Hiking to Wat Pha Lat on the Monk’s trail, a beautiful hike in Chiang Mai
When we heard about the Wat Pha Lat hike as an alternate, less-traveled route to the famous Doi Suthep temple we were keen to check it out. We tend to stay away from heavily touristed areas, especially during peak hours. Because it’s hard to enjoy any place when there are five hundred noisy tourists snapping photos and chatting away in a hundred different languages. Luckily, there is a less frequented trail to Suthep, one that passes through the lesser known temple of Wat Pha Lat. Apparently, this smaller temple is used as a rest station for monks making their journey up the mountain.
Reading the many blog posts on the internet about this hike we expected a relatively secluded walk. This was not really the case. Apparently, word has gotten out about this ‘secret’ trail and it was more crowded than we were led to believe. Granted, we did the hike on a Saturday afternoon, so traffic may have been at its peak for the week. Those expecting a totally secluded and solitary walk better re-adjust their expectations. The trail is too close to the city to be empty. Still, compared to the ever-bustling Doi Suthep, this trail is relatively secluded.
How to find the Wat Pha Lat trailhead:
Follow Suthep Alley on the west side of the city. Eventually you’ll see a couple of big signs for the Chiang Mai zoo. Take a right at these signs, followed by a quick left. Follow that road straight up and you’ll find the trailhead for the Wat Pha Lat hike. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see two green signs marking the trailhead.
Length and difficulty:
It took us about three hours roundtrip to to the Wat Pha Lat hike up to Doi Suthep and back. We’re pretty fast hikers, but we also stopped and took our time at both of the temples. You could bang this out pretty quickly if you wanted to, but if you want to enjoy yourself we recommend blocking out half a day.
Make sure to pack at least a liter of water and some snacks. The trail up to Wat Pha Lat is pretty mellow, but between Pha Lat and Doi Suthep the trail gets a little steep. There are a couple of turn offs along the way–just stay on the main trail and you’ll be fine. The monks have been kind enough to mark the way with orange strips of cloth tied to trees. We also recommend putting on some mosquito repellant before hand as this is the jungle and there are plenty of mozzies about.
The reward for all your planning and toil is a beautiful temple with a great view of Chiang Mai below. We recommend taking off your shoes and dipping them in the water before continuing your hike. The second part of the hike has a more aggressive pitch–take your time and enjoy it.
Once you get to the top you’ll find your way to Doi Suthep through the back entrance. There are a few twists and turns here–don’t get perplexed, just keep going up and eventually you’ll find Doi Suthep and its tourist hordes. From here you can either take a Songthaew back down or re-take the ground you’ve already covered.
When you arrive at Doi Suthep you begin to understand why someone might describe Wat Pha Lat as ‘secluded.’ When we were there (which was, admittedly, peak time in high season) the temple was jam-packed with Thai and foreign tourists alike. The temple and its grounds are beautiful, but this is not the place to go for some quiet contemplation. For that, we recommend one of our other favorite activities in Chiang Mai.