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Doi Suthep Chiang Mai Thailand Hike

Doi Suthep Chiang Mai Thailand Hike

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Doi Suthep-Pui National Park is a wonderful place to get into nature and find some of the best that Chiang Mai Thailand has to offer.

One of our favorite sites is only possible to experience on foot on a Doi Suthep (meaning Suthep Mountain) hike.

Along the way, you will find sacred trees with orange sashes, a mysterious ancient temple, and a waterfall overlooking Chiang Mai Valley which will emerge from the jungle at the base of this northern province’s most sacred site.

It’s more than enough to awaken and feed the adventurous spirit and may prove to be the highlight of your visit to Chiang Mai.

Doi Suthep Trail Head

Doi Suthep Trail Head

Doi Suthep Trail Head

Once you reach the Doi Suthep Trail Head most of the rest of the way up the mountain is pretty easy to navigate. (See directions to find your way to this point at the end of the post).

The brightly colored orange cloth tied around many trees along the way makes it pretty difficult to get lost. These orange bands are not trail markers, however.

Monks have tied them around the trunks of trees to render them holy. Cutting them down is believed to bring a lifelong dose of bad karma. Once the band is installed the trees’ survival is all but guaranteed.

Chiang Mai Hike

This tree clad in orange cloth is safe from being removed from the forest.

The hike from this point is very gentle and serene. On the several times that we have been on the trail there have been very few people and the grade isn’t steep.

Within about half an hour of easy hiking the area begins to open and reveal a temple complex only accessible by foot.

Wat Pha Lat Temple

The Wat Pha Lat (or Phalat) was originally used as a resting place for people on the pilgrimage to worship at Doi Suthep temple. In 1935 a road was constructed, and now most people make their way to the Grand Temple by car, bike, or taxi.

I think this is a mistake because they miss this serene mysterious place that is frankly difficult to describe.

Wat Pha Lat Chiang Mai

Wat Pha Lat Chiang Mai

Wat Pha Lat, translated as ‘Monastery at the Sloping Rock’ is a functioning monastery in the middle of the forest. 

You can wander (respectfully) through the path leading through the complex and marvel at the temples, interesting structures and figurines that dot the landscape.

White Dragons in Chiang Mai

White dragons snake upward on the stairway beside the trail.

 

Peacock Temple on Doi Suthep

Peacock Temple on Doi Suthep

Even if you decide to forego the rest of the hike, a trip to Wat Pha Lat is clearly worth the trip. And fair warning, the next hour to an hour and a half of hiking is going to be more challenging.

It’s steep, and the temperature is often quite warm. Oh, and bring bug spray, you’ll likely need it. But with all of those challenges, it’s difficult to pass up the rest of the hike.

It ends up at a magnificent site that is said to date back to the 14th Century and is considered the most sacred sites in Chiang Mai Province. That thought should be enough to inspire you to continue along your journey to the top of Doi Suthep.

Doi Suthep Buddha

Shrines as well as whimsical figurines are positioned throughout the landscape.

 

Hidden Temple in Doi Suthep

Limestone Temple peeks out from the jungle

The Trail to Wat Doi Suthep

After leaving the monastery, the next part is a little tricky. As you scramble up the steep path soon you’ll hear the familiar sound of traffic. But don’t worry, the serenity of the forest will soon return.

Make your way over the guard rail and hike your way another 20 meters (65 feet) up the road. Cross the road and you’ll find where the trail resumes.

Chiang Mai Doi Suthep Hike

The hike starts to get steep, but the end is worth the sweat equity by far.

 

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Don’t worry – you aren’t lost. But do watch for traffic.

 

Doi Suthep Trail Crossing

You’ll find the trail across the street and find the bamboo alongside with an orange cloth sash.

Celebrate a small victory for finding your way off the road and back on the trail. And then get ready for a lengthy hike up the mountain.

Console yourself along the way with the knowledge that there are quite a few inexpensive Thai masseuses at the top, ready to apply themselves to aching muscles. You’ve got this!

Wat Doi Suthep

After about another 45 minutes of strenuous uphill hiking up steps carved into the clay, the road will come back into view.

A short winding trip along its shoulder will bring you to a small town with plenty of street vendors selling trinkets and street food. Some fresh fruit here is a welcome treat.

And then the next decision – to continue hiking up to the temple, or stop here.

Soi Suthep Buddha

Soi Suthep Buddha

Buy some fruit from the vendors. After this light refreshment, a deep breath, and some consultation with the Buddha at the base of the temple, the answer is clear.

