Hike to Wat Phra Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

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.

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When we came to a junction we headed towards the left.

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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.

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We knew we were on the right track when we passed the back of Chiang Mai Zoo, just as our blogger said we would.

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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.

Chiang Mai 004Nonetheless 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.

Chiang Mai 005Luckily for us (luck seemed to have a lot to do with our success that day), we saw a hiker coming off the trail head directly in front of us.

Chiang Mai 006From 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.

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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.

Chiang Mai 010 Chiang Mai 009The 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.

Chiang Mai 020We climbed over, crossed the road and continued up the hill to our left, keeping an eye out for motorbikes, scooters and red taxi Songthaews.

There seemed to be a few path options but we chose the first one, just before the white sign.

Chiang Mai 025We 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.

Chiang Mai 027This was one of the hardest parts of the walk so I amused myself amongst the leaves which were bigger than my head and slapping at mosquitoes on my legs.

Chiang Mai 028After 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.**

Chiang Mai 029Unfortunately 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.

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Honestly, the steps and a green handrail are there.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Chiang Mai 050We crossed over and headed downhill for a few minutes until we found the path down, between the first two orange safety arrow signs.

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It’s hard to see but the path is there. And down.

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.

Don't take that byway to the left, stay straight!

Don’t take that byway to the right, stay straight!

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.

 

Tips:

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13 thoughts on “Hike to Wat Phra Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

  1. Great post and I’m so glad that our site was useful to you in your quest. It should be very easy for someone to follow your instructions and the pictures are very helpful. You are the only people we know who have hiked back down! Most people take a song taew! Awesome that you went a different way so that you didn’t miss anything! 🙂

  2. A very useful guide, thanks!

    The only difficulty we had was figuring out where the starting point is. To save others virtually trekking the byways on Chiang Mai on Google Street View, the location of the first picture is at the southwest corner of Chiang Mai University, around here: http://goo.gl/maps/tRBqJ and the trail-head is here: http://goo.gl/maps/kZorK

    • Hi there, you should be fine to head up there alone. It’s not particularly remote and is a reasonably short hike. Just watch out for any stray dogs!

  3. As an update, I tried this on 11 Nov 2015 and that house where the steps are for the last bit is now inhabited by a pack of about 8 to 10 aggressive dogs, do NOT go up the paced driveway, just take the road. The dogs will absolutely chase you down

      • You’re welcome! I love dogs and have never met a dog that didn’t like me, so when some people heading down (who had taken the road for that section) told me that another couple had opted not to go that way because of the dogs, I assumed it was because they were scared of dogs/weren’t dog people/etc…until I got to the dogs and even I was scared. There was nothing that even dog treats could have done to save me from their pursuit.

        I HIGHLY recommend that people do not go towards the dogs, but if you try it and you end up running down the mountain, remember that when you turn your back fully on a dog and run, they naturally give chase, so it’s best to kind of side shuffle down the dirt on the side of the road as fast as possible so you don’t fully turn around on them. The largest white dog is the pseudo leader and most aggressive – he or she (I didn’t have time to look) will follow you and watch you walk back up the road to make sure you aren’t coming back!

        • Its probably no accident that there is a large pack of aggressive dogs nearby the monks quarters. As several others have commented it maybe disrespectful to walk through the monks quarters – I would imagine they just got fed up with it.

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