"Mae Pan is actually the name of the watershed area. Kew Mae Pan is just the beginning," forest ranger Soonthorn Sithiruang said.
"At the northwestern end of Kew Mae Pan forest, you can see a tiny water source only a metre in diameter."
The tiny stream cascades down the mountain's evergreen forest, combining with other small streams and finally becoming an impressive waterfall hidden in the deep jungle.
"Its height is more than 100m in total," Soonthorn confirmed.
During rainy season, it's easy to spot the white stripe of the waterfall among the dense jungle while driving on highway 1192 from the national park's second checkpoint. But it is a bit far from other attractions on the mountain, which is probably why Mae Pan Falls is far less popular than Kew Mae Pan. Standing about 2,200m above sea level, Kew Mae Pan is among the best nature trails available in Thailand's national parks.
Kew means narrow path, and this one snakes along a towering mountain range which is home to great variety of plants and animals.
The 2.78km-long trail takes you through a forest teeming with biodiversity. All 21 stations offer detailed explanations about the plants and ecosystems, whether it be ferns from ancient times, Himalayan flora species, dense cloud forest or grassland.
"Just dim light and fog may be enough for the delicate fern to grow. It may turn brown and lifeless in summer, however, it springs back to life once it gets moisture from the fog in the rainy and hot season," a sign along the trail explained about the highland fern.
At such heights, I tried to walk much slower than usual, allowing my lungs to absorb more oxygen from thin air.
Slow hiking, by the way, allows me to notice the natural wonder on the trail to Mae Pan Falls. Trees grow as high as 40m to get light while the cloud regularly hits the mountain and soaks the whole forest with high moisture.
Moss and tiny ferns cover all tree trunks. When cloud hits the forest, covering the whole with mist, they all seem to be shivering under green blankets. The most stunning view is a semi-alpine meadow that sits side by side with the jungle, but on the other side of the slope. The meadow is caused by severe deforestation from the past. Strong winds prevent young plants from growing here.
It is said that Kew Mae Pan is most beautiful during rainy season when the forest recovers its lushness after the dry spell. However, it is a pity that the trail is also temporary closed in the rainy season, allowing nature to refresh.
So, if you want to see the Doi Inthanon forest at its greenest, Mae Pan Falls may be a good choice.
With fewer tourists, the nature around the waterfall remains untouched. The trail is mostly covered with grass and weeds. High humidity allows moss and delicate fern to display their vivid leaves. Begonia shows off its blossom.
It is a corner where the real wilderness of Doi Inthanon is maintained. After trekking 500m, you will find yourself in front of a towering waterfall that plunges from towering cliff above.
From a tiny source at Kew Mae Pan, now it becomes a fierce stream about 10m wide. The fall then combines with another stream nearby before flowing further to Mae Pan, a small village at the foot of Doi Inthanon.
If you come to Ban Mae Pan between August and October, you may notice that the stream runs to nourish a rice terrace that spans a panoramic view, making it a very scenic place hidden behind the mountain.
From such a small starting point at the source, the Mae Pan stream will lead you to witness many different shades of beauty on Doi Inthanon.TRAVEL TIPS
Doi Inthanon, in Chiang Mai, is Thailand's highest mountain. The peak is about 110km from Chiang Mai on highway 108 and 1009.
Kew Mae Pan is on the 42km marker on highway 1009. The nature trail is open from November to May. A guide service, provided by the national park, is compulsory.
Mae Pan Falls is on the 7km marker on highway 1192, which connects Mae Chaem District and the national park's second checkpoint. Mae Pan Village is on the 14km marker.