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Most of the beautiful Thailand photos you see on Instagram are usually of the pristine beaches, elephant sanctuaries, uniquely designed hotels, and jaw-dropping limestone cliffs. So visiting Doi Inthanon National Park wasn’t even on our radar when we planned our 3-week trip. When we arrived in Thailand at one of the busiest times of year (Christmas), we hadn’t booked the entirety of our trip – leaving a little wiggle room for last minute spontaneous adventures. Turns out everyone else had made plans, leaving us to wander around Chiang Mai to find a hotel for New Years eve – the one night we hadn’t booked – oops!
Don’t have time to read through our detailed trip banter? Scroll down straight to the guide!
We must have walked to 30+ hotels and they were all fully booked up – it was the same with online booking sites. Apparently Chiang Mai is a hotspot for New Years celebrations! Luckily two guests at our hostel overheard our situation as we discussed our options (or lack thereof). They immediately told us about their homestay in one of the Karen Villages in Doi Inthanon National Park. We emailed the tour company, Next Step Thailand, and the owner, Samart, got back to us within an hour confirming they had a family who could host us for the night on a private tour. Phew! We didn’t have to sleep on the streets!
It turned out to be the best PLAN B scenario you could ever hope for. We hope you enjoy this guide and consider making a Next Step Thailand tour your PLAN A on your Thailand itinerary.
WHO TO BOOK WITH:
We booked with Next Step Thailand. Our guide is based off our experience with this tour operator.
WHEN TO GO:
Dry season goes from March to May.
Wet season (June – September) can see an upwards of 330mm of rain per month
The coldest months (we use that term loosely because it’s still quite warm) are December and January, with temperature dipping to 52F/11C at night but still hot during the day.
If you want to literally have the mountains and waterfalls to yourself – with the exception of the locals – we highly recommend going New Years eve. We saw ZERO tourists on December 31st and only a handful on the 1st. It was incredible if you love escaping crowds.
WHAT TO BRING:
▢ good hiking or running shoes you don’t mind getting dirty
▢ water bottle
▢ small backpack
▢ long comfortable pants (cooler climate in the jungle)
▢ comfortable hiking t-shirt
▢ Sweater that you can easily tie around your waist or backpack
▢ rain jacket for wet conditions only
▢ wide brim hat for sunny conditions
▢ undergarments (undies, socks, comfortable bra)
▢ reusable bags for the food market
▢ travel mug if you like coffee on the go
▢ all toiletries – it’s not a hotel, none will be provided
▢ camera or iPhone camera
▢ spending money for local artisan shops along the hike
▢ hair elastics or bandana
▢ Toilet paper or an open mind about drip drying
▢ portable or solar chargers – check with tour company beforehand if there is electricity at your homestay (ours had one outlet)
Day 1 Morning:
We were picked up from our hostel in Chiang Mai and driven to a local market where we sourced ingredients for all of our meals. Our tour guide Sam, helped us pick out ingredients to prepare traditional Northern Thai cuisine, as well as some fruit for our snacks.
TIP: The meals can be totally vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, or pescetarian. The guide lets you help pick the ingredients based on your dietary needs.
Day 1 Afternoon:
1. Hike through Doi Inthanon National Park.
- meet Karen Village organic farmers along the hike.
- discover many of the beautiful waterfalls throughout the mountains
- learn about the local flora along the hike
2. Visit the Kings Project Botanical Garden
Day 1 Evening:
1. Drive to highest peak in all of Thailand
- watch the sunset
- admire the King and Queen Pagodas
- take in the stunning views
2. Learn Northern Thai cooking with your homestay family and tour guide
- help prepare dinner
- learn about all the simple methods used to cook and preserve food
- eat a delicious communal dinner
Day 2 Morning:
1. Homestay Breakfast
2. Back on the trails
- visit more waterfalls
- visit the local school that Next Step Thailand supports through tourism
- visit a local coffee shop and local artisan clothing shop
Day 2 Afternoon:
Finish off the hike and head back to your hotel with a new perspective on life
Here are a few key reasons why Next Step Thailand is perfect for those who want to travel sustainably:
- homestay’s are by far the most environmentally friendly ways to travel as they require no additional land or materials to build and maintain a hotel/resort
- They practice “leave no trace”: When you go on a tour in a natural environment, they make sure to leave nothing behind, so the natural environment stays exactly as it was prior to our visit.
- The products they do buy are biodegradable, returnable, or recyclable whenever possible.
- Food served is either grown from the local organic Karen Village farmers or purchased from local farmers markets
- Tour guides promote sustainability by educating tourists on how to make basic products from local renewable resources, i.e. from cups made of bamboo, lunch containers made of banana leaves, and soap from soap bush leaves.
- They avoid mass tourism by offering mostly private or small group tours. This makes it more expensive but it’s worth the investment as some of the the money goes directly back to community initiatives.
CULTURAL NOTE: There are many Karen Villages, but one that most people know about is the Long Neck Karen Village. This is not where we stayed. There is some controversy over the Long Neck Village because it is believed the culture has been distorted for tourists. The women, who have many rings around their necks, work at souvenir shops where tourists can take photos of them in exchange for money, turning them into objects on display. Part of sustainable tourism is not forcing cultures to change for your benefit. Next Step Thailand is very culturally sensitive and is more keen on tourists adapting to their culture. We did meet some of the villagers getting on with their day-to-day tasks (i.e. we met farmers, seamstresses, and the owner of a coffee shop in one of the villages) but it was a natural interaction that didn’t seem forced with our guide who actually LIVES in one of the Karen Villages.