It’s no secret that Chiang Mai has some of the most beautiful temples in Thailand. But what makes some of them even more attractive is that you have to do deserve the right to see them first. In Thailand, it often means having to walk up steep stairs or forest paths to reach them, as they are hidden in the middle of the jungle.
Wat Pha Lat is one of such temples. To see it for yourself, you’ll have the join the monks that hike up to it every day through a jungle path that’s known as the “Monk’s trail”.
If you’re excited to put yourself in the monk’s shoes even for a little bit, then keep reading to find out all about the hike.
Wat Pha Lat
This hidden temple feels like a true gem in the middle of the jungle. As soon as you enter the temple territory, you’ll notice the peace and quiet that dominates there. That’s because this temple is home to the meditation retreats where locals and foreign visitors come to live for some period of time and let the temple clear their minds.
This temple is located on the way to Doi Suthep, the main temple of Chiang Mai on top of the mountain. Therefore historically Wat Pha Lat was used as a resting point for people on their pilgrimage up to Doi Suthep. Now it’s still done once every year on Buddha’s birthday.
The whole Wat Pha Lat area radiates fairytale-like magic. Small shrines, Buddha figures, unique rock carvings, meditation altars, colorful, aromatic flowers are just a few of the things that makes the place feel special.
And the small mountain spring cheerfully twisting around all these places ends up in a beautiful waterfall. That felt like the best possible view to arriving at after 50 minutes of semi-intense jungle hike.
The monk’s trail
Hiking the monk’s trail felt like a great little workout as well as a nice way how to pay respects to the temple, just like the monks do.
The starting point of the trail is a little bit outside of the city on a narrow, winding jungle road. You’ll recognize the start of the trail by the trail map, that’s showing the whole route and the different things you can see during the hike.
The overall length of the hike is 2 km. The path is quite wide and easy to follow. But to be really sure you’re on the right way, always follow the orange cloth that’s tight around the trees in different places throughout the whole trip.
The path was rocky, sometimes a bit steep, sometimes leading you through interesting bamboo alleys and by tiny waterfalls. Overall it was quite an easy climb, apart from a few places that had deep mud due to heavy rain for the past few days.
PRO TIP: avoid doing the hike if it’s heavily raining that day, as it’s going to get muddy fast and will not be pleasant to walk.
You’ll see a lot of different trees and plants on the way, as the terrain changes quite a lot from a leafy forest to rocky deserts, to cliffs, to bamboo covered jungle.
The temple grounds
Reaching the temple grounds will instantly reveal how high up to you have just hiked, as the first thing you see it a view of Chiang Mai from above. The panoramic view in combination with a light breeze of wind felt like the best reward possible after the hike.
First, you’ll pass through the mediation area, with the mediation hall and small huts where monks and meditation students live.
After taking in the city views, head up the main stairs to explore the waterfall in front of the temple itself and the old pagoda right next to it at the very back.
You’ll experience monks roaming the temple grounds, dogs sleeping in the shade of the trees and a few locals asking for blessings from Buddha.
The temple grounds can be explored in an hour without any rush. Make sure to also visit the coffee shop just outside the main entrance, where you might also see Monks themselves making aromatic tea or coffee.
If you order a cup of their signature iced boon coffee (coffee+cocoa+caramel syrup) or Thai milk tea, 9 THB from that purchase will be donated to local Monk’s dental care.
Going up or Going down
After you’ve explored the temple, you have 3 options what to do next:
You can continue the jungle hike up to Doi Suthep. It will take you about 1,5 – 2 hours more to reach it. This path, however, is unmarked, very steep and quite difficult to navigate. So it’s best to go there only if you’re really up for an adventure. To reach the path, walk on the tarmac road until you reach a bridge over a waterfall. The trail should be on the right.
2. Walk down the Monk’s trail and return to the starting point of the hike.
3. Walk to the main road and catch the red songtaew going up to Doi Suthep or going down back to the city. Or there are usually Songtaews already waiting by the main road, ready to take you wherever you want to go. The trip back to the city should cost you 200 THB per car. That’s what I did and found myself back in the city center just 20 minutes later.
How to reach Wat Pha Lat
Reaching the starting point of the Monks Trail is easy whether you’re coming on your own or taking a Grab taxi.
Use Google maps to navigate your way, by typing in Wat Pha Lat Hike (Monk’s Trail) and you’ll have the exact location. There’s a motorbike parking just in front of the trail entrance.
If coming by Grab taxi, use the destination “Army Radio and Television Channel 7”. That’s the nearest location marked on the map and the entrance gate is located exactly next to the trail starting point.
Using songtaew to get here would be the most difficult option, as quite often they would not want to drive this far when coming from the center and it would be difficult to explain the destination the driver if you don’t speak Thai. The closest popular place to name as a destination is Chiang Mai University, but it’s almost 2km away from the Monk’s trail.
If you want to reach the temple without doing the hike, the best way is to get a songtaew in the city that’s heading up to Doi Suthep and asking him to stop on the road by Wat Pha Lat. The starting point of Doi Suthep bound songtaews is Chiang Phuak gate.
Practical tips for a hike
The hike is quite easy, so as long as you wear any kind of sports shoes and bring some water and bug spray, you’ll be comfortable.
It’s well suited for anyone, including children.
Make sure to bring proper clothing for when you reach the temple, as your knees and shoulders must be covered there at all times.
Also, for the best experience, visit the temple during weekdays, as it gets extremely busy with locals on the weekends.
Are you ready to discover one of the most beautiful jungle temples? Comment below!