Thailand, Year of Travel

Hiking The Monk’s Trail – A concise step-by-step guide

While in Chiang Mai we embarked on the Monk’s Trail. The full Monk’s Trail actually takes you to two temples – though it’s easy to miss the second part of the hike if you don’t know where you’re going. This blog post will help you find your way to the top!

Firstly you’ll reach Wat Pha Lat (pictured below).

Approaching Wat Pha Lat temple.

The incredible view from Wat Pha Lat.

If you have the stamina, you can continue up Doi Suthep mountain to Wat Pharthat Doi Suthep temple. Legend has it that Wat Pharthat is the resting place of a piece of the Gautama Buddha’s shoulder bone. As such, this is the much busier of the two temples.

Prior to visiting either temple, we read that it was possible to visit both temples by hiking The Monk’s Trail. As you can see, the views from both temples are amazing so we duly embarked on a mission to find out where the Monk’s Trail was and how long it would take to hike.

After doing a fair bit of research we actually found that there is a lot of information out there but most of it is incomplete or incorrect. As such, we would like to provide the below guide on hiking this trail, complete with pictures. Here we go…

Firstly, a lot of things that we read online suggest that the trail is marked with scraps of orange monks’ robes. A beautiful and romantic notion and, as it turns out, bollocks. Along the trail, there are various scraps of robe tide to trees and at first, this seems great. However, the robes are spread out. Not always close enough together to provide you with a route without having to make a couple of guesses at direction yourself. In addition, the robes go off the path. We’ve followed the robes a few times and it has taken us off the path and into the forest and then stopped. We aren’t sure if the robes ever did actually mark the trail but we can tell you that, at the time of writing, they definitely don’t now and following the robes will get you lost in the forest.

Step 1 – Find the start of The Monk’s Trail

Below is the basic overview of the route.

Maps courtesy of Google Maps

The start of The Monk’s Trail is near the university. You can get there using one of the red buses which are around town. Red buses are a little confusing as, they all say that a journey is 30 Baht per person. In our experience, this is only correct if the bus is full. If there aren’t already people in the bus and you ask the driver “How much?” you can expect answers from 60 Baht per person to 150 Baht per person.

We did a little research and found that, from where we were staying in the city (in the old town) we could expect to be charged around 60 Baht to get to the start of the trail. So, in the morning, we set out and found a bus and were duly charged 60 Baht per person. It’s worth mentioning, at this point, that you can expect to pay around 60 Baht per person to take the red bus from old town to the top of Doi Suthep as well. This skips out the hike and the first temple (at point 2 above) but, if you’re not up for a hike, this is an option.

The road up to the start of the trail is fairly narrow, and so difficult to turn a bus around on. Therefore it is likely that your driver will drop you at the bottom of the hill and you’ll have to walk up to the start of the trail. This is approximately 1 km on the road.

We were dropped at the red square below. You may not be dropped exactly here but, if approaching from the old town you will likely pass the university on your right, heading along the road highlighted in red. This should give you an idea of where you’re starting out. As you can see, the Wat Pha Lat Hike, or Monk’s Trail, is in green on the map and fairly easy to find using GPS.

https://www.google.com/maps/@18.7976942,98.9453248,17z

You’ll walk up the road until you spot a small motorbike parking area and an entrance to the forest. There will also be a map of the trail, shown below. Please note, this is only a map of the trail up to Wat Pha Lat temple, if you want to go beyond this to Doi Suthep, keep following the steps.

As you can see the route is a loop, when we did the trail part of the loop was closed. The loop can be done either clockwise or anti-clockwise but we hiked it clockwise.

Step one is pretty straight forward, get a bus to the Monk’s Trail, walk up the road until you see an opening on your left with a map and small motorbike parking area, start walking along the path.

The hike to Wat Pha Lat is quite easy, we aren’t very fit but it wasn’t too difficult. The path is rocky at first but becomes clay later on and a bit easier. This part of the trail should take approximately an hour.

Step 2 – Finding the second part of the trail

Walking up the Monk’s Trail is really beautiful. There is a cacophony of critters making waves of noise echoing through the forest and, between the trees, you’ll catch glimpses of Chiang Mai gradually fading into the distance. Off to the left, you will see several slightly smaller trails. These don’t lead anywhere in particular accept to view points. They are worth checking out if you have a couple of minutes or would like somewhere to rest and take in the scenery.

Approaching the first temple, Wat Pha Lat, the steps get quite steep and there are tiny waterfalls to your left. You’ll reach a short bamboo bridge and then more steps adorned with statues. Continue forward and you’ll reach the temple.

Wat Pha Lat is spectacular, not just for the template, but for the views out over the city. It is also the quieter of the two temples on the trail and so can we enjoyed at your leisure. Take this opportunity to sit in the shade, mop up a little sweat and have a drink. The second part of the hike is much harder.

After enjoying the temple, head towards the small café. If you are facing the temple (with the view of the city and the Naga behind you) this will be up and right. This takes you out of the temple to the small car park, a road and a café on your right. Continue along the road with the café on your right and you’ll pass the Monk’s living quarters. The road curls around to the left, uphill, and will lead to the main road.

You’re now at point two below. There is no footpath on the main road and you will be walking a long the edge of the road for a couple hundred meters to read point three. At the main road, turn left, continue uphill, the entrance to the second part of the trail is on the right hand side of the road at a sharp corner.

Step 3 – Locate the Entrance

Easier said than done, at this point you’re walking on a fairly busy road, people may point and stare are you from the back of red buses as, who in their right mind would hike in the heat when a bus can take you the whole way for the same price… you, because you’re a beast!

You’ll have approached from behind the camera, as you can see to the left (behind a super dorky picture of Rachel), there is an obvious entrance. This isn’t the correct entrance! We don’t know where it goes but we witnessed a few other people head in there and then come out pretty quickly.

Instead, before the yellow arrows, there is a clump of bamboo with a very small sign on it which says “Nature Trail” in marker pen… I know, how useful and well thought out.

Looking downhill from the fake entrance, we’ve highlighted where you need to go (there is building work at the moment making it evening harder to see).

Congratulations! You’ve found the entrance to the second part of the trail. All you need to do now is hike. This part of the trail is longer and steeper that the first so I hope you brought plenty of water.

Eventually (and we mean eventually – it will take you a long time) the trail will meet up with the main road again. At the exit, the main road heads to your left and there is another path to your right. We don’t know where the path to the right goes, we went left. Walk a few hundred meters on the main road again, to get to a small village based around the temple. Here you can get food and water from a variety of places (we’d recommend treating yourself to a waffle, you deserve it).

Step 4 – Finish

You’ve made it to the top, you can now enter the temple. There is an entrance fee of 30 Baht for foreigners to get into the temple. There’s a few things online which say entrance is free, and even one which says that, if you hike the Monk’s Trail, you get in free. Neither of these is true. Foreigners don’t pay any taxes so you’ll find yourself paying to get into most temples, even if it is free for locals.

Enjoy, the temple is very cool, though we prefer the first Wat Pha Lat, it is still well worth a visit. Now all you have to do is hike back down. Or, if you’re lazy like us, you can go to the collection of red busses by the temple entrance and they’ll charge you 60 Baht to drop you back. You might have to hang around a little until the bus is full of passengers. They also won’t go into the old town, you’ll be dropped just outside Tha Phae Gate. They will do other stops along the way to the gate but, if you’re staying in old town you’ll walk the rest of the way from here.

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