Thailand) at most elevations, and semi-evergreen forests and hill evergreen forests at the higher elevations. Underneath the forest canopy there are many species of mosses, lichens, and ferns. Both common and rare orchids are also visible in the area; over 58 species of 137 different types of orchids have been found in the park.
The park is the home to over 328 species of birds and at dawn and dusk visitors may also see bats feeding in the sky. Butterfly watching is also popular locally and there are many species in the area. With a little luck you may see signs of local mammals like macaques or gibbons though this is less likely. Other mammals include the barking deer (muntjac) and wild boar. Footsteps or other traces are more likely to be seen than the animals themselves.
In addition to visiting the summit of Doi Pha Hom Pok or observing the local flora and fauna, there are many other great things to do in the park and surrounding area that make a visit even more worthwhile. Outdoor activities include mountain biking on numerous trails in the area, picnicking, or visiting nearby Huay Born Cave. The cave has many internal features including stalagmites and stalactites and is a popular attraction. Immediately at the park office there are interpretive trails where visitors can learn about the geothermal features in the vicinity, or even cook eggs in the adjacent hot bubbling pools.
The developed area around the hot spring also includes outdoor and private indoor mineral spring bathing and Thai massage facilities. The hot baths are a welcome way to relax after an early morning climb up the mountain. I would not skip them!
The park is filled with remote and scenic waterfalls and this was the highlight of my visit, it would be unfortunate to leave the area without visiting any. Look for a map or brochure in the park office and take some time to seek out these destinations. Waterfalls in the area include Pong Nam Dang, Bhoo Muan, and Tat Mok waterfalls and there are many others.
The standard process for western tourists to visit Doi Pha Hom Pok is to hire a car and guide from outside the National Park Office near Fang. Personal vehicles are permitted but not in the late evening hours (enter before 3:30 PM) and a guide remains necessary. Even near New Year holidays, I had no difficulty in obtaining a guide for the next day. There is a checkpoint en route where security will confirm your vehicle is satisfactory (vehicles driven by guides are reported to be 4wd, though you perhaps could enter with any high clearance vehicle). The road is very rough and even if passable by experienced drivers with rental cars, don’t expect to get in with one unless it has high clearance.
Prices change but are at fixed rate if you are arranging transportation with the services in the national park office (you don’t have to haggle). Expect to pay about ฿1800 total for a high clearance vehicle, guide/driver, and camping spot if staying at the campground. Equipment rental for staying in the campground is only slightly more, and vehicles hold up to eight people. The rate is a bit cheaper, perhaps ฿1500, if not staying overnight and instead leaving early in the morning from the park office.
Your experience may vary, but after driving up in the early morning our driver/guide simply waited at the campground as we climbed the mountain with the predawn crowds and watched the sunrise on our own. You can remain on top as long as you like and then enjoy the forest scenery on the return. There is a small kitchen where food can be purchased at reasonable prices near the campground.
When to VisitThere are three seasons in Thailand, and northern Thailand is best visited during the cool season (though it is more crowded during this time). This season lasts from November through February with comfortable temperatures during the day and cool, or even cold, temperatures at night. Always be prepared for especially cool and windy temperatures on and near the summit of Doi Pha Hom Pok, as they can reach as low as -2°C at dawn (28°F). This will certainly be the most crowded time to visit the peak, as there are many local tourists who flock to the area each morning to experience the cold temperatures in the midst of a tropical climate.
The hot season lasts from March to May, and not a bad alternative time to visit. This is especially true if you can time your visit to be around April 15 when the entire country celebrates Songkran, the Thai New Year festival. During Songkran the streets are filled water fights and participants rubbing scented chalk on fellow partiers’ faces. I highly recommended the experience.
The rainy season lasts from May until November with high humidity and daily downpours (though they are often brief). If you are planning to do any trekking or visit the summit of Doi Pha Hom Pok then this season should be avoided.
The most popular way to climb Doi Pah Hom Pok is with a predawn ascent and returning after the sunrise though this is not a requirement. Most Thai visitors choose to stay in the Kiew Lom Campground located immediately at the trailhead. Kiew Lom Campground is notable for being the highest elevation camping area in Thailand (1925 meters in elevation), and this makes it even more popular with many of the Thai visitors. Tents are set up in season and can be booked at the national park office for very reasonable rates. There is also a camping area near the hot springs at the park office though it is a bit too overrun with day visitors to seem like a very pleasant experience.
Lodging in the nearby town of Fang is also available and a very cheap alternative. I found it preferable as a visitor who wouldn’t get much out of the novelty of camping out in a large and fairly packed campground (though I am sure interacting with fellow campers would be enjoyable in its own right). Reservations shouldn’t be necessary if just picking up a room in Fang unless seeking to stay at one of the higher end nature resorts in the area. Many bungalows and inns are scattered about town and most offer very reasonable prices although they can vary greatly. Though a few places were full, we were able to find a respectable room just before the New Year holidays for only ฿300, and some less than decent options were even cheaper.
Note, however, if staying in Fang and still planning on the usual pre-dawn ascent you will need to wake considerably earlier in order to meet your appointed transport at the park office prior to being driven up to the trailhead. Our morning departure time was 2:00 AM!