Introducing Doi Tung
About halfway between Mae Chan and Mae Sai on Rte 110 is the west turn-off for Doi Tung. The name means ‘Flag Peak’, from the northern Thai word for flag (tung). King Achutarat of Chiang Saen ordered a giant flag to be flown from the peak to mark the spot where two chedi were constructed in AD 911; the chedi are still there, a pilgrimage site for Thai, Shan and Chinese Buddhists.
But the main attraction at Doi Tung is getting there. The ‘easy’ way is via Rte 1149, which is mostly paved to the peak of Doi Tung. But it’s winding, steep and narrow, so if you’re driving or riding a motorcycle, take it slowly.
Along the way are Shan, Akha and Musoe (Lahu) villages. It is not safe to trek in this area without a Thai or hill-tribe guide, simply because you could be mistaken for a United States Drug Enforcement Agency agent (by the drug traders) or drug dealer (by the Thai army rangers who patrol the area). However, under the royal project development, this area has got safer.
On the theory that local hill tribes would be so honoured by a royal presence that they will stop cultivating opium, the late Princess Mother (the king’s mother) built the Doi Tung Royal Villa (0 5376 7011; www.doitung.org; admission 70B; 6.30am-5pm), a summer palace on the slopes of Doi Tung near Pa Kluay Reservoir, which is now open to the public as a museum. The royal initiative also educated on new agricultural methods to stop slash and burn practices. Opium has now been replaced by crops such as, coffee, teak and various fruits. The rest of the property, including the Mae Fah Luang Garden and Mae Fah Luang Arboretum (admission 80B; 7am-5pm), is also open to the public. There is also a top-end hotel, a classy restaurant, coffee kiosk and a Doi Tung craft shop up here. This place is popular with bus tour groups.
Another nearby royal project, Doi Tung Zoo (admission free; 8am-6pm) covers an open space of over 32 hectares. The zoo was first established as a wildlife breeding and animal conservation station, to help reintroduce many species to a reforested Doi Tung. These include Siamese fireback pheasants, peacocks, bears, sambar deer, barking deer and hog deer.
At the peak, 1800m above sea level, Wat Phra That Doi Tung is built around the twin Lanna-style chedi. The chedi were renovated by famous Chiang Mai monk Khruba Siwichai early in the 20th century.
Pilgrims bang on the usual row of temple bells to gain merit. Although the wat isn’t that impressive, the high forested setting will make the trip worthwhile. From the walled edge of the temple you can get an aerial view of the snaky road you’ve just climbed.
A walking path next to the wat leads to a spring and there are other short walking trails in the vicinity.
A bit below the peak is the smaller Wat Noi Doi Tung, where food and beverages are available from vendors.
Last updated: Feb 17, 2009