Chiang Mai’s Hidden Gem
I’ve been to Chiang Mai many times, as a child and through the past few years. When I found out about the Monks Trail I didn’t even know what it was, or where Wat Pha Lat was located. I even asked my mom and she wasn’t sure, and she’s from Chiang Mai! Hiking the Monks Trail to Wat Pha Lat is truly a hidden gem of Chiang Mai.
When I first stumbled upon Hiking the Monks trail I was all for it, I kept asking Kyle about it not realizing we’ve never actually gone on a hike before. I really wasn’t sure what all was involved other than we would hike the same trail monks did, to Wat Pha Lat and all the way up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
Kyle and I met another couple here in Chiang Mai, who actually run the blog RerouteLifestyle. When we first met up for dinner, Kyle had mentioned bringing them with us on our venture up the mountain. Such a great idea! They lived in Colorado previously and had done some hiking in the past, however, this was Kyle and I’s first hike! So we thought it would be perfect that they had hiking experience, and we could get around Chiang Mai and show them Doi Suthep- as we had visited before.
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How to Get to the Monks Trail:
Alright, so this was super confusing to us. We met Krista and Mike in town and grabbed a Songtaew (red makeshift truck/bus) to take us up to the mountain. We had my mom write down the location of the trail for us, and the driver seemed to understand us. Well when he dropped us off, he actually took us to the Temple instead of the trail. Our intentions were to hike up the trail to Wat Pha Lat. When we tried to explain that to him, he just kind of laughed like we were crazy.
Once he finally understood where we wanted to go, he took us to the correct place. To get to the trail you actually have to go to the end of Suthep road past Chiang Mai University. You should see a sign that says ‘Nature Trail Phalad’. Our driver dropped us off at the fork and we had to walk up the paved path to the beginning of the trail.
You will know you are there once you reach two green-roofed structures with a map of the hike.
We started the trail around 9 am. The monk’s trail is not super demanding, but we went when it was quite hot outside. So you might break a sweat (or a lot), make sure to take lot’s of water with you. It’s nice and shaded so it wasn’t too terribly hot but we also went when it was 80-90 degrees outside.
When you first enter into the trail I recommend taking a photo of the map that way you can easily figure out where you’re at. It probably took a little less than an hour for us to take the trail. Some trees are marked by monks robes to ensure you’re on the right path.
Once you enter Wat Pha Lat you will hear and see the waterfall to your right. You’ll walk up some makeshift stairs and in front of you will be Wat Pha Lat. Wat Pha Lat is a jungle temple, unlike the community temples, you’ll find in the city of Chiang Mai. It serves primarily as a place for monks to live and meditate.
Wat Pha Lat
Wat Pha Lat directly translates to ‘monastery at the sloping rock’. It’s often overshadowed by Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a popular temple further up on the mountain. Which is why I immediately fell in love with this sacred temple. It’s very quiet, and calm- there were hardly any other visitors or we didn’t quite notice them. This is why Wat Pha Lat is a hidden gem.
In 1344 the temple was built after King Kuena’s white elephant died at the site of Doi Suthep. The King ordered the construction of temples where it perished and where it took breaks to rest. Wat Pha Lat was a resting place for monks during their pilgrimage to the larger temple atop the hill- Doi Suthep. In 1935 it’s primary use shifted to a place for meditation.
Hiking up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
We spent a little over a half hour exploring the ruins of Wat Pha Lat and taking in the beauty. The next trail leads up the mountain to reach the popular Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. In order to reach the second trail, it’s a little tricky to find. I recommend having a map app, although it was still hard to find.
If you are facing the main temple that leads up from the larger stairs, you want to keep walking past that direction. On the left will be the waterfall, follow the waterfall upstream to find the next trail. You’ll keep following this trail until you read a paved road on the mountain. Cross the street, and a small entrance to the second trail we’ll be in front of you.
In all honesty, I was not at all prepared for this second hike. It was definitely an intermediate hike, and having no hiking experience it was pretty killer for me. (I have little legs!) The initial climb up the mountain sets you up for what the rest of the hike is going to be.
The path is the equivalent to being on the Stairmaster for over an hour, with no clear path, and rocks everywhere. It felt like we just kept climbing up and up and up. This trail is nothing like the first, in that, it wasn’t as pretty. There were bugs, it wasn’t as shaded and it was more rigorous.
