It is as digital nomads living in the north of Thailand and not as travelers that we discovered the city of Chiang Mai. During 5 months, we mostly worked (admittedly) but still explored the area.
This time, we put our hiking shoes on to visit a must-see site in Chiang Mai: Doi Suthep! Moreover, we had the good surprise of seeing a little-known temple hidden in the jungle. In short, a small hike as we like them! Ready for a visit?
We took this trip in 2016, but the article was completely revised and updated in August 2022. If you see any price changes or have additional information that might be relevant, please feel free to leave us a comment!
How to get to Doi Suthep and Wat Pha Lad
The Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple is located about fifteen kilometers from the old town of Chiang Mai. As you can imagine, there are many ways to get there!
For our part, we decided to warm up the calves and climb on foot! We strongly recommend this option, but we understand that it is not everyone’s cup of tea… So as we’re nice we’ll list the alternatives too.
But for those who walk up, go to the end of the article for the detailed itinerary!
By an organized tour
If you know us, you know that organized tours are not necessarily our favorite thing in the world… Well, no exceptions to the rule this time either! In town, some agencies offer half-day tours to visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in a minivan with a guide. Yeah… Sold between 600 and 1000 bahts per person, these tours don’t seem destined for a backpacker audience, especially since it’s really easy to get there otherwise!
Probably the most often chosen option by backpackers! Renting a scooter in Chiang Mai does not cost much (count between 150 and 250 bahts per day) and allows you to be 100 % free of your movements.
The disadvantages of the scooter: you have to master the “Thai driving style”, and it is not the most sporty option! To get to Wat Pha Lat and Doi Suthep by scooter, follow 1004 (Huay Kaew Rd), which passes the zoo.
By public transports
If you don’t feel like a Valentino Rossi and prefer not to defy the Thai roads, then a good alternative is to get on public transport, the songthaew. These kinds of red trucks would almost be worth an article on their own!
Some drivers will probably try to negotiate with you to make you rent their car by the day. For a price between 400 to 700 bahts, you will have a private trip where they take you to Doi Suthep, wait for 1 h 30, and bring you back. In short, the more people there are, the cheaper it gets! The most economical for single people or couples? Shared songthaews!
There are 2 spots in Chiang Mai where Song Taew leave only for Doi Suthep and wait for their vehicle to be full before leaving. The one-way race is charged 50 bahts if the car is full (10 people). The departure points are located next to the north gate and the north of the zoo. Find it on the map at the end of the article!
To get back down, ask the many drivers waiting up there to drop you off in town. Given the competition, you should also be able to negotiate the return for 50 bahts.
Hmmm…. 700 m of altitude difference, the Thai roads, the exhaust gases of the songthaews… Personally, I’m not sure I would have chosen this option, but we met several of them who did it! If you choose so, make sure you have a good bike with gears, right? The small bicycles rented 25 bahts a day that squeak will definitely not do it… In Chiang Rai, we took a ride to see the white temple by tandem, but believe us, we would have definitely left it in the garage for this trip!
Hehe! If you read us from time to time, you shouldn’t have any trouble imagining that this is the option we have chosen! In addition to being the most economical, it is also the one that allows you to be the most flexible (and to work your glutes at the same time). From the beginning of the trail to the summit, count a little less than 2 hours of hiking. Well, we don’t hide from you that it’s not next door, especially if you get lost on the way like us!
But to avoid this happening to you, we have prepared a map and detailed indications at the end of the article, promising it will be impossible to get lost with this!
Wat Pha Lat
The trail starts at the foot of the TV tower, and very quickly, we find ourselves in the heart of the jungle! And jungle means humidity and crushing heat! About half an hour later, when we start to think that it’s not normal to sweat so much for a normally constituted human being, we cross a small bamboo bridge and find ourselves facing a small paradise: Wat Pha Lad’s temple!
We climb the stairs, rocked by the noise of the waterfalls, and see the site that is gradually being revealed. Time seems to have stopped…
In the beginning, we knew there was a temple on the way, but honestly, we just thought it would be a small stop of 5 minutes before going up to Doi Suthep… Yep… Well, in the end, we will have stayed more than an hour on the way up and more than an hour on the way down!
I mean… have a look:
We would have liked this temple to be accessible only on foot (mouahaha), but if you have decided to opt for the scooter (we promised we don’t blame you), it is possible to access it by road, 1004.
