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Doi Inthanon's hidden charms
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  1. #1
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    Nov 2005
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    Doi Inthanon's hidden charms

    Peak time

    Royally-sponsored initiatives lend lustre to the lore of tourism around Doi Inthanon, the country's highest mountain


    The country's highest peak, Doi Inthanon in Chiang Mai, has many charms hidden in the embrace of its remote valley.

    The road leading to the summit is always packed with travellers, most of whom are just content scaling the 2,500-metre high peak and trekking back downhill the same day, perhaps not aware that there are a few quiet, interesting corners in the vicinity waiting to be explored, for example, royally-sponsored agricultural research stations that support villagers in growing colourful flowers, temperate fruit and organic vegetable.

    One of them is Royal Project Inthanon, nestled 16 kilometres from the Hmong village of Khun Klang that wows visitors with its assortment of fruit plantations, flower gardens and a delicious meal of rainbow trout where the fish sourced fresh from a pond in its compound.

    "We plan to expand the pond, make it more beautiful. Perhaps one day you will be able to fish for trout here," said Rattana Detchkulawit, a public relations staff.

    The pond is a stone's throw from the twin waterfalls that nourish the valley all year round. Thanks to "clean farming" pioneered by the research station, water in the pond remains unspoiled, an essential condition for raising trout.

    The initiative to raise rainbow trout was launched in 1998 to substitute imports, then in the range of 900 tons annually. Conditions on Doi Inthanon are conducive for trout farming, and already the station produces 20 tons of the fish annually.

    "We do not know why but the water here is a bit warmer, 16-18 degrees Celsius, compared to temperatures deemed ideal for their growth elsewhere. The fish grow up to 250-300 grams in just eight months compared to a year it takes in most other places," said Rattana.

    Flowers thrive in temperate climate of Khun Wang.An experimental farm at the Royal Agricultural Research Centre in Khun Wang.

    Most trouts raised here end up on the dining table. Rainbow trout is the preferred choice of visitors, and they are served fresh with vegetable salad at a relatively cheap price at the in-house, which is a nice place to sit back and relax at the end of a hectic tour exploring the valley.

    "Besides trouts, we raise redclaw crayfish and sturgeon. There are plans to raise crayfish in rice paddies as they continue to remain 'clean' as Karen villagers still practice the traditional organic farming. The sturgeons you see here are the very first batch. Who knows if you come back next time you may be able to order some cavier," Rattana said.

    Conceived originally to substitute opium crops, Royal Project Inthanon today is a showcase of beautiful fruit and vegetable plantations interspersed with colourful beds of flower. And it is building an accommodation where visiting tourists can spend nights in a beautiful valley fed by cool refreshing breeze and eat hygienic organic meals.

    For those who prefer calm of the valleys, there is Khun Wang, 16 kilometres away on Highway 1284. The steep and winding road marked with potholes will challenge even the most hardy drivers, but once you reach the Royal Agricultural Research Centre there, all the trouble is easily forgotten.

    Rugged mountains and colourful gardens dot a landscape dominated by plum and macadamia trees, orchids and most importantly Arabica coffee farms that thrive in the cool weather and at that altitude - 1,400 metres above sea level. Coffee buffs will make merry here tasting it brewed freshly in modern machines and strolling the orchid farms that boast the much-sought Inthanon Lady's Slipper.

    Duddao Butrapa, one of the staff, then offered to show me around the centre. I hopped onto a motorcycle for a tour up and down mountain that turned out to be a revelation.

    It was a ride past long scenic patches of macadamia, peach and plum trees growing in neat rows on slopes lined with cherry blossoms.
    "You have come too late. The whole valley had turned pink with cherry blossom last week," she said, explaining that usually the flowers are in bloom from mid-January until end of February, but winter had arrived early this season, which explained why I missed out.

    Peach trees were past flowering and beginning to bear fruits. I watched as workers wrapped them in paper to protect them from bugs. By the next month they would be ripe for eating, I was told.

    It's Duddao's duty to note their growth and take necessary action. She herself supervised the wrapping, occasionally cajoling her workers as they toiled, which was no fun, but the workplace was certainly great - warm sun, refreshing mountain breeze and the sweet odour of flowers blowing across mountain slopes.

    Seven kilometres away is another agriculture research station in Mae Jon Luang, and again, the dirt road leading there is in poor shape. But Mae Jon Luang offers great views. Guesthouses there are set on a beautiful slope facing a picturesque valley to their west, something that certainly appeals to love couples who could be seen admiring the view at sunset, which they can even do from the privacy of their beds.

    Among the attractions are a waterfall nearby, coffee, tea and strawberry fields. The biggest draw, however, is a macadamia plantation with wooden boards and pestles that invite visitors to have a go.

    "It is very delicious. Just crack open the macadamia nut with the pestle and enjoy the fruit," said Boonthung Thipjon, a security staff, which kind of surprised me because I had always thought it took some expensive machine to work the nut out of its shell before it was processed and packaged for sale in supermarkets. Here I found even the raw fruit tasted good as well.

    "One day I brought a tour group who initially planned to picnic drinking beer by the waterfall. After I taught them how to crack open the nut and they got a taste of the fruit, they spent all afternoon here," Boonthung said.

    I did the same, immensely enjoying the experience late into the evening until the sun was about to disappear beyond the mountains. I took out my camera and snapped a few pictures, by then thoroughly content in the knowledge that I had explored a side of Doi Inthanon not familiar to most visitors.

    Royal Project Inthanon is at the Km 31 mark on Highway 1009. Its entrance is partly obscured by the Hmong village of Khun Klang. Tourist accommodation is available. To watch rainbow trouts, you need to obtain permission in advance. For information, call 053-268-567.
    The Royal Agricultural Research Centre in Khun Wang is 16 kilometres from Khun Klang on Highway 1284. Tourist accommodation is available with rooms priced 750-2,000 baht a night. The Royal Agricultural Research Centre in Mae Jon Luang is only seven kilometres from Khun Wang, but the road is in poor condition requires and good driving skills. Tourist accommodations are priced from 400 baht onwards. For more information, call 053-114-133-6.


    Enchanting view of flowers set against the backdrop of mountains at sun-down, as seen from the Royal Agricultural Research Centre in Mae Jon Luang Chiang Mai

    Rainbow trout is a delicacy at Royal Project Inthanon.There are plans to raise crayfish in rice paddies raise crayfish in rice paddies.

    Mae Jon Luang presents a breathtaking view of mountains reinforced by forest and fruit plantations.

    Cymbidium orchids in bloom at Khun Wang

    More pics in post#3
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  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    Rochford, Essex, England, but my heart is stil in Doilo!
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    Re: Doi inthanon's hidden charms

    Just knew there was a lot more to see up there!
    I just love it, Intanon National Park, and the surrounding area, every time I return find something or somewhere new. Fascinating.
    Thanks for posting that Don.
    To be happy with where you are, first be happy with who you are.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
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    Re: Doi Inthanon's hidden charms

    The images of the above post were lost when "Bangkok Post" moved the article to its archives However, I saved the images prior to this, but am constrained to posting 6 images per post. Here are the remaining images.

    Map, Lady Slipper Orchid, Fruit trees.
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