You have come this far and the journey will not be over until you reach the top – even if you have to climb another 309 (really!?!) steps to get there.

Steps to Doi Suthep

The steps to Soi Suthep – your journey is not over yet

Note that this photo of the elaborate Doi Suthep stairway was taken early in the morning. Most often you can expect them to be crowded with visitors. But still making it to the top and touring the temple itself is well worth the extra effort.

Monk at Doi Suthep Thailand

Monk passing by a series of bells in the temple complex

 

Flames burning at an alter with in the Doi Suthep Complex

Flames burning at an alter within the Doi Suthep Complex

The entire experience is very unique and one that many people, once they have done this particular hike, do it over and over again. Maybe it’s the physical challenge.

Or the amazing sights along the way – knowing that even though you’ve been several times the experience and things you will notice will be different each time.

Perhaps, for me, it is a day hike that made me feel more connected to Chiang Mai and Thailand itself than many experiences that I have had here. It’s a special day that I highly recommend having and repeating if you have the chance.

Doi Suthep Carved Wooden Structure

Ornate structures in hand-caved wood and shimmering temples within the holy site.

 

Blessed Clay Tiles in Doi Suthep

Tiles left by mourners honoring their loved ones and praying at the temple

The Return Trip

Now you are faced with the next decision. Hike down, or hitch a ride. The Songthaew (think rudimentary truck taxi) drivers know you are tired and that if you don’t feel like hiking down (nope!), they can get a premium price.

There is a line of them that fills up until you think they absolutely cannot fit one more person. And then they stuff in two more.

Sometimes the last passenger is left clinging onto the ladder on the back for the entire twisty-turny journey down the narrow road.

It’s still less than 2 dollars and the uncomfortable ride down with your new sticky friends only takes about 20 crushing minutes. Unless you want to walk (still nope).

Chaing Mai Songthaew

Songthaew making its way back to Chiang Mai Valley

Finding the Doi Suthep Trail Head

Getting to the base of the hike can be a bit of a challenge, but well worth the effort. I suggest hitching a ride on a songthaew, which you can pick up anywhere in Chiang Mai.

Select a red truck and instruct the driver to bring you to the Doi Suthep Trail Head – which is past the large University of Chiang Mai complex and close to the Chiang Mai Zoo entrance.

Be prepared with either a map on your smartphone or write Doi Suthep Trail on a pad of paper (most speak minimal English). If the driver agrees then jump in and they will drop you at the agreed-upon spot for about 20 baht (less than $1).

If he asks for more (maybe 50 baht depending on where you are coming from) it’s likely worth it, as that’s still less than $2.

Note: if you are having trouble negotiating with your Songthaew driver you can ask to be dropped off at the Chiang Mai Zoo and get directions at the entrance booth to the museum to the trail head – it’s not far.

Or ask to be dropped off at the Chiang Mai University and catch another songthaew the rest of the way (drivers next to the University will be better acquainted with the area).

Another option is to visit the “Chiang Mai Walkers and Talkers” Facebook group and see if there is an event or ask a question.

Inspired to give the hike a try? Why not pin it for later?

 

Here are some additional articles about the flavors and destinations in Thailand that you might enjoy:

Thailand This Winter – Get Three Vacations in One

Bangkok’s Best Favors Brought Home

Pad Thai Noodles

Koh Chang Thailand – Things to do and Where to Stay

hani

Sunday 1st of April 2018

thank you for the detail expalantion! im going to go hiking there!yay thanks!

Jen

Monday 2nd of April 2018

You are very welcome! Enjoy - it's a beautiful hike.

Miss Mazuma

Monday 5th of December 2016

That Limestone Temple looks amazing...totally where I would live as a hermit monk!! Chiang Mai is one of my favorite places. In October I returned from spending two weeks there one of which was spent at The Elephant Nature Park volunteering with the elephants. Some places I am sad to leave but not Chiang Mai because I know for certain I will be back.

neha

Monday 13th of June 2016

Very interesting and informative. History, adventure, religion all packed in one package...very engaging narration that you have put up here. We will definitely include it in our list of must visits..

Shannon Colman

Saturday 30th of January 2016

Looks wonderful! And it's great to read a blog post about Thailand that doesn't cover the more populated party areas. I wish we could render trees holy with cloth in the UK!

Joe Ankenbauer

Wednesday 13th of January 2016

I love hikes like this! I haven't done this one, but it's on my list and bookmarked!