Doi Pui: North Ridge Trail

I’m itching for some high(-ish)-altitude hiking, so I set the map for Doi Pui.

Elevation in meters. We started walking at the juncion in the lower left.

Chiang Mai is in a valley, guarded by the revered mountain of Doi Suthep on its west side. Doi Suthep is visible from most of the city, and holds, on a prominent overlook, the great temple complex, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep–a popular tourist destination for Buddhists. So the name is quite well known.

The name of Doi Pui is not so well known, but it is the higher (by 9 meters) peak of the same mountain, just 3 km. or so to the north. A Grab driver takes us from our condo to the trailhead, for 600 baht.

A paved road goes to the top, only the last 2 km is closed to traffic, reserved for hikers, and the occasional mountain bike. The park map calls this the “bird watching trail”, as the dense broadleaf forest of the lowlands gives way to more open architecture of pines. We don’t see any birds, but we do spot some fast-moving striped squirrels (I think, chipmunks, but probably a different species).

14451441

After an hour’s amble, we arrive at the viewing area close to the peak. On a clear day one might see all the way to Myanmar, or at least the ridges around Mae Hong Son. Not so much today, with hazy skies. We are looking westward over a green valley, with rugged mountains beyond. Although the valley below has no roads, there is a small area that has been cleared, as if for planting. A closer look, there seem to be rows of shrubs, a small patch of… what? Thirty years ago, that would have been an opium plantation. But now, I don’t see how anyone can reach such an isolated area for a market crop. If people are living there, and growing subsistance foods, there no other evidence of them.

1440-d

So far, this is a familiar return to a previous visit. But this time, we are going onward. The trail–no longer paved (or marked), follows the knife-edge crest of the narrow ridge, and then–straight down!

Well, not 90°, of course, but something steeper than 45°. Esso, being light on her feet, can descend on two legs, but I’m less sure of my knees, and decide to employ the security of my butt. (No photos, please–I’m laughing, but I’m sure it looks ridiculous). The adventure is on!

And then, in the distance, our destination comes into view, the Hmong hill tribe village of Ban Kung Chang Kian.

1446d distant village

It’s a long way down. The impossibly steep trail–if you can call it that–continues. I manage to keep on my feet, but my knees are screaming with stress. Even Esso finds this tiring.

1449 steep

(Yes, that’s the trail, going straight downhill).

Finally, the plunge from the peak of Doi Pui is complete, and we hit a level stretch. We are still on a sharp ridge, and the views are still wonderful. Also, pink fungus growing on a tree!

This is the loveliest part of the trail. Magnificent pine tree, wide vistas, easy walking. But it only lasts a few hundred meters. We start down again (not as precipitously), and soon reach a junction where we leave the ridge to head down to the village. This would be a nice, easy, walk in the woods, but I’m still a bit shaken up by the stress on my knees from the steep descent.

This whole time, by the way, since leaving the developed viewing area near the peak, we have seen only two other hiking parties: both tourists with local guides, total of 6 people. The way I like to enjoy nature!

Finally, civilization. 1466. Ban Kung Chang Kiang

A short walk along this road will take us to the village where, I have been led to believe, we will find an ample supply of services: cafes, restaurants, and, most important, rod daengs (the ubiquitous Chiang Mai jitney-trucks) to take us back home.

So I thought. But actually, this is just the beginning of a new phase of the adventure.

We immediately pass a little yellow bus parked off the road. Aha! They even have bus service here, I think. A little farther up, another parking pullout at the edge of the town, a shiny red rod daeng. Just as expected. Let’s get some lunch! Esso wants to go talk to the driver of the rod daeng, but I say, we can do that later. The rod daeng leaves, minutes later, while we are discovering that most of the restaurants are closed today–it’s Monday, I guess people take the day off after a busy weekend of serving tourists. Yes, there are a few tourists in town; they all seem to have arrived on motorbike. That’s understandable, since the narrow, twisty mountain road to this place. is fun for bikers (I suppose) but something of a trial for drivers.

With many shops closed, and the view obscured by haze, the village is not particularly pictureque. Nothing going on except fresh-picked coffee beans drying in the sun. It’s pretty prosperous-looking, for a hill tribe; obviously, they do well with their boutique coffee crops. There are four cafes open, each with their unique house coffee. We find one that has food (not very good, but satisfying after the heavy work of not-falling downhill!). Esso asks about the bus–no, there’s no bus, just for school kids. We look for the rod daeng–gone, no sign of any others. Well, last resort, can we call Grab? Yes, we can call, the app is happy to quote a price and a waiting time–but there are no drivers here, and none that will come.

It’s a two-hour walk to the nearest major road.

No worry, I say. Let’s start walking. Esso thinks I’m crazy but doesn’t have another answer.

We head up the road that goes back toward Doi Suthep (the only paved road here). Several bikes pass us, otherwise we are just enjoying a walk in the forest. Another one, that is. One car goes by, but it is full with computers and cameras: mapping for Google, I wonder?

ride

After about 30 minutes, a pickup truck stops. Do we want a ride to Chiang Mai University? (That’s in the city, about 3 km from our home, and obviously an easy Grab-hailing area). We happily get in the back, which is otherwise empty, and enjoy the view. See, I knew it was no problem!

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