Elephant Camps and Waterfalls: Hiking Mae Wang

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Mae Wang (แม่วาง) is a scenic mountain area winding along the banks of the Wang River–not to be confused with another Wang River (แม่น้ำวัง) which is one of the four northern rivers that flow into Thailand’s “Prince of Rivers”, the Chaophraya.  Mae Wang is really more of a mountain stream whose headwaters begin just south and west in runoff from Thailand’s highest mountain, Doi Inthanon. The fast-flowing stream supports many outdoor activities for visitors, including rafting, kayaking, and elephant trekking. 

Click here to read a recent article about activity at Mae Wang.

This post includes photos from two separate hikes–23 January and 6 March. The first took a route circling to the north of the Wang, the second to the south, both concluding with an extremely lovely shaded downhill hike along the picturesque cascade of waterfalls, with opportunities to take a refreshing swim. This is one of the top hikes I’ve experienced in Chiang Mai, and highly recommend it.

Start at a peaceful temple and retreat center, Wat Tham Doi Ton (วัดถ้ำดอยโตน), about an hour and 20 minutes from Chiang Mai old town. You may park outside the temple, and the restroom facilities are open to the public. 

Find the trail across the road through a cornfield and across a rope bridge. Between the two routes, I much preferred circling around the south side, as it spends more time on shaded trails and offers many vista views. Both trails were approximately 14 km.

Hikers should be careful not to disturb the elephants that may be at the various camps, especially those with dogs. As the tourism business has been nearly devastated due to government restrictions, we only saw one elephant, but there are sure to be many more when tourism opens back up.

Photos below are from the southern route, taken on 6 March 2021.

Following photos are from the 23 January hike that took a northern circling route.

An Aside for Thai Language Lovers

The Thai word “Mae” means “mother”, but as a place name it is a shortened form of the word for river, Maenam (แม่น้ำ). Maenam is literally “mother of the waters”. Just as western tradition includes a concept of “mother nature”, the Thai language shows an appreciation of the natural environment as a female figure who gives birth to new life.

The two Wang rivers have different spellings in Thai. The one in southern Chiang Mai is a long “a” vowel, called sala ah(สระ อา ), while the larger river system originating in Chiang Rai is spelled with a short “a” vowel, called a Maihanagat (ไม้หันอากาศ).

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