Camping With Your Kids in Northern Thailand · DAY 1 · 2 Day Itinerary

Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, 16km northwest of Chiang Mai, has it all! Waterfalls, Hmong Villages, Temples, mountain biking, hiking, and camping! *Read DAY 2 here*

Our mountain-born kids started camping long before their first birthdays, and love to sleep under the stars. Our two children (8 and 11) and I were visiting Chiang Mai, Thailand, in 2012 and heard about an amazing nearby campground in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, so we decided to check it out!

DAY 1 – Depart from Chiang Mai

Doi Suthep campground is located in the mountains, 24km outside of the city, in Doi Suthep National Park. I made a reservation online and packed our day packs.

What to bring

  • Clothes (layers best) and socks, hats and gloves, the nights are cool/cold year round.
  • Toiletries, towel, and some TP
  • Headlamps
  • Sturdy shoes or sport sandals, good for hiking and exploring
  • Bottled water, snacks, (adult beverages,) and any other packable food items you’d like to have
  • Phone and handheld map/guide of the area (GPS may not be available)
  • Small first aid kit (with White Flower Oil, my travel essential, helps prevent motion sickness.)
  • Your sense of adventure!

You can bring your own camping gear, but the campground rents out everything you need to camp, so why not travel light?

I decided to hire a songthaew (red trucks with bench seating in the back) to take us up the mountain.

Songthaews run from several designated points in the city for about 40-50 baht per person, but you’ll usually need to wait until the driver has a full load before they’ll leave. You can also charter a private songthaew for 300-500 baht (one way) if you are willing.

Depending on your situation, you may want to rent motorbikes to drive up the mostly paved roads into Doi Suthep National Park.

Our ‘ride’ in Pai, Thailand

When we were in Pai,Thailand, I rented a scooter for the three of us to get around, but I didn’t want to try to make this journey with the three of us on one bike!

First stop, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

On the way to the campground, we passed turnouts for waterfalls, that we planned to visit on our way back. Before long, we arrived at one of the most spectacular Wats (temples) in northern Thailand, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. It’s a Theravada Buddhist temple located high on a hill, about 15km out of Chiang Mai.

Legend has it, that this temple site (established in about 1383) was chosen after a white elephant carrying a piece of the supposed shoulder bone of Buddha, was released in the jungles in the valley and then made it’s way up the Doi Suthep mountains to the site of the temple today. The elephant then trumpeted three times and died. The location was deemed ‘holy,’ by the King and he had the temple built at the site.

The kids on the steps of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is located high above the road, and you can ride up in a tram (30 baht,) or if you need to burn off a little excess “kid-energy,” climb the 309 steps up to the temple.

The staircase has multi-headed, ornate dragons adorning the entrance. You’ll also encounter children dressed in traditional costumes hoping you’ll share some of your bahts with them, in exchange for a photo.

We got to the top and you could sense excitement in the air, as groups of children darted in and out of the the temple entrance. We left our shoes outside and headed in.

We’d arrived during the current King’s 84th birthday celebration, so lots of locals and tourists alike had come to watch the children, dressed in their colorful costumes, perform traditional dances!

When you visit, take in the breathtaking 360 views of the surrounding hills from the many vantage points around the temple, and spend some relaxing time exploring the (normally tranquil) beautiful temple grounds.

The gold-plated chedi located at the center of the temple, considered very sacred, is surrounded by red and gold railings that enclose a walkway for devotees to perform ‘circumambulation,’ (the ritual of meditative walking around the chedi.)

After about an hour, we took the tram (instead of the stairway) back down to the parking area. We rode down with four monks who had also spent time at the temple. Monks are forbidden to touch women, lest they have to elaborately ‘cleanse’ themselves afterward, so I kept a respectful distance. But, these monks were so enamored by my golden-haired son, they lovingly drew him close the entire ride.

The Doi Suthep-Pui National Park bungalows

The songthaews line up near the temple parking area, in order of arrival. From there, they take travelers back to the city, or further up the road to the royal winter palace (Bhubing Palace,) the Hmong hill tribe village communities, and campground.

On to the campground!

We planned not to stop at the more touristy Hmong village up the road from the temple, opting for a smaller Hmong village, Baan Khun Chang Kian, a short walk out of the campground the following day. Unfortunately, our driver ‘misunderstood’ my instructions and took us down into Hmong Doi Pui Village.

The narrow road down to the village, dead ends at a parking lot full of vendors, cars and pedestrians. I’d read that this was an overwhelming tourist trap, and looking at the parking lot, the description was spot on! I’ve since heard that once you get past the touristy stalls in the parking lot, for a small fee you can see their gardens, a waterfall, and examples of how these people have lived in their rustic mountain community since they migrated there in the early 1970’s.

I packed some snacks and drinks before we left our house in Chiang Mai, because there isn’t a store at the campground. We later discovered that food and drinks can be purchased from the many vendors at Hmong Doi Pui Village and at almost every turnout along the main road.

On to the campground…again!

Our driver had to make a clutch destroying 30 point turn just to get out of the parking lot, but we eventually made our way back up to the main road we’d turned off of, and took a left. Coming up the main road from Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, take a right where the road splits and you’ll be on the road to the campground.

