Doi Langka Luang Trek (Khun Chae National Park)

27 Dec 2019 13:20 - 12 Jan 2020 20:37 #5399 by wvwv
Doi Langka Luang

60km from Chiang Mai City, this place can easily be reached by car or rented motorbike. This general area is great for hiking with Chiang Dao and Doi Luang mountain treks in the vicinity. This mountain is also sometimes called Doi Mae Tho. The peak is 2031m which makes it the 8th highest mountain in Thailand. Fee for Khun Chae is 100 baht per foreign adult which is very cheap considering the trekking opportunities.

The national park has set up a 4-day 3-night one-way trail, starting near the HQ and finishing on a mountain road, from where they ferry you back to the start by car. The total trek length is 19km and if you have the time and prefer to trek with a guide it's your best option for exploring the national park. I think 5km per day is a little slow going so could perhaps be scaled down to 2 nights if your group was in good physical shape and the guide agreed. 1, 2 and 3 on the picture below are the 3 campsites where you spend a night each. Number 2 is Langka Luang.

Independent trekkers who aren't up for that sort of adventure and would prefer some same-day trekking could check out the loop of Doi Langka Noi - this is a very good write up with the GPS files:

Or they could do the 19km trek but finish at Doi Pha Ngom, and then turn around. Pha Ngom has views that are almost as good as Doi Langka's, so you wouldn't be missing too much.

There is a small nature trail called the 'Gurgling Trail' at HQ/Visitor Centre which is not great but will kill an hour and you might get lucky and find a snake or something. It follows a stream. If you are doing the mountain trek the next day then probably best to save your legs.

There is also another circular trail on the other side of the road (opposite the national park HQ) which I have not done but have read is less steep/technical than the Doi Langka hike. The main draw of this hike is Doi Mod (about 1700m). The graphics below are from a trail race called LKL-DMT. The Doi Mod route is the first graphic. The second graphic is the Doi Mod route combined with the Doi Luang route. The GPS track for both routes is also below.

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If you did want to experience these mountains and you are available when they are running the race (usually December), it is a good and relatively cheap way to do it. Plus you get the shirts and medal and food etc. They have different options: the Langka Luang trail (about 35km); the Doi Mod trail on the other side of the road (about 37km); or both together plus a bit more (80km). Search Google or Facebook for 'LKL Trail Race'. This organiser also runs another mountain trail race at Doi Luang (usually June).

The Langka Luang race doesn't go to Langka Noi, instead at the summit of Doi Langka Luang it continues on down the other side of the mountain in a circular route back to HQ (see GPS file). It's another option for hikers to explore. Presumably with 100s of people running through it every year it will be in at least half-decent shape. You can also see that trail half-marked on the second picture on this thread.

Here is a map to pinpoint all the different peaks:

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27 Dec 2019 13:34 - 27 Dec 2019 20:02 #5400 by wvwv
So onto the actual trail. The trailhead for the Doi Langka hike is at a radar station/phone tower, coordinates 19.051933, 99.381713. The bottom of this road has a barrier across it but motorcycles can just drive around the barrier. If you had a car the barrier is not locked so you could lift it up and drive through. In my experience the radar station at the top is not manned and I think it unlikely you would encounter anybody on the road or at the top. If you did not drive through the barrier you would be faced with a 3km uphill walk just to get to the trailhead. Of course if doing this trek with a NP guide they would drive you to the start.

Since I was arriving by motorbike and not using guides I needed to get back to my bike, so I turned around at Doi Langka Noi, camped at Doi Langka and finished where I started. Total distance over 2 days about 30km. In doing this I had the benefit or losing a lot of gear weight once I reached Doi Langka as I could set up camp there and return to it later. With just essentials on my back progress was fast to Langka Noi and back. Here is my GPS route trace (one way only, the return journey). The white line is Doi Langka Noi to Doi Langka Luang and the blue line is campsite at Doi Langka Luang back to trailhead.

The white line is a moderate difficulty, mostly gradual inclines and only one or two steep climbs/descents. Half of it is in the forest but you are never too far from a ridgeline or good view. The blue line is always ridgeline, very technical and steep throughout; you are always going up or down and the inclines are always steep, trekking poles or a good stick help a lot as they move some of the strain away from your legs to your arms and also help with balance. Especially with a big backpack I would say the blue line is about as tough an 'ouch' trail as you can find. Elevation profiles:

You can see the steepness between Langka Noi and Langka Luang is not as harsh as trailhead to Langka Luang (remember the elevation profiles are in reverse - back to the start).

The entire 19km trail (as well as the Gurgling Trail) is marked on the Backcountry Navigator app but here are my gps files anyway in case you want to use a different app:

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Since this is mainly a ridgeline trek, there is no natural water source until you get very close to Doi Langka Noi, which is a couple of days/14km from the start, so you *may* need to carry a lot of water. I say 'may' because when I went, there were large bags of water at each of the campsites, but I think that they were left over from the trail race I mentioned, which had just happened a day before. I did this trek in December so a trek in March or April may not have any flow at all, and a trek in the middle of the rainy season may have a few more streams.

It is very cold on any mountain in North Thailand in winter; 10 degrees is normal and it can go as low as freezing. I had a brilliant night's sleep (9 hours) in a 10 degrees rated sleeping bag, 2 pairs of socks, 2 t-shirts, one hooded top, thick gloves and 2 pairs of trousers. This all adds to the weight you will have to carry though, your pack will probably be over 10kg including tent, food, water, sleeping bag, clothes, camera, torches and powerbanks/batteries. If trekking with a guide you can usually arrange porters who will carry your stuff for a fee. When I woke up the thermometer somebody has nailed to a tree read 12 degrees, but by then the sun had risen. In the night I think it would've been about 8.

One final warning... 2000m is a high elevation, less oxygen makes any exercise harder. It's only a few km a day on paper but when you add in the inclines and thin air; the reality is a lot tougher. Due to the overall distance and the amount of stuff you need to carry (particularly water), I wouldn't recommend the full 19km trek or my version of it without a guide unless you are experienced trekking and in good shape. Even though this trail is well-marked and fairly obvious throughout, you should still have a gps (or phone with gps app). I didn't see anybody else on the trail at all over 2 days. Nor did I see or hear any animals (or any tracks) by the way, except birds and insects. I noticed a lot of the trees were scorched so recent forest fires may have had something to do with that but I suspect more likely the forest has just been poached to death as is the case in most of the north.

My legs took about 3 days to recover from this trek! Eat lots of protein to speed up muscle recovery.
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27 Dec 2019 14:08 #5401 by wvwv
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27 Dec 2019 14:19 #5402 by wvwv
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27 Dec 2019 14:26 #5403 by wvwv
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27 Dec 2019 14:29 - 27 Dec 2019 14:31 #5404 by wvwv
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28 Dec 2019 11:30 #5411 by Paul T
Fabulous write-up!!
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