One of my absolute favourite places in Northern Thailand, is the hike to the top of mountain Doi Luang in Chiang Dao. Been to the summit 5 times, 3 times I did the hike alone, but 2 times I had the pleasure of company of like minded. First my wife joined me, and later a friend. Do not get me wrong, the mountain is a very popular spot for thais and foreigners alike, and given the fact that it is only open for the public from 1. November to 1. March, then it can get crowded there. Especially in the weekends. Which is the reason that I always do these hikes on work days.
When my wife joined me, I had been there 3 times already, knew what to expect, and I was keen on getting up there in good time, so I could get som nice sunset pictures. The hike has two starting points. One north west of the mountain, and another by the ranger station south west of the mountain. I have never done the hike form the ranger station, only realised it was there when I made my last hike, and at that time I was already on my way to the North side.
From Chiang Mai there is a 70 km with motorbikes to Chiang Dao, so I prefer to sleep overnight in guesthouse in Chiang Dao, before we start the hike. Good night sleep and being able to start out fresh very early is important. It takes 5-6 hours relatively hard hike to get to the summit.
My wife does not do much hiking and camping, but she is from the eastern Thailand, from a farmers family, so hard work and knowledge of the nature is her home turf. But she should still impress me a lot on that trip.
We were at the trail head early in the morning, she had a bag with a few things she needed for the night at the top, and I had the rest. No 7/11 or other fancy shops to buy stuff, so all you need, you need to carry. Water, food, tent, sleeping bags, extra clothing. The camp is at about 2.000 m altitude, and since the mountain only is open for the public in the cold season, then it becomes vital to bring warn clothes, because in 2.000 m altitude it becomes even colder.
But we had not walked for long. In fact only about 10 minutes and my wife needed a break. I was frustrated, because if she was exhausted after only 10 minutes hike, then 5-6 hours hike would be a killer. But she tried to calm me down, by telling me we would soon be at the top. Made me laugh, she had no idea. But, I wanted the sunset pictures, and felt it would be for nothing, if we were to struggle to get there, only to be hours too late, so I tried to convince her, that we should turn back home, and I would do it alone another day. I tried hard to be honest, but she did not budge. Se wanted to join me to the top.
So, we kept going. It turned out she just needed to get climatized, get the blood flowing, and she took off. I ended up struggling to keep up. But that was not what impressed me. I was wearing proper hiking boots, solid grip, firm fit, worn many times so the fit my feet like a hand in a glove. It was steep at times and it was slippery too. But what did my wife use? Single shaped plastic shoes. And not a word from her. She was half way up and she got blisters. She just went into the bush, found som leaves, pinched them in between her heal and shoe, and she kept going.
We reached the top about 4 pm, with another 2 hours to sunset. Usually I brought tent for the hike, the area is cleared for tents, but since I did not have a 2 person tent, then I decided to experiment with a hammock solution. One each, with a sleeping bag wrapped around it. Seemed to work very good for my wife, being only 159 cm tall, she could fit snug in it, but with 185 cm the challenge was different for me. I got at good nights rest, but not really much sleep. Summit was cold and windy, and the view not as beautiful as it could be. Having said that, when I went there a few years later with my friend Peter, it was raining the whole time. That was miserable.
After a nights sleep, we went down again, bright and early. Still no complaints from my wife, though she did mention that this mountain I could keep for myself in the future. 🙂 It was very much a “been there, done that” kind of thing to her. As we walked down we came across a huge ball of bees. We made sure not to disturb them as we passed, but sure enough, as we reached the trailhead we got information that other hikers had less respect for nature, and had to poke in the ball, with a less than fortunate result.
It has been years since I was up there last time. Sadly or luckily, depending on point of view, then things has changed there. In order to ensure nature stays clean and well preserved, then they have changed the rules. Hiking alone up there is forbidden, one has to have a guide. Limited number of people is allowed at the trails at one time, and there are strict rules about what you can and can not bring. Rangers will run through your stuff before departure, and if they catch you with proper permission on the mountain, then you are subject to heavy fines. I respect the need to enforce rules to ensure nature stay clean, just not 100% sure that is the only reason for the changes. And being at the top for 5 times, knowing more about the mountain than most visitors, then I do not feel like paying hundreds of dollars for guides. So, for now that remains a good memory of the past.