Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

We’ve been hiking up to the top of Doi Suthep once a week for the last couple of months. It’s a great way to escape the traffic and pollution of Chiang Mai to get some exercise, fresh air and see the beautiful temple at the top of the mountain. The hike can be easily done in less than 90 minutes each way, and the view from the top is a great reward for making the effort.

How Not to Hike Up Doi Suthep

Apparently, Thais are not so interested in hiking. The very first time we tried the hike, I asked directions from several locals and all said that it was impossible to hike up. All recommended turning around, going to the other side of Chiang Mai University, and taking a taxi truck or song tao up to the top. None of them seemed to believe that we actually wanted to walk up. One guy even told us it was dangerous because it was a jungle full of snakes and wild animals.

After been turned around several times, I finally decided to ignore all the advice and go in the direction I felt the trail must be.  Here are directions on how to climb to the top.

Where to Start

Start by going west on Suthep road past Chiang Mai University. There are many good, inexpensive cafes and restaurants on the way so this is a good place to get something to eat before your hike.

Walking up Suthep Road, you will eventually hit a greener area, it’s possible to get to the trail by going straight, but it’s easier to turn right down the narrow road in the picture below. There are some billboards there, but you should also see a sign that says “Nature Trail.”

to doi suthep hike Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

The TV tower is right near the entrance to the hiking trail, so you can use that as a visual marker about which direction to go. From where you leave Suthep Road, there is only one way that a vehicle can go, so just follow that to the start of the trail.

To summarize, turn right off of Suthep Road, go straight for about 100 meters, then take the first and only left. After that, follow the road right up to the hiking trail.

The picture below shows what the TV Tower complex looks like. The hiking trail entrance is right before this gate.

doi suthep hike tv tower behind CMU Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

TV Tower at the Base of Doi Suthep

The picture below is what the entrance to the trail looks like. There is a map on one of the green boards, but it is almost completely useless.

doi suthep hike 01 Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

Most of the hike has a pretty well worn trail. The picture below is a good idea of what to expect. It’s not exactly jungle trekking, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it in flip flops. Some insect repellent is also a good investment.

doi suthep hike 02 Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

 Wat Phalad Temple on Doi Suthep

The first set of temples is only about a 25 minute hike at a slow pace. The temple is beautiful, and it offers a decent view of Chiang Mai when it’s not cloudy.

This is your only chance for toilets until you get to the top, so it’s a good pit stop. The toilets closest to the trail are often locked, particularly early in the morning, but there are more inside the complex, near the main temple.

doi suthep hike 03 Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

Wat-Pha-Lad Temple

There are monks working in the area here through the day. We often surprise young monks on the trail listening to iPods or talking amongst themselves. icon smile Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

doi suthep hike 04 Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

Wat-Phalad

Take some time to walk around the complex. It’s a great place to catch your breath.

doi suthep hike 22 Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

The trail before and after Wat Phalad is marked by orange colored cloth from monks robes so it is very easy to navigate.

doi suthep hike 05 Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

The trail markers end quickly after the first temple, so some good general advice is to stay to the right and go up when faced with a fork in the road. The path gets very steep right after Wat Phalad. This is one of the worst parts of the trail but it only lasts for about 5 minutes.

Be careful on the way down at this point. There is a lot of loose dirt and rocks on the path. This is where you’re most likely to slip and fall. Trust me I know from experience. icon smile Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

doi suthep hike 06 Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

Soon you will reach the road. Cross over and walk up about 20 meters and you will see the trail start again on the opposite side.

hike up doi suthep 02 Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

The picture below shows what the entrance to the next section of the trail looks like.

doi suthep hike 07 Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai


Hiking this section is steep but there are cut out steps which give you stable footing. It’s less than an hour to go from this point.

doi suthep hike 08 Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

Cross over the river and the trail continues up.

