Time: At least one full day
Cost: 230 baht entrance fee, plus petrol
Rumour has it that the views from Doi Chang Dao are some of the best in Thailand. The mountain itself is known to be the third-highest peak in the country, and the national park around it is infamous for its endemic species, and cooperative coffee – the farmers got so annoyed with losing money to the middle man, that they cut him out themselves, got together, and now sell together under the same brand name. Power to the people!
What time should you set off for Doi Chang Dao?
My boyfriend and I only have a few days left in Chiang Mai, so we used our last day off work to head to the mountain. Online sources indicated that the round trip trek would take eight to ten hours, so at 6am we dragged ourselves out of bed and got ready to set off.
What time of year should you climb Doi Chang Dao?
Now, for those of you that don’t know, Thailand is currently in some of the coldest temperatures they have seen for a while. Earlier this week, Chiang Mai city was as cold as my hometown in England. With this in mind, we wrapped ourselves up in multiple layers, including hats, scarves, and windproof jackets. As we set off for the hour-and-a-half drive to Doi Chang Dao, I thought it was a little nippy. Half an hour down the line and neither of us could feel our fingers, so I think that it is really important that you bear in mind the weather when you are planning your day. Doi Chang Dao itself rises up into the clouds, which makes it very cold. So, be prepared!
How do you get to Doi Chang Dao?
The easiest way to get to Doi Chang Dao is to follow directions to Doi Chang Dao Cave (incidentally, this is not worth a visit: it’s just another example of Thai people milking you for money with a 40 baht entrance fee followed by a further 100 baht to go into the real cave). When you get to the entrance to the cave on your right, continue down the road. You will get to a fork, and take the right-hand option.
Eventually, you will come to the park entrance where the guards will charge you 200 baht per adult, and 30 baht per vehicle. This entrance is the easiest way onto Doi Chang Dao, the one on the other side of the mountain will not allow you entry unless you pay 1000 baht for a guide.
Once you have waved goodbye to the friendly guards, you drive up the winding roads, beeping at every corner to avoid being squished by a local car. Eventually, you will reach a place for parking on the left, accompanied by maps of the area: this is where your trail starts.
The walk up Doi Chang Dao
We started our walk at about 9.30am, which was far too late if you want to summit in one day, so we ended up turning back at about 12.30. The first 30 minutes of the walk is by far the hardest – steps have been cut into the steep mud slopes that just go up and up. However, once you are passed this part, it gets a lot easier and more pleasant. There are a variety of different terrains on this walk, that I think makes it very magical. We passed through bamboo forests, banana forests, open plains, and climbed over gnarled roots of jungle trees. This kind of landscape really inspires the imagination, and it was fantastic to taste some clean, fresh air for once. Another marvel that we experienced was seeing the clouds roll over the looming mountains and plummet down towards us. We realised at about 12.30pm that we should realistically turn back, as we wanted to try the cave and still had the drive back to Chiang Mai to deal with. This was slightly disappointing, but sensible.
The mountain has two campsites, so I would recommend camping it. If we had had more time, and had planned our final week a little more efficiently, we definitely would have camped. That way, there is no pressure to get down before it gets dark, and we would have been able to summit. Alternatively, don’t drive up from Chiang Mai, as that will take you about 3.5 hours in total. There are places to stay in Chang Dao, and you can make a trip of it. Do you have any experience with Doi Chang Dao? If so, let me know!