However, if you come to songthaew, it will be difficult for you to make a stop here unless you have privatized a vehicle. Or, unless you go up to Doi Suthep in a songthaew and walk down 😉. #WeSayThisWeSayNothing
If you have the opportunity, try to come here when the sun starts to go down (between 3 pm and 4.30 pm in November, roughly speaking). The low light that crosses the jungle and illuminates the temple just gives this place a crazy atmosphere!
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
When you leave Wat Pha Lat, it is probably the longest and also the steepest end that starts… To get away, we simply follow the river for a few meters while following the orange flags, and then we attack a short but steep climb that will bring us to the road.
Be careful: there is some little suspense here…
The path to take is a little hidden and we would quickly tend to follow the wider path which is a few meters away. So no, it’s indeed before the road sign that you have to take to your right.
After that, there are no more big questions to ask, you just have to follow the path! After a short hour of climbing, we reach the road again, just below Doi Suthep. It would be possible to continue on a path and arrive directly at the temple, but it also seems that this path is guarded by a pack of not quite nice dogs.
Not wanting to be eaten, we preferred to follow the road for a few hundred meters to reach the official entrance of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
After having eaten a little something in one of the many food stands, we climbed up to the temple using the wide 305-step staircase to the top!
We pay the entrance fee of 30 bahts, we almost get hit by a selfie stick (it’s busy up here) and sneak into the temple.
Before entering the temple, we take a short walk to enjoy the view and the many flowering trees that are all around…
Frankly, the temple is sublime! The colors, details, and views of Chiang Mai are worth it. On the other hand, be warned, this temple is not a small secret spot… There are people (even too many for our taste).
Try to come early in the morning (the temple opens at 6 am) or during lunch break. We were there at noon, and we noticed that the temple was a little emptier (all proportions kept).
For the return, after having gone down the stairs of Doi Suthep, we follow the road before taking the path at the level of the sharp bend. Once on the road a little lower, we follow it some meters on the left to find the path which arrives at our favorite temple, Wat Pha Lat.
Map to go up to Doi Suthep and Wat Pha Lat
We’re repeating ourselves a little bit, but walking is really worth it! The path is well marked out (which is rare enough in Asia for us to notice), there is literally no one on the trail, and you will pass by the temple Wat Pha Lad! Okay… We can reach it by scooter too, but it’s not the same 😉.
Here is an overview of the map:
The hike from Chiang Mai to Doi Suthep
Reach the beginning of the trail
First of all, don’t do like us, eh! We knew we had to pass in front of the university and then, the zoo to find the beginning of the hiking trail… The road that passes in front of our building (1004 or Huay Kaew) turns out to pass in front of them. In short, it was without thinking further that we set off!
Yeah… So, we found it surprising to climb, climb and climb without seeing a TV tower, but we still persevered for a while! Until the moment I thought it might be smart to open Google Maps… Yep… Well, bad surprise: we had to take the Suthep Road that goes BEYOND the university and the zoo!
Nice little 12 km detour before finally arriving at the trailhead!
If you feel like walking up the hill but are not thrilled with the idea of following Suthep Road for more than 4 km (admittedly, it’s not the most glamorous part), then we suggest you park your scooter at the end of Suthep Road or take a songthaew from the old town to that point. From the center, the trip should not cost you more than 30 or 40 baths (even 20 if you are a negotiation ninja and the cab is full).
Once at the end of Suthep Road, it’s easy: just follow the orange flags! But as these flags are sometimes well hidden at the beginning and also because we are also really nice 😉, here is a small picture of the road to follow:
Map of the hike
Here is a detailed map of the hike to give you a taste of what to expect!
If you want to find all the addresses of absolutely all the accommodations in Chiang Mai, we invite you to discover Mike Hughes’ excellent guidebook sold for $15. In this guide (400 pages long), you will find all the information about Chiang Mai that a person who is moving in could need.
We bought his book before the departure, and it has helped us a lot! You can find everything you need to settle down here: how to move around, find an apartment, where to eat, which SIM card to buy, how to install internet at home, how to withdraw money, visa issues, health in Chiang Mai, dangers, Thai culture, legal issues, etc. Above all, you have access to an online map that contains all the addresses mentioned in the guide!
There you go! You are now ready to discover Doi Suthep and Wat Pha Lat from Chiang Mai! Do you feel like walking up the hill 😉?
We continue the adventure in Chiang Mai. Next step: the loop of Mae Hong Son… by scooter! #OnTheRoadAgain
Join the discussion