Often bearing a crown of clouds, sultry Doi Suthep (1676m) and Doi Pui (1685m) are two of northern Thailand's most sacred peaks. A dense cloak of jungle envelops the twin summits, which soar dramatically on the fringes of Chiang Mai. A 265-sq-km area on the slopes of the mountains, encompassing both summits, is preserved as a national park.
It attracts hordes of nature-lovers, and legions of pilgrims who come to worship at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
As you climb, lowland rainforest gives way to cloud forest, full of mosses and ferns, providing a haven for more than 300 bird species and 2000 species of ferns and flowering plants. The park is also a renowned destination for mountain biking, and several Chiang Mai–based agencies run technical mountain-biking tours along trails that were once used as hunting and trade routes by hill-tribe villagers.
The park accommodation makes a comfortable base from which to explore and a trail runs for 2km from the campground to the summit of Doi Suthep, though the only view is of eerie mists swirling between the trees.
As with other national parks in the area, Doi Suthep is blessed with many thundering waterfalls, including Nam Tok Monthathon, about 2.5km off the paved road, which surges into a series of pools that hold water year-round. Swimming is best during or just after the monsoon, but you'll have to pay the national park fee to visit. Closer to the start of the road to Doi Suthep, Nam Tok Wang Bua Bahn is free, and full of frolicking locals, although this is more a series of rapids than a proper cascade.
Above the Bhubing Palace are a couple of Hmong villages. Ban Doi Pui is off the main road and is basically a tourist market at altitude; it's more interesting to continue to Ban Kun Chang Kian, a coffee-producing village about 500m down a dirt track just past the Doi Pui campground (ask the park staff for directions). Rót daang (literally 'red trucks', operating as shared taxis) run from the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep parking lot to both Ban Doi Pui (60B) and Ban Kun Chang Kian (200B return).
The entrance to the park is 16km northwest of central Chiang Mai. Shared rót daang leave from Chiang Mai University (Th Huay Kaew entrance) to various points within the national park. One-way fares start at 50B to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and 80B to Bhubing Palace. You can also charter a rót daang for a half-day of exploring for around 600B.