The road is narrow and winding, so our driver announced our approach by honking as he entered the multiple blind turns. Concentrate on your breathing, or you may arrive at the campground a traumatized mess! After traveling another 5 km up from where the road split, we arrived at the Doi Pui Campground.

Doi Pui Campground

A very helpful fellow at the visitor center will check you in. He’s been working with foreign tourists long enough, that regardless of the language you speak, you’ll be able to easily make arrangements for the night. You can bring your own gear, but it’s much less work to rent a tent, sleeping bags, pads, and pillows at the campground.
 The (2012) per night cost of the tent, that comfortably held us (1 adult and two children,) was 150 baht and 60 baht each for the bag, pad, and pillow, all the items were very clean and seemed new-ish. They also rent kerosene lanterns for 10 baht, but we ended up never using it, opting instead for our individual headlamps.
(As of December 2016, the prices have only risen slightly; Tent (max 3 person) 250 baht and about 100 baht for sleeping bag, pad, and pillow.)
We were able to choose from many tent sites, all of which were already set up. Tents were well spaced out on the grassy, terraced hillside, and situated so they look out at the expansive views of the city below. It is one of the most beautiful and unique campsites I’ve ever visited!

 Food, drink, and facilities

The campground has toilets and showers, but the tap water is cold, so we opted for sponge baths.
There’s a small kitchen attached to an al fresco dining area, so dress accordingly! The woman who runs the concession cooks up fried rice, soup and a couple of other Thai dishes each day, with beverages and some snacks also available for purchase. You can also buy pork, beef and fish balls (small dumplings,) from a young man who sets up a wok next to the main kitchen.
The campground quieted down early and we all took in the spectacular city lights view from our tent, as we drifted off to sleep.
Photo courtesy of Anna Faustino. Website: Adventure in You 

DAY 2

I awoke before sunrise and headed out in search of coffee, only to find other early risers also seeking hot beverages. The concession’s posted hours let us know that we’d all have to wait…

Click here for DAY 2 of Camping With Your Kids in Northern Thailand, to learn and how to find a delicious cup of coffee in the most remote location imaginable!

Camping With Your Kids in Northern Thailand – DAY 2

16 comments on Camping With Your Kids in Northern Thailand · DAY 1 · 2 Day Itinerary

  • Jamie

    Wow what an adventure. Thanks for sharing all the great tips. Looks like you got some amazing photos and had a fab time!

    • Penny (author)

      Thank you for your comment Jaime! Yes, it was amazing and unexpected. I hope this post will inspire others to get out there and give it a go!

      Pura vida, Penny

  • Cassie

    Wow!! Sounds like such an awesome trip. It’s definitely going on my bucket list. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Penny (author)

      I hope you’ll be able to pull it off of your list very soon! We can not wait to go back and do more exploring! Thank you for the comment! Pura vida, Penny

  • Tracy

    Goodness, what an amazing opportunity for your children. They will never forget that. You are such a fun mom! Those tents are even beautiful and the view of the lights of the city are amazing! Makes me want to start packing!

    • Penny (author)

      Thank you for your comment Tracy, and yes the campground’s location was incredible! Traveling as a single mom, I was super excited that we didn’t have to ‘pack’ much with us to make this trip happen, and neither will you! Pura vida, Penny

  • Kacey Perez

    What an amazing experience! I love reading this because it gives me a little more confidence to take my kids on adventures

    • Penny (author)

      You can do it! I try not to let fear hold me back and (sometimes clumsily) just keep moving forward! I feel like my kids benefit from seeing their mom crash and burn occasionally, but not letting it discourage me. I can’t wait to hear all about your adventures! Thanks for the comment Kacey!

      Pura vida, Penny

  • Jeff & Crystal Bryant

    What a culturally educational experience for the whole family. This visit looks so amazing. thanks for sharing it with us.

    • Penny (author)

      Great to hear from you Jeff and Crystal! Living and traveling abroad has been a huge blessing for our children and us. I hope you’ll have the opportunity to check out this unique itinerary and share about it on your great travel blog!

      Pura vida, Penny

    • Penny (author)

      Good to hear from you! I can not say enough about the great time we had living in Thailand! When you go, don’t miss Pai! It’s a short winding drive from CM, and it is an incredible place!

      Pura vida, Penny

  • Rebecca Painter

    Wow, camping sounds like a great way to see another country and it sounds like you timed your visit just right. I loved my time in Thailand but only stayed in hostels, now I’m thinking that next time I travel I’ll have to do more research on camping options! 🙂

    • Penny (author)

      Thanks for the commnet Rebecca! We flew over on Thanksgiving day and enjoyed beautiful weather for the months we were there. We will definitely visit the same time of year next time! Look forward to hearing about your future travels!

      Pura vida, Penny

  • Jackie

    This seems like such a fun and exciting family time!

    • Penny (author)

      Thanks for commenting Jackie! I love that you are a traveling mom! There is no greater gift that we can give our children than to help them become compassionate global citizens! Looking forward to reading more about your adventures!
      Pura vida, Penny

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