A biodiverse treasure
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A biodiverse treasure

The Ang Ka Nature Trail in Doi Inthanon National Park offers visitors a glimpse into a unique ecosystem

The Ang Ka Nature Trail gives visitors the chance to explore a 4,300-year-old evergreen forest.
The Ang Ka Nature Trail gives visitors the chance to explore a 4,300-year-old evergreen forest.

It was starting to drizzle and the mountain was shrouded in a sea of mist, making it difficult to see the winding roads leading to Ang Ka Nature Trail nestled in Chiang Mai's Doi Inthanon National Park. There's something alluring about travelling in the rainy season, when the forest becomes green and provides a sanctuary from the heat.

It's called Ang Ka, which means Crow Pond in Thai, since many crows come to bathe here. With its swamp ecosystem, the trail is home to more than 490 different species of bird as well as rare plants and wildlife, including sphagnum moss and stunning red rhododendron which serves as a food source for the green-tailed sunbird, ashy-throated warbler, Doi Inthanon frog and Himalayan newt. This implies that the area's water bodies and streams are of high quality.

In 2021, Doi Inthanon National Park and the Thai Rak Pa Foundation enhanced a 320m wooden boardwalk, allowing visitors to explore the 4,300-year-old primeval, evergreen forest that serves as the gateway to the Himalayan range.

There's also the Angkha Virtual 360 Degree app which educates people about the biodiverse ecosystem of the region and provides a virtual experience. Users can listen to the sounds of nature or zoom in and out to explore the dense foliage.

A map with 11 learning stations and highlights is displayed at the entrance. During on-site tours, visitors can also scan QR codes to find their way and acquire further details in Thai and English thanks to virtual reality technology.

While strolling through the shrubs, visitors can imagine travelling back to 1991 when Canadian zoologist Michael McMillan Walsh arrived at Doi Inthanon and spent two years creating this natural route.

A holy well is almost hidden from sight behind thick undergrowth. Its pristine waters were utilised in the sacred tradition of transporting Buddha relics from Jomthong to Chiang Mai, which dates back to 1566, and the 2019 royal coronation ceremony of His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun.

The rain continued to pour and the temperatures plummeted but the path led us further down to the verdant grove of sphagnum moss (known locally as kaotok reusi), the largest non-flowering moss in the world. It grows well in cold, wet climates and stops growing in low-moisture environments, which enables it to resist drought conditions.

Thanks to its outer cells, which have the capacity to expand up to eight times and absorb 20 times their own weight in moisture, sphagnum moss can store water like a sponge and brings humidity to the forest.

Just a few steps away, it seemed like we were playing a game, looking for rhododendrons that conceal themselves. At Doi Inthanon, which is more than 1,800m above sea level, four species -- three white and one red -- are visible.

A viewpoint provides a stunning view of the swamp forest.

Stands of rhododendron were once predominant here, but when the temperature changed and larger trees started to block the sunlight, it became harder for them to survive. They were eventually overrun by species of hill evergreen trees that are better adapted to low light.

Rhododendrons require bright sunshine to thrive up to 12m in height. Between November and February they blossom, providing a substantial supply of nectar for blue-throated and green-tailed sunbirds.

Perched atop Thailand's highest mountain, the viewpoint here overlooks a 30 rai swamp forest featuring a wonderful combination of grasses, undergrowth, shrubs and sphagnum moss. Meanwhile, the tea-brown groundwater in this area has low acidity, thanks to the abundance of fallen biomass which can store a huge amount of carbon and prevent it from evaporating.

Visitors can then move towards the stunning cloud forest, where tree trunks and branches on all sides are covered in thick layers of epiphytes. The plants have developed this thick covering to adapt to their surroundings. Ferns, lichens and moss are examples of epiphytes that flourish in chilly, damp environments.

Situated more than 2,550m above sea level, clouds gather and supply moisture to the surrounding area while trees release water into the atmosphere and spread roots to absorb water and slow down water runoff.

A dense carpet of ferns, lichens and moss cover the trunks and branches of trees.

Ang Ka is a great place to see birds as green-tailed sunbirds, ashy-throated warbler, grey-sided thrush, rufous-throated partridge, pygmy cupwing, and Eurasian woodcock all build their nests here.

This swamp forest also accommodates a variety of endangered creatures, rare reptiles and amphibians including moonrat, yellow-bellied weasel, red bamboo snake, Doi Inthanon rock frog, Fea's treefrog, Inthanon litter frog and Himalayan newt.

After descending from the evergreen mountain, we continued to Kaomai Lanna Resort & Estate 1955 which is in San Patong district. Encircled with towering trees and local plants, a wide range of tempting dishes with a blend of local and Western influences are presented in the nostalgic setting of a welcoming Lanna village.

Back in 1930, British American Tobacco conducted a study on Virginia tobacco in Chiang Rai before its expertise was expanded to Chiang Mai. Traversing a narrow 300m stretch of Kao Mai Avenue transports visitors back in time to 1955, when Chao Chuen Sirorot established Mai Ping Tobacco with a row of 50 tobacco barns on this 43 rai plot of land.

