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!
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 ).
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”
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.
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:
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!
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.
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 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!
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).
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.
I was taking a shot of some buddha statues and only after the fact realized there were REAL monks in there also!
I spent over an hour here, just wandering and marveling at the tranquil beauty.
There are no shortage of beautiful spots here full of interesting architecture and fantastical creatures.
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