Hiking the Monk’s Trail in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Isn’t it great to discover a secret place in a well-touristed area? During a recent visit to Chiang Mai, Thailand, I happened to glance at a map, specifically the Maps.me app. I am a map dork and do this often. There is a large green area close to the city and upon further investigation realized it was Doi Suthep National Park. I remembered from a previous visit that the famous Doi Suthep Temple was here. On this map I noticed two waterfalls and thought it would be fun to hike and go find them. I’m always looking to get some exercise while traveling, especially with the reckless abandon I was shoving anything green curry into my mouth!

The Monk's Trail

Not Just Any Old Hike

After consulting the Oracle (Google) to find out about these mysterious random waterfalls, I learned that one of the waterfalls was at a temple in the forest that you could hike to. Um, hell yes! The temple is called Wat Pha Lat (also Wat Phalad) and is now a monk’s residence. The hike is not just any hike, but the Monk’s Trail. Apparently this is the path that monks have used for generations to reach the temples. I was so intrigued and determined to do this. Oddly enough, nobody at my hotel had heard of it. I was kind of on my own and following a couple other blogs I had read as a rough guide (thank you Globotreks and Tieland to Thailand ).

How to Get There

I figured if I could get a songthaew (those red truck “taxis”) going in the direction of Doi Suthep I could figure it out. This is where I was dropped off. You can’t see well in the picture but at the RIGHT fork in the road is a brown sign with white letters that says “Nature Trail Phalad”

The Monk's Trail Chiang Mai

The Monk’s Trail

I’m going to share every detail and random pic to get you going because I needed all the help I could get. It was a bit of struggle to get to the right place and I ended up paying twice as much because the driver didn’t go directly to the right place (he went to front entrance of zoo…not close!), so make sure you go to the BACK entrance of the Chiang Mai Zoo at the end of Suthep Road. The taxi won’t go any further so just walk toward the zoo signs.

The Monk's Walk

Eventually you will come to a TV tower which will be on your right and at this landmark you go LEFT at the fork in the road. It looks like the pic below:

The Monk's Trail

Now  you are on your way! You will walk up the road at a slight incline.  If you didn’t plan well and had no water or snacks, like moi, don’t despair. There is a cafe along the way before you enter the woods called Homeless Cafe. So rando!

The Monk's Trail Chiang Mai

Eventually you come to signs. You may see other walkers but I only saw one. On a Saturday!   You will see several paths going into the woods but these are not the paths. The path is at the very end of the road past the place where you see cars and scooters parked. This is the starting point for the Monk’s Trail.

The Monk's Trail Chiang Mai
The Monk's Trail Chian Mai

The Monk’s Trail

Once in the woods, it’s not difficult, but it does get tricky. I recommend the maps.me app because you can clearly see the trails, even in the woods on this. It is available offline as well (provided you have downloaded it when you had wifi). I ended up on the wrong path once or twice, but didn’t get too lost. This hike is moderately difficult in areas but mostly easy and it took me almost an hour to reach the temple. I stopped and took pics quite a bit.

The Monk's Trail

The cool thing about this walk is that the trees are marked with pieces of the orange monk’s robe tied around the trunks. Some of these are tattered and faded but in sections of the trails it really adds a beautiful mystical feel. I wasn’t lucky enough to witness a group of monks walking on the path, but apparently this is possible. Imagine how amazing that would be!

The Monk's Trail Chiang Mai

A pretty little bridge marks the entrance of Wat Pralat. You can gaze over the waterfall and see a dramatic set of stairs with dragon railings.  The waterfall is only really “watery” during the rainy season. Luckily I had no rain but also there was no waterfall, just some wet slippery rocks (Don’t try to gallavant over these rocks like I did folks).

The Monk's Trail Chiang Mai

Wat Pha Lat

The Monk's Trail Chiang Mai

I was there on a Saturday and saw only a few other people. It was delightfully quiet and peaceful. Nobody was selling anything and there were no distractions. I sat on a rock and ate the sandwich I had purchased the Homeless Cafe feeling incredibly happy and zen, surrounded by nature. The fact that this temple was built and exists in such perfect harmony with nature is perhaps my favorite thing about it.

The Monk's Trail Chiang Mai

I was taking a shot of some buddha statues and only after the fact realized there were REAL monks in there also!

The Monk's Trail Chiang Mai

I spent over an hour here, just wandering and marveling at the tranquil beauty.

The Monk's Trail Chiang Mai

The Monk's Trail Chiang Mai

There are no shortage of beautiful spots here full of interesting architecture and fantastical creatures.

The Monk's Trail Chiang Mai

The Monk's Trail Chiang Mai

Important Considerations

  • It is a Buddhist Temple, therefore bring a sarong to cover your legs with if you were hiking in shorts.
  • There is a cafe at the temple so you won’t starve.
  • The main road is on the other side of the temple, opposite to where the forest path ends. If you don’t feel like walking anymore, you can grab a songthaew there to go the rest of the way up to Doi Suthep or back down to Chiang Mai.
  • You can also hike the rest of the way to Doi Suthep if you’re feeling fit and adventurous. I chose to simply walk back down the way I came. It only took thirty minutes. I was able to find a songthaew near the back entrance of the zoo to get back to the city.
  • I recommend decent trekking shoes, sunblock and mosquito repellent. Bringing a daypack is a great idea.

Hope you find time to visit Wat Pha Lat and hike the Monk’s Trail if you’re in Chiang Mai. It was truly one of my best days in SE Asia!

Looking for other amazing activities in Chiang Mai? Interact with rescue elephants!

