EXPLORE THE MONK’S TRAIL AND DISCOVER LOVELY PHA LAT
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Exploring The Monk’s Trail in Chiang Mai, Thailand is a wonderful way to get away from the sometimes hectic and hustle-bustle tourist circuit in Chiang Mai. Hiking the Monk’s Trail offers an opportunity to enjoy the quiet and solitude of nature while hiking through the forests on the lower slops of Doi Suthep. And the big reward for those taking the hike? A chance to discover and explore the lovely hidden temples of Pha Lat.
For many years the Monk’s Trail was used by monks making the 5 km trek up Doi Suthep (Mount Suthep) to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a Theravada Buddhist Temple neat the summit. Over the years the winding road up the mountain has been improved and today most visitors – tourists and monks alike – motor their way to the top. But the trail is still well maintained and offers hikers a very different way to climb and experience the mountain.
There are really two sections to the Monk’s Trail. The entire trail to the top runs more than 5 km thourgh the forested slopes with the upper two thirds of the trail being quite steep and demanding in places. Those hiking to the top will truly get a work out. Fortunately, for those looking for a less demanding hike ( Yes, I’m in that group for sure!), it is possible to hike the lower third of the trail which, although still an upward climb, is “relatively” less steep than the upper portions.
Hikers completing the first, lower third of the Monk’s Trail are rewarded with a chance to visit the lovely Wat Pha Lat. Originally the location was a resting place for monk’s making the climb to the top. Over the years it has evolved into a delightful temple area nestled in the forest along side streams and waterfalls. It is a hidden gem which seems a world away from city life in Chiang Mai. Although the temple area is located a mere 50 meters off today’s main roadway, it is truly hidden from view down the slope. Most tourist are unaware of Pha Lat’s existence as they drive up the mountain, speeding their way to the much more famous (and much more touristy in my opinion) Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. (So yes, you can motor your way up to Wat Pha Lat if hiking is not at all your thing- but it does make a perfect destination for a nice easy hike in Thailand.)
– HIKING THE MONK’S TRAIL TO WAT PHA LAT –
Before You Go –
Even though this is a short hike it’s always best to be prepared. Take some bug spray – there will be bugs! Take water – it will be hot! Take a snack or two – you will work up an appetite. Take some sun screen – most of the trail is well shaded, but you might decide to hang out in places where the sun is strong. Take your mobile phone – there will be service and you might want to reach out to someone – for help or to share your experience. Dress properly – closed toed shoes / hiking shoes – proper attire for temple visits – you know the routine. What’s “proper attire?” Here’s the visual description frequently encountered at temple entrances.
Typical Temple Dress Code Advisory
Dress Droperly – What’s “proper temple attire?” Here’s the visual description frequently encountered at temple entrances.
On The Trail –
Monks Trail Entrance
The Monk’s Trail starts in Western Chiang Mai “behind” the Chiang Mai Zoo and Chiang Mai University. The is a small car park and the trail entrance is marked with signs and a trail map. It is now clearly marked on Google Maps as well.
The trail winds it’s way upward through the thick forest of Doi Suthep.
Walking The Trail
The trail is narrow but well worn. The main path is always obvious although there are many offshoots – hard to tell where they go.
You will encounter some interesting flora and fauna along the way. I saw no animals except for an occasional bird, and of course a few insects including a mosquito or two. I also met three or four other hikers on my journey, but mostly you will be able to enjoy the quiet and solitude of the hike. Unfortunately, the forest growth remains very thick along the path, at least up to Pha Lat. There are no overviews or places to look back and see the city of Chiang Mai below.
After hiking for aroud 40 minutes you arrive at Wat Pha Lat. It’s a lovely small temple cluster pearched on the hillside next to a stream and series of waterfalls.
Waterfall Beiside Temple Pha Lat
Pha Lat remains a peaceful Buddhist retreat on the forested hillside of Doi Suthep. It is a beautiful setting with many picturesque temples, statues and venues. Wander quietly through the grounds. Relax, meditate a bit, and enjoy the tranquility of Pha Lat.
Wat Pha Lat is well located for hikers on The Monk’s Trail. After hiking part way up the mountain it is a wonderful place to take a break, rest, relax and explore. After your visit you then have various options for the next stage of your journey. 1) Hike back down the trail the way you came. 2) Continue the longer and more strenuous hike up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. 3) Hike about 50 meters further upward to the main road which leads from the city to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. At that point you can hail a Song Thieu to 3) Get a ride up to Phra That or 4) Get a ride back down to the city (either way the fare will be @ 40 Baht ( $1.25).
What option did I choose? Well, I knew I had done enough hiking for one day. It was hot, I was tired. So I made my way up to the road where I left my plan to fate. The first Song Thieu that came along was headed upward to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. I hopped in. More on that journey in a future article.
A hike up The Monk’s Trail to Wat Pha Lat is a highlight of a visit to Chiang Mai.
Take A Hike ………. And Enjoy The Adventure!
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© 2017 – 2018, Bruce W Bean, Ph.D. All rights reserved.