One of the many benefits of being in Northern Thailand is the proximity to so many parks and trails. When we heard about the Monk’s Trail we knew we had to do it. Monk’s have been trekking this trail for centuries to reach the Wat Pha Lat Buddhist Temple and the infamous Doi Suthep Temple – the most famous temple of Chiang Mai.
Hike to Wat Pha Lat
I will explain the hike in two parts, first the hike to Wat Pha Lat and later the hike from Wat Pha Lat to Doi Suthep Temple.
There are red trucks to take you to the start of the trail, a tuk tuk or a GRAB taxi. Most drivers know the Monk’s Trail and will drop you off at the end of Suthep Road (close to Basecamp Coffee House) which is almost at the end of Suthep Road. When you reach the end of Suthep road, you will see this sign:
Turn right here
After you turn right, walk about 250 meters north until you reach a fork in the road. Make a left (west) and walk another 800 meters up a paved, inclined path. You will see the back entry of the Chiang Mai Zoo with appealing green trekking signs to turn right DO NOT – continue straight up the paved path. The path will end where the monk’s trail begins.
The trail head starts where Rob is standing in the picture. The trail is clearly marked by strips of monk robe wrapped around the trees. There are a few ways up as illustrated on the map in the picture – however some of the smaller trails are quite overgrown and we stuck to the main trail which is clearly marked. It took us 30 minutes to get to Wat Pha Lat, but many budget up to 45 minutes to stop and look around.
Wat Pha Lat, which translates to “Monastery at the Sloping Rock”, is serene and lush with it’s jungle backdrop. It has a lovely river that flows through it and a great view of Chiang Mai. There are many beautiful statues and temples to see in this very tranquil and contemplative place. In 1355, the temple was constructed after King Kuena’s white elephant died at the site of Wat Doi Suthep and he ordered construction of temples where it perished and where it took breaks to rest. Originally, Wat Pha Lat was a resting place for monks during their pilgrimage to the larger temple atop the hill, but after the road was built in 1935, its primary use shifted to a meditation site for monks.
Hiking Wat Pha Lat to Doi Suthep
There are 2 ways to get to the start of the trail. From Wat Pha Lat some people continued to walk up the river bank ( a few minutes) until they ended up at the large road that vehicles use to get to Doi Suthep. With this option, the trail continues immediately across this large road. There is a sign there in Thai, but other than that the trail is very steep and unmarked.
The second option is to walk out of the Wat Pha Lat grounds where the cafe is and continue on this quiet road for a few minutes until it T’s into the large road. We made a left here and walked up the large road for a few minutes until we saw the trail on the right side of the large road. There was a lot of bamboo flanking the trail and power lines running above. (Again a sign in Thai only).
This trail is quite steep but very manageable. After 40 minutes we were back on the same large road that we started on (just at much higher altitude). Here, we turned right and started walking up a narrow street which ended at a house. This is a public road, so no worries about trespassing. There was a medium size dog trying to protect his house – poor thing had his tail between his legs and was absolutely lovely and harmless. Just before the house there were steps on the left hand side of this road/drive. We turned up the stairs and went up for a couple of minutes arriving at a small road. On the right there were signs for the Meditation Center, but just across the road there were steps which continued up and lead us directly to Doi Suthep.
After a 50 minute trek we were at the top of the stairs and were rewarded with a fantastic view of Chiang Mai and the Doi Suthep complex of temples. Coming up the back way we missed the 306 steps leading up to the ticket booth – so we quickly ran back and paid the 30 THB/person for our entry.
Construction on Wat Doi Suthep began in 1386 and according to popular legend, the temple was built to hold a piece of bone from the Buddha’s shoulder. According to this legend, one of those bones was mounted on a sacred white elephant (an important symbol in Thailand) who then climbed Doi Suthep mountain and stopped near the peak. After trumpeting three times, the elephant laid down and gently passed away in the jungle. The place where he lay is now the site of where Doi Suthep’s temple was founded.
We really enjoyed the hike up to Doi Suthep, however found the area to be super touristy and congested. Yes, the views are beautiful and the temples are lovely – yet in our eyes could not compare to the majestic tranquility of Wat Pha Lat.
After some time admiring the views, we ran down the 306 step staircase and hopped into a red truck taxi which took us back to Chiang Mai for the measly price of 60 THB/person. I was not prepared for the windiness of the road back – all 19 km of it. Of course our trail went straight up so we avoided the majority of the distance which we had to cover by road back down. It would have been easier and much more enjoyable to walk back down the trail – next time!