Read More: Ethical Elephant Interaction

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The Monk's Trail

 

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csaradar

39 COMMENTS

  1. Sylvia | 14th Sep 17

    Thanks for guiding me through this different path, away from the more known and crowded sites…it’s a breath of fresh air!! I’ll check it out when i go!

    • csaradar | 19th Sep 17

      yay I’m so glad you’re interested. It is so lovely and peaceful!

  2. 10 Things to Do in Chiang Mai That Don't Involve Riding Elephants or Petting Tigers | Yoga, Wine & Travel | 29th Jul 17

    […] Looking for an off-the-beaten-path temple experience? Read more about Wat Pha Lat and hiking the hidden monk’s trail here. […]

  3. cameras for sale | 27th May 17

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  4. home and family | 26th May 17

    home and family

    Hey there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my myspace group? There’s a lot of people that I think would really enjoy your content. Please let me know. Many thanks

    • csaradar | 27th May 17

      Of course! Share with anyone who would be interested:)

  5. neha | 26th May 17

    When I visit Chiang Mai , I will definitely go hiking on this trail. The temple is so wonderful. I love the colorful architecture that is characteristic to the temples in bali

  6. This Epic World | 25th May 17

    I wish I knew about this place earlier when I visited Thailand ! 🙁 It looks off the beaten path!

  7. Sara | 25th May 17

    One of my close friends is heading to Thailand this summer and is looking for things to do in Chiang Man so I will be passing this information along! Do you have any other recommendations as to what to do there?

    • csaradar | 26th May 17

      Absolutely…if you look under Thailand on my blog you’ll see the post on Elephant Nature Park!!! Also just walk around and temple hop in old Chiang Mai. Hit the night market…amazing shopping and food!

  8. Kristen | 24th May 17

    Great photos! I really like how you included the tips at the end, which would be extremely useful to know beforehand 🙂

  9. Jewels | 24th May 17

    Chiang Mai seems really special. I wasn’t able to make it there during my last trip to Thailand. It nice to learn about this trial. I enjoy hiking.

  10. The Wanderlust Dietitian | 24th May 17

    I love the homeless cafe and that trail heads can be SO HARD to find sometimes! We had issues with that in Chattanooga, TN, USA last fall. The beauty is being able to hike and enjoy the outdoors, regardless of if you’re on the “real” trail! Cheers!

    • csaradar | 26th May 17

      Yes for sure! I always get lost!

  11. Alice Ford | 24th May 17

    What a great hike and scenery. Love that the trail has pieces of Monks Robe.

    • csaradar | 26th May 17

      It was such a unique cool effect!

  12. Natalie Anastasia | 24th May 17

    I have never been to Thailand but it is a dream of mine! You definitely made me interested in Chiang Mai – what an incredible trail you found!

    • csaradar | 24th May 17

      I really fell in love with Chiang Mai…I would definitely add it to any Thailand itinerary.

  13. Theresa | 24th May 17

    This is incredible. I LOVE how the trail is marked with strips of the monks’ robes. Thanks for documenting it so well!

    • csaradar | 24th May 17

      Thanks so much. Was a special hike!

  14. Meg | MeanderWithMeg | 23rd May 17

    I love offline maps too. How did we ever cope without them? Sounds like a great walk and a beautiful part of the country to explore!

    • csaradar | 23rd May 17

      Not sure how we coped! LOL

  15. A Travel Diary | 20th May 17

    Wow, that looks like a gorgeous hike, and even better that it’s off the beaten path. I love how it used to be monk’s pilgrimage path. This is something I would definitely want to explore myself. I will bookmark this for future reference!

    • csaradar | 23rd May 17

      I was excited to find it!

  16. thelifeofasolivagant | 20th May 17

    This is amazing. I wish I knew about this place when I lived in Chiang Mai. If I ever make my way back there I will use your post to find it!

    • csaradar | 23rd May 17

      How cool that you lived there!

  17. Meg | 20th May 17

    You made me wistful!! Was just in Thailand in December, but Chiang Mai got knocked off the itinerary. I’m so sorry it did! <3 <3

    • csaradar | 23rd May 17

      There’s just too much to do in Thailand!

      • Meg | 23rd May 17

        Agreed! I had no idea how much there was until I was planning our trip. It made it so hard to decide which areas to focus on.

  18. Ketki R S - Dotted Globe | 20th May 17

    Great post. Love the beautiful sculptures, especially the giant dragons. Must be a great hike.

    • csaradar | 23rd May 17

      I love anything dragon related!

  19. Karen | 20th May 17

    I LOVE how detailed this is. It drives me crazy when people assume that you can find the trailhead–and it helps so much to have the photos. It looks like such a beautiful trail and I love the temples on the hike. 🙂

    • csaradar | 23rd May 17

      Thanks! I get lost easily so I need something like this!

  20. Karin | 20th May 17

    I wish I had known about this place when I was in Chiang Mai! It seems like a great place to have some time for yourself. I loved discovering all these hidden temples in the forests!

    • csaradar | 23rd May 17

      So crazy how unknown this is yet it’s very accessible. More reason to go back!

  21. Ticket to Adventures | 20th May 17

    This looks like a very interesting place off the beaten path! I have been to Thailand many many times and on my next visit I will also include Chiang Mai and this trail in my itinerary. Thank you for sharing!

    • csaradar | 23rd May 17

      Chiang Mai is such a gem! So cool you’ve been many times:)

  22. Sarah Shumate | 20th May 17

    Thailand is one of our favorite countries! I haven’t been to Chiang Mai since like 1997, though. I think it’s time for a return visit. 🙂 Very cool that you found this place! This is such a helpful post, too, for anyone else who might like to give it a go.

    • csaradar | 23rd May 17

      It had been over ten years since my last trip and rediscovering Chiang Mai was a joy!

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