Hiking the Monk's Trail
Hiking up to Wat Pha Lat was my favourite temple experience from the time I spent in Thailand. The hike up the monk’s trail is a great way to get out of the Chiang Mai city and into the nature that the north of Thailand is famous for.
This hike is around an hour of extremely uneven steps leading up to first Wat Pha Lat, then onto Doi Suthep. I would really recommend this experience to anyone who is able to do it. I’m pretty fit and I found it a very hard hike, although I went in the middle of the day and the temperature was around 35 degrees.
The start of the hike is marked on Google Maps, on a motorbike bike you can get all the way to the entrance but a car probably won’t be able to make it through the narrow roads that lead up to the entrance.
I got a Grab car to Dcondo Residence which is on the main road where a car will have to stop. On this road there are a few 7-Elevens, coffee shops and restaurants where you can stop off before your hike.
I recommend you bring with you at least 2L water, bug spray, sunscreen, and a spare tshirt (I had sweated through my tshirt long before I had even made it to Wat Pha Lat).
If you haven’t already done so this will also be your chance to find some wifi and download the local area on Google Maps.
Starting the Trail
It is fairly easy to find the start of the trail, just follow the map until you see the clearly marked entrance and motorbike parking.
I accidentally tried to walk up someones driveway and had several angry men shouting at me in Thai, when I mentioned Wat Pha Lat they pointed me in the right direction.
As soon as you enter the main trail you will be surrounded by the noise of the wildlife of the forest, it’s very relaxing.
I had read online that there are orange pieces of fabric tied to trees marking the trail, but this doesn’t seem to be true anymore. When I followed the path with the orange fabric I actually got lost for around 20 minutes and had to turn back.
Here is the split in the path where I went wrong, I turned left instead of right because I saw the orange robe pieces tied to the trees. This is at the ‘8. Taking a Deep Breath’ marker. So if you get here, make sure to take the right path. This split in the path is so close to Wat Pha Lat, only a couple of minutes if you go the right way.
Wat Pha Lat
Arriving in Wat Pha Lat was such a peaceful experience after the hard hike. There were only around 10 visitors when I went there, and probably the same amount of monks and people working on temple.
The actual temple is not as ornate and decorative as other temples I have seen, but the large grounds and gardens and relaxed atmosphere make it a much better experience. I spent around an hour walking around the temple ground and relaxing.
When you want to leave Wat Pha Lat if you follow the river against the flow of water up the hill you will be on the trail to Doi Suthep.
This trail is just as unven and steep as the hike to Wat Pha Lat so make sure you are well rested. There is a small cafe selling hot and cold drinks at Wat Pha Lat if you want to stop there.
I hiked most of the way up to Doi Suthep, but then I was starting to get very hot and dehydrated, and also took a wrong turning when the trail meets the road (I started walking down instead of up, I don’t know why, probably my dehydrated brain). So at this point I decided to take a break and noticed there are a lot of songthaews going both up and down.
I flagged down the next one going up and for 20 baht he took me up to the carpark for Doi Suthep, so I didn’t have to hike up the really steep road. It only took a few minutes.
If you also take the songthaew it will stop in the car park where you should get off, ask the driver which direction to go if it is not immediately obvious.
Walk out of the car park and past all of gift shops and drink stands, through the market and up the stairs. If you are a foreigner you pay 100 THB to get in.
I really didn’t like Doi Suthep. The temple itself is quite nice to look at, it’s big and decorative, but there are way too many people there. Hundreds of Chinese tourists on organised tour groups fill the temple so much that you can’t move or enjoy anything. I much prefered the humble Wat Pha Lat.
Best way down is to get a songthaew, you can obviously hike back down but I wouldn’t want to do that after a tough few hours hiking up.
I paid 100 baht to get to Nimmanheimin in my own private songthaew and the driver left right away without waiting for other passengers.
There are a lot of songthaews up there so you should be able to negitate a deal if there are not a lot of people leaving at the same time you are.