The Monk’s Trail is a very accessible hike in Chiang Mai. The starting point is easy to get to, just outside of the city and there are two distinct parts of the hike. The first is up to Wat Pha Lat (วัดผาลาด), and after passing through Wat Pha Lat you can continue to the top of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (วัดพระธาตุดอยสุเทพ).
Total elevation: ~620 meters
Total distance: ~7.5km
Average time: ~3.5 hours
The easiest part is the first ~40 minutes of the hike to Wat Pha Lat. It’s not very steep, and it makes a nice shorter trip if you’re less physically able or short on time. Wat Pha Lat is beautiful, so this is a great trip even if you don’t do the full hike.
Set aside 4-6 hours to walk to both Wat Pha Lat, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, enjoy the temple, coffee, take some photos and walk back down (optionally take a Red Songtaew/taxi back to the city from the top). If you’re doing this for fitness and you’re not stopping, you can walk to the top and back in 2-3 hours.
When to go
November to February are the best months due to lower temperatures, less rain, and still being outside of the usual “smokey season”.
The best time is early in the morning. If you’re up for the challenge, take a light and start the hike between 5:30am and 6:00am. Later in the morning does get busier, but not unbearable.
At 5:30am I only usually see one or two people the whole way to the top and then pass a few people on the way down. Most of the trail is covered with forest though so even during the day it’s quite comfortable.
The starting point is easy to find. Just go to this Google Map location and the starting point is on the right-hand side of the sign.
There is plenty of parking for motorbikes and cars can fit on the side of the road.
Many people walk to the starting point from the Basecamp coffee shop or that rough area after breakfast and a coffee. If you’re leaving early, it won’t be open but you could go there on the way back to freshen up (bring extra clothes) and have a coffee.
What to take
Water/electrolytes – it’s hot and humid, and you will sweat a lot. There are plenty of shops at Wat Phra Thai Doi Suthep if you’re going to the top. You can find more food and water up there.
Extra clothes – if you don’t want to go back to your hotel immediately, you might want a change of clothes.
Good shoes – the trail gets a little rocky, muddy and slippery.
Suitable clothing for temples – especially for women, something to cover the shoulders and legs. Men may still be asked to cover up their legs if wearing shorts in the main Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Sarongs are available for hire.
Light source – If you’re doing a late afternoon or very early morning trip, bring a head torch or at least a phone light.
Trail & difficulty
It’s a challenging but short hike. You will gain over 600 meters in elevation in approximately 1.5 hours. It will be very difficult to get lost if you follow the main path. You do not need a guide but if you’re concerned, simply use AllTrails or Strava and follow the trail on your phone.
Continuing to the top of Doi Suthep and especially the top of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep requires some work. The trail is well trodden but it does get steep. If it’s wet or raining, it will be challenging.
After passing through Wat Pha Lat there are a few stairs with a running stream/waterfall on your left. 10 minutes further up this trail you must climb the road barrier, walk left and up the road to the left hand turn and immediately turn right back in to the trees (there’s an opening just before you get to a small waterfall). Other than that, the trail is clear.
The photo above is close to to the top of the trail. At this point you join the road and walk the last 15 minutes to the entrance to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. And finallyyyy you’re greeted with your last challenge, 306 steps to the top of the temple.