Sphagnum moss serves as a reservoir for the forest.

This iconic route won the 2018 Unesco Asia Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation in the New Design in Heritage Contexts category. Some of the 18 classic barns have been turned into museums, a cafe, bistro, a teahouse and 34 guestrooms to shed light on the history of the tobacco industry in Chiang Mai as well as Lanna craftsmanship that makes use of local wisdom and different materials.

"In the past, all 500 farmer families delivered their produce to us. Some 30% were given to the Tobacco Authority of Thailand and 70% went to private companies like Philip Morris. Later, the owners closed the tobacco business and started planting trees for housing projects as a result of rising fuel and wage expenses. At the same time, farmers chose to plant longan rather than tobacco. When rice, tobacco and soya beans require four months to mature in a crop rotation loop, farmers no longer want to work too hard," said Chalermpong Siriudomrit, a business development manager of Kaomai Lanna Resort.

"Capitalising on tourism to Chiang Mai, the owners transformed a tobacco barn compound into Kaomai Lanna Resort in 1997 and launched Kaomai Estate 1955 in 2016 where people of all ages can enjoy green space and history. Cutting-edge technology has been used to strengthen the building's structure, and all of the designs have been modernised while blending in with the surrounding."

The following day, we spent a few hours shopping in Jing Jai Market Chiang Mai, which is in Muang Chiang Mai. On weekends, hundreds of local designers, artists and farmers gather here to show their collections of handicrafts, Lanna-inspired fashion and accessories, ceramic tableware, handcrafted leather, silver jewellery and artworks as well as fresh produce from their farms.

November to February is the best time to see rhododendrons in full bloom.

After a long walking tour, I spent the afternoon unwinding at San Kamphaeng Hot Springs and took a 15-minute foot soak to relieve tense muscles. This 75 rai hot spring was developed into a tourist attraction in 1984 in collaboration between the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Cooperative Promotion Department, before being transferred to the Treasury Department.

Situated atop the Mae Tha fault, these natural hot springs range in temperature from 100C to 105C and are connected to the natural hot springs of Chae Son National Park. In three hot springs, visitors can boil eggs.

In the upcoming year, the hot springs will undergo a massive renovation that will turn the area into a luxury Japanese-style wellness centre complete with foot spas, onsen villas and hot spring baths. Mae On Hospital will also develop a wide range of treatments using natural minerals.

On the final day, we made our way to Wat Pha Lat before leaving Chiang Mai. Surrounded by lush mountainous scenery, this ancient temple was first built in 1373 by King Kuena of the Lanna kingdom as part of a pilgrimage path to four sacred temples atop Doi Suthep, which represent the four stages of enlightenment in Buddhist beliefs.

Many different species of bird can be found at Ang Ka Nature Trail.

After going through several repairs, the temple was abandoned until 1972, when Phra Ajarn Pongsak Techathammo moved in. This temple was renovated by the Fine Arts Department four years ago. With an emphasis on simplicity and tranquillity to cohabit with nature, it boasts stunning Lanna colonial architectural designs set against the backdrop of a verdant mountain.

Two beautiful statues of Phaya Intathirat, which is a hybrid of a human, angel, naga and singha, and Phaya Thammikarat whose four hands hold a conch shell, trident, container and tripitaka, stand at a stairway to greet visitors.

Inside, its wihan houses a highly revered Sukhothai-style statue of Phra Un Muang that is believed to have been created in 1374, while an ordination hall is home to a white Chiang Saen-style Buddha statue. Another highlight is a classic Mon-style Saen Suk stupa, which has Buddha relics within and four singha-shaped sculptures decorating its base.

On the other side of a waterfall is a stunning Buddha hall built in the Mon-English style. Inside is a collection of antique Chiang Saen and Burmese-style Buddha sculptures in the reclining and subduing Mara postures.

Kaomai Lanna Resort, a row of classic tobacco barns converted into a museum, a cafe, a restaurant and lodgings.

Travel info


  • Ang Ka Nature Trail is located in Doi Inthanon National Park, Jomthong district, Chiang Mai. It's open daily from 5am to 7pm. Admission fee is 30 baht for children and 60 baht for adults. Call 053-286-729 or visit facebook.com/doiinthanonnationalpark.
  • Kaomai Lanna Resort & Estate 1955 is at 1 San Patong district, Chiang Mai. Visit kaomailanna.com.
  • San Kamphaeng Hot Springs is in San Kamphaeng district, Chiang Mai. It's open daily from 7am to 6pm. Call 065-963-0137 or visit facebook.com/sankamphaenghotsprings.

At Kaomai Lanna Resort, a row of classic tobacco barns converted into a museum, a cafe, a restaurant and lodgings.

Jing Jai Market Chiang Mai is a gathering place for artists, designers and farmers.

Jing Jai Market Chiang Mai is a gathering place for artists, designers and farmers.

San Kamphaeng Hot Springs offers a foot spa, baths and a chance to boil eggs.

Wat Pha Lat is recognised for its Lanna architecture.

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