Barry and I started the Marcothon on Sunday 1 December. It’s a personal challenge where we intend to run for 25 minutes or five kilometres every day of December. It could be tough when we spend three days travelling to Laos on a slow boat but we’ll see. We ticked off the first one with a run around the grounds of Chiang Mai university and thought we should continue the day with a hike to Wat Phra Doi Suthep, a temple on the top of a mountain overlooking Chiang Mai from 1676 metres.
As there’s a lack of maps of hiking trails we used another traveller’s blog post to get us on the right track, and keep us there. Even with these good directions we almost got lost a few times so I took lots of pictures to help others hike there (or back).
**PLEASE SEE THE COMMENTS BELOW ABOUT AGGRESSIVE DOGS AT A SMALL SECTION OF THE PATH. YOU MAY WANT TO TAKE THE ALTERNATIVE ROAD MENTIONED**
Firstly, at 10am (definitely go earlier if you plan to do this hike in the summer) we got our bikes and cycled along Suthep road until we got to a restaurant called Pun Pun, and a sea of scooters parked on the right hand side of the road. It’s also where the road becomes a steeper hill. If you’re on a road bike then you could definitely cycle to the trail head but if you’re on a heavy Chiang Mai ladies shopper, like we were, park the bike and walk.
We followed the road to the right, directed by a sign to the nature trail. So far so good.
When we came to a junction we headed towards the left.
Within a few metres we passed by a small temple on the right but, itching to get further up the mountain and knowing that the heat of the day would soon be upon us, we pressed on.
We knew we were on the right track when we passed the back of Chiang Mai Zoo, just as our blogger said we would.
Further along we came to a wee hiking hut on our left and worried that we were on the wrong track as our blogger hadn’t mentioned this. Fortunately, there was a very handy map on a chalkboard outside the locked front door. Unfortunately, I don’t read Thai. Neither does Barry.
Nonetheless we persevered up the hill, deducting that to get to a temple on the top of a hill we would have to climb. We thought we were at the trail head when we saw a small gravel path run off to the left.
From here we entered the jungle. It was very peaceful and we passed only one other couple, early birds who were on their way down. Parts of the walk were steep but for the most part it was a gradual ascent. I’d still recommend wearing proper shoes for this. The path is rocky in places and smooth in others and when damp or worn, both could be slippery. Orange scarves wrapped around the trees by the monks for protection kept us confident.
Further up the mountain the path led us directly through a secluded and little known temple. We paused to rest at the top of a waterfall, next to the serpent statues, overlooking Chiang Mai. I was pleased to see how high we were already.
The temple was completely devoid of other tourists and Barry was a little uncomfortable walking around but it was too special to miss so I covered my shoulders and we wandered amongst the ancient statues, Buddha images and temple buildings.
It was time to leave when I realised that it was time for elevenses! It seemed inappropriate to snack in a religious place so continued up the mountain.
From our blogger, we knew we had to cross the road and sure enough we heard traffic and came to the guardrail.
There seemed to be a few path options but we chose the first one, just before the white sign.
We did not take any of the rocky paths near the waterfall at the clearing at the bend of the road. We headed up the rocky path and cut out steps, listening to electricity sing down the wires and monkeys rustle leaves high up in the canopy.
After a steep climb that left us breathless and sweaty we came back out on the traffic filled road again. We saw a paved driveway to our right and hoped it would lead us up the mountain. **Please note Leslie’s comments below about this area being inhabited by aggressive dogs. It might be safer to take the road.**
Unfortunately it took us to an abandoned house with gorgeous views of Chiang Mai and the valley below. Or so we thought. We were just about to give up on the trail and walk the road when Barry spied the steps leading to the next path.
Fortunately, this section is short because, unfortunately, there is a lot of rubbish, it smells, the path is overgrown and you might get covered in ants like we did.
We’d actually recommend walking along the road for this last section, which should take no more than 10 minutes, especially if you’re socially uncomfortable with the idea of walking through the monk’s residence area, basically through their backyard and dodging the 30 baht entrance fee by sneaking in the back door (Barry is such a good person).
If you have no such qualms, follow our footsteps up the path, past the ants, and turn right, ambling your way through the monk’s dwellings. On the left, before the road goes downhill, climb the steps.
Continue to wind your way up until you find yourself, quite suddenly and without preamble, standing in front of the entrance to the stupa of Wat Phra Doi Suthep. I rang some bells in celebration of making it to the top.
We spent some time walking amongst the colourful buildings, marvelling at the views of the valley far, far below, ringing more bells, admiring Buddha images and squinting at the central stupa which was so dazzlingly gold and shiny that I couldn’t look at it except through the lens of my camera.
We decided to take the road back down instead of through the monks’ quarters. Which meant we got to see the 400 year old serpent staircase which greets most visitors.
We also got to eat some freshly cooked corn from the street vendors. We re-joined the pathway about 10 minutes down the road, at the first clearing on the left and retraced our footsteps down the steep path until we got to the road again.
It felt much quicker going back down and we were at the secluded temple before I knew it. My feet flew over the path, skipped over rocks and practically floated over bridges. A bit of a change from how I’d felt an hour before. Amazing what corn and a tuna sandwich will do for you.
On the way back down we noticed quite a few other paths which we hadn’t paid attention to on the way back. I was tempted to veer off the path but Barry held me back and we stayed on the straight and narrow (sort of) until we were safely back at our bikes again.
We made it safely back to our bikes, threw ourselves into the saddles and wobbled off down the road and into the sunset. Or towards our guest house and into the mid afternoon sun.
If you plan to do this hike, I would recommend wearing proper shoes (sneakers/trainers will be fine but not sandals), take insect repellent with DEET (the natural stuff wasn’t up to the job) and 1.5 to 2 litres of water per person. Snacks or a picnic are good too. In the summer time, start your hike by 6am.