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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep via the Monk Trail
Staying in Chiang Mai and looking for a break from the hustle and bustle of the city? Why not visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep!? Trust me, it’s worth it!
Did you know there’s two ways to visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep? One of which I’m guessing 99.9% of tourists take and then there’s the “Monk Trail!”
If you’re the 99.9% who likes it easy then you may as well stop reading now, scan towards the end of this article, look at the photos provided and book a taxi. See the temple and be back in time for brunch.
Now, for the people who want to follow in the footsteps of the monks please read on….
So why use the “Monk Trail?”
There’s a few reasons for this:
Well, it’s the Monk’s Trail; When King Kuena’s prized white elephant died in 1355, he ordered the construction of a grand temple to mark its place of death, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. This is the route that the monks have used during their pilgrimage to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep at the top of the hill. Well until the road was built in 1935.
You’ll come across Wat Pha Lat; Used by the monks as a rest stop half way up the hill to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Wat Pha Lat is nestled away in the untamed jungle, with very few tourists. It’s simply stunning!!! Hands down the highlight for me.
You’ll feel you’ve achieved something; Don’t get me wrong I too love an easy ride but I’m sooo glad I decided to use the Monk Trail and not just grab a taxi.
You’ll save money; Let’s be serious, I’m tighter than a duck’s arse and if there’s a way of saving some money I’m all for it. It might not be a lot but probably 50-70 Baht on the extra distance in the taxi and if you arrive at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep via the Monk trail you get free entry (30 Baht). Might not seem a lot but that’s the equivalent of chicken fried rice, a cheese and ham toasty, and a 1.5 litre bottle of water from the 7/11 (a day’s rations for the humble backpacker!) or a large guilt-free bottle of Chang beer.
So, the Monk Trail then….
Now that we’ve been through some of the many reasons why you should go to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep via the Monk Trail I’m now going to go through the whole trail start to finish…
As I’ve said earlier 99.9% of people don’t use this trail anymore, so it isn’t the best marked out and at some points you’re left wandering whether you’re still on the right track. We saw a few people turn back because the hill gets so steep and the temperature so high. Hard to carry on if you’re not sure if you’re going the right way.
Because of this, I’ve decided to put together a comprehensive guide to the trail so that hopefully at some point this article may rank high enough on google so that one day it may persuade someone/you to do it “the hard”/ fulfilling way.
Well, let’s get into it then…..
Seen as I was staying at a hostel in Chiang Mai called “Living place 1” (a hostel I cannot recommend enough) not too far from the old town there’s plenty of red taxis around. Flag one down, 150 Baht for two of us seems a fair price. Some wanted 400 so be prepared to haggle.
Show this photo or ask to go to Chiang Mai Zoo.
Once you’ve got to the Chiang Mai Zoo, head up the hill until you see the start of the monk trail…
Head onto the trail, following the orange strips of cloth left by the monks…
You’ve arrived at Wat Pha Lat
After around an hour you’ve made it to the first temple Wat Pha Lat. And what a place it is!!
Spend a good hour looking around at the amazing statues and architecture. You never know you may even get chance to have a talk with some of the monks. My travel companion for this trip, Mel was actually approached by a monk for a five minute conversation. I suppose with it not being very touristy at all they have more time. There was probably more monks than us tourists when we were there.
It’s also a good place to get some refreshments at the small café. Maybe pick up some extra water, trust me you’ll need it on the next leg…
I recommend the boon coffee.
Right, so that’s Wat Pha Lat. I just wish I was better at photography, this place is unbelievable!
Back to the trail
So far, the Monk Trail has been, well, erm, fairly tame. This is where it gets A LOT harder.
If by this point you’re feeling pretty knackered then I would say head to the main road and get a taxi to the top of Doi Suthep. For those who still feel up for another 2 hours of pretty vicious up-hill terrain, continue reading:
Here is where it is a little harder to navigate as it’s not sign posted from here so I shall try my best to guide you trough to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep from here.
Get some water from the café, head to the back right hand side of the temple complex and climb this steep hill…
Once at the top you’ll come to the main road, jump over the barrier and turn left. Cross the road and in 30m you should see a sign for “nature trail”, that’s where your going. If you get to this waterfall you’ve gone too far:
This is what you face for the next 2 hours…
At this point people were on their phones trying to figure out if they were lost. Some even turned back, sweat covered and exhausted. To be fair, by the time I got to the red steps I was, as we say in England, “blowing out of my arse!”
Just as you think it’s starting to flatten out, you turn a corner and you’re hit with this:
After a good while you’ll climb another hill that looks like everyone has been throwing their rubbish down, such a shame. Once you see that, you’ll come to the same main road again, this time turn right and head up the dirt trail.
Follow the path and up through a small isolated village, you’re not too far now…
Head up these steps and your there!!!!
You’ve arrived at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep!!!
After setting off over 4 hours ago you’ve finally made it!! Go you!!
One thing I noticed, from the peace and tranquillity of the forest to the abundance of other tourists, I was glad we did it “the hard way”. Yeah fair enough it was “only a bit of a trek in the woods” but we had such a sense of achievement.
You could easily tell apart the 0.1% that had used the “Monk Trail”. Dripping with sweat, covered in dirt and with a look of fulfilment on their faces vs clammy arm pits and a look of “yeah it’s just another temple!”
Once you’ve had a good look around the temples, head down the front stairs and check out the indoor market. Some amazing little stalls.
There’s also plenty of red taxis to take you back to Chaing Mai. We paid 80 Baht each to get back to the east gate.
It’s all well and good me saying don’t be a shit bag and use the Monk Trail but in all honesty, it’s a pretty hard trail especially when it’s getting on for 40C. So, here’s a few things to consider before you decide to use the Monk Trail:
Go early: Thailand in May, hot and humid to put it mildly! We set off at 8.30 and were still going at 14.00. MELTING!!!
Take plenty water: I took 2 litres, should easily get you to the first temple where you can buy tea/coffee (40 Bhat) and more water.
Take some snacks: A sugar hit really helps…
Some good walking shoes: I dropped a bollock on this one and went in trainers. I’m sure from the images you can see it ain’t no golf green…. But in all fairness, Mel conquered it in flipflops!! (thongs if you’re in Australia) What a hero!!
Wear respectable clothing: Don’t turn up in your bikini or budgie smugglers, show some respect.
Be relatively healthy: Although I’m a reformed smoker, I’d say I was pretty healthy. To say it like we do in England… I was blowing out of my arse!!
The weather: If it has rained the previous days I would not recommend doing it at all. It was hard enough when it was bone dry!
Find yourself an amazing trail buddy: Last but by no means least, find someone cool to enjoy the trail with. After all a big part of travel for me is meeting amazing new people to share experiences with. On this trip I had the pleasure of Melinda’s company, check out and follow her Instagram for more amazing adventures.
And in summary.
I implore you to at least take the trail to the first temple, Wat Pha Lat. If your feeling tired at that point, then I’d say to get onto the main road and flag down a red taxi to take you to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
Bottom line however you get there don’t just do what most tourists do and bypass Wat Pha Lat. In my opinion it was far better than Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. A real place of peace and tranquillity.