Again, make sure to bring plenty of water! I think all in all it took us about an hour and a half to reach the first stop. Oh, I didn’t tell you? It’s actually 2 trails to reach the top of Doi Suthep. Once we reached the end of our first trail we all had to stop and take a breath. The view was gorgeous, and it’s much cooler on the top of the mountains thankfully.
I know my limits, and I definitely knew there was no way I could make the second trail and hike again. Like I said, I didn’t really know what to expect. We decided to try and catch a songtaew on the way up but had no luck as we were on the curve of the mountain.
We decided we would just walk on the road the rest of the way to Doi Suthep. Low and behold we were only 10 feet away (or so it felt!) We had finally made our way to the entrance of the temple.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Although a major tourist attraction, there’s a good reason it is a must-see when visiting Chiang Mai. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a holy temple often referred to simply as Doi Suthep. It was built as a Buddhist monastery in 1383. There are numerous relics, murals, and shrines all around the temple. It’s known as the Golden architecture and all its beauty.
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Below the temple are shops, places to eat, grab a drink, and tons of Songtaews lined up on the streets. You have the option to walk up the popular Naga Serpent Staircase of 300 steps or take the electric lift to the top. Being that I felt dead inside from our two hikes we opted to take the lift, as Kyle and I have walked the steps before. Mike and Krista went ahead on the staircase.
At the top, you will be greeted by the site of golden architecture, murals, and shrines. You can walk inside the temple which is housed in Holy Buddhist statues and murals. You’ll find most Thai’s and Buddhists giving offerings with the use of incense and lotus flowers. You can also go into one of the temples, to receive a blessing from the monks.
Our first visit to Doi Suthep we received a blessing. You can give the temple a donation, the monk will bless you by chanting and sprinkling water on you. You then receive a white rope bracelet which is tied around your wrist. I highly recommend this if you are comfortable with it, as it’s a neat experience.
Outside the central temple area, you will find the shrine to the White Elephant- mentioned in Wat Pha Lat. There are numerous viewpoints, from which you can view Chiang Mai. It’s such an amazing sight, and quite worth our adventure up in the mountains. The air is so much cooler, and you can the city of Chiang Mai. It was well worth the hike, and I highly recommend the day trip as it’s inexpensive, adventurous and breathtaking.
How to Prep for the Hike:
- Water- lots of it! I wish I would have brought with us an insulated or collapsible water bottle to keep the water nice and cool. If you have one laying around, I recommend bringing them vs. plastic water bottles. Once we were done with the plastic bottles we had to throw them back in our backpack which took up more space.
- Bug spray, there are quite a few mosquitoes on the second trail than the first. I always use Repel Natural mosquito repellent because it’s not tacky and doesn’t sweat off. I hate sweating and having slimy bug spray all over me, the reason I love this brand is because it’s natural with lemon and eucalyptus. Check it out here.
- In all honesty, you will more than likely sweat any sunblock you put on, plus most of the trail is pretty shaded.
- Snacks, like granola bars just in case. I felt super lightheaded towards the end of our venture, but I had absolutely no appetite. Eat a healthy breakfast if you can.
- Good walking shoes such as tennis shoes or hiking boots. I don’t have any hiking boots, so I opted for my go-to Nike’s, which are actually in little boys section (perks of being short). Whatever you know will be comfortable for walking 5+ miles.
- The monk’s trail is sacred grounds, which means you should cover up your shoulder and legs- ladies. Yoga leggings and a breathable shirt are perfect. It is disrespectful to wear short shorts and tank tops, plus you won’t be able to view the temples upon arrival. However, Doi Suthep will give you skirts to tie around your waist if you happen to show up in shorts. Wat Pha Lat is not this way, so to be safe opt for knee-length shorts or comfortable fitness pants like these.
- Phone or camera for some gorgeous photos! Although it was a pain for Kyle to haul around a heavy backpack, he always insists on bringing his Nikon camera and the GoPro. I’m so happy we got the GoPro because we got some videos of the hike and views.
- Like I mentioned the first hike isn’t demanding, but the second hike is pretty hard especially if you haven’t hit the gym in 6 months like me. I recommend being somewhat active to take on the second hike. In the future we discussed maybe hiking one or the other trail, but not both on a 90-degree day.
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