Doi Suthep hike Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

Recent rain can make the trail very slick, so be careful.

doi suthep hike 09 Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

After about 45 minutes, you’ll reach the road again. There is a sharp u-turn here where all the taxi trucks and vans struggle to get up the mountain. You can walk on the main road to the main entrance of the temple, or you can go through the not-so-secret back way.

doi suthep hike 10 Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

The entrance to the back way has a white gate that is always closed. Going through the back, means going through some of the shacks where people live on the mountain, passing monks residents and entering the temple without paying the 30 baht fee (US$1). There are also some trickier parts to navigate, so if you are travelling with a larger group of people, I would suggest going up the main road. There are sometimes dozens of people on the trails and if all are going through the back way, it would probably be disrespectful. However, we often take this route, so I’m being somewhat hypocritical.

doi suthep hike 11 Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

doi suthep hike 12 Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

At the end of the first steep path, there is a large empty house. You’ll need to turn left up the stairs before you reach the house.

doi suthep hike 13 Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

The path has a stair case with a blue plastic pipe as a handle.

doi suthep hike 14 Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

It gets a little steep around here and the trail is not so travelled here. As you go up, take your left. That is the easiest way to get to the next road.

doi suthep hike 15 Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

There are several shacks were workers live on the mountain. The cook and live right off the main road, so it’s probably a good idea to get through here as fast as possible.

2014 Update
The old and tattered stair case has been replaced and is in good condition now. The picture below is of the old staircase.

doi suthep hike are we there yet Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

You’ll have to walk through the monks residences. The monks are generally busy in the middle of the day, but you will see some walking through here.

almost there wat phrathat doi suthep Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

Soon you’ll get to the last path way. Turn left and follow the path. There is a new set of rails and a trolley built to move building supplies up the mountain. This will probably only be here temporarily but if you see it, cross over the stairs where the rails are and go straight to the next set of stairs. Then it’s an easy walk right to the top of the temple.

Going this way, means you avoid the entrance fee for foreigners, however there are many donation boxes at the top. Please consider making a small donation for the upkeep of the temple and mountain.

back side of wat phrathat doi suthep Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

This is the view at the top. If you’re lucky, can see all of Chiang Mai. Most times it will be pretty hazy and cloudy.

the view of chiang mai Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

The Reward

Here is a photo of the golden temple Wat Phrathat. This is your reward at the top.

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

Wat Phrathat, Doi Suthep

wat phrathat doi suthep Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

There is a cafe at the top that serves okay espresso drinks and some tasty hot waffles. We always make a stop there to fuel up before heading back down.

The main entrance has a large set of stairs that is definitely worth seeing. There are also many shops and food stalls if you’d like to buy something.

Doi Suthep hike stairs Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

Doi Suthep hill tribe kids Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

Doi Suthep hill tribe kids

If your too tired to hike down, you can catch a red taxi truck for 40 baht (US$1.35), I believe. There is always a long line of trucks waiting to take people down.

If you decide to skip the trail and walk down the main road, it will take about 2 hours to get back to Wat Phalad, but there is a lookout platform that might make it worth your while.

the view of chiang mai half way Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

Hiking Doi Suthep is good exercise and the temple, view and coffee at the top are a fantastic reward for your efforts. See you on the trail.

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My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

24 Responses to Hiking Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

  1. James Clark says:

    Good one! I’m going to do this next time I am in Chiang Mai :)

  2. Jean says:

    What an excellent guide, thank you! Hope we get to do this with the trail masters in person sometime soon :)

  3. Brian Robinson says:

    John and Matoko, thanks for the guide. A friend and I used it yesterday to hike up Doi Suthep, and found it invaluable. I doubt we’d ever have even FOUND the trail, much less followed it, without this page and photos. (I loaded it into my Blackberry’s browser, and referred to it several times on the way up.) One change since you did it: the “very old and tattered staircase” has been replaced with a quite solid metal one. Thanks again from Brian and Nick.

  4. Jens says:

    I’m confused, “East on Suthep road”,
    Don’t you mean west?

  5. Nick says:

    Thanks a lot for this excellent guide. My girlfriend and I did this hike recently and loved it. We had your blog saved as an offline page on my phone and referred to it throughout the hike. The day was perfect and the view from the top was spectacular. We definitely wouldn’t have attempted it without your instructions as the track itself isn’t very clearly signposted. Much appreciated!

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you so much for this! I’ve been wanting to hike up Doi Suthep for ages, and, like you, so far my queries have been greeted with that “what is this mad farang talking about?” look! I planned to strike out and find out on my own, but was a little nervous of doing so. With your comprehensive guide, I have no fear! Can’t wait for those waffles – see you at the top! :)

  7. Steve says:

    Thank you for a great guide John! I wish I had found this earlier. I was on a 3 day first time trip to Chiangmai and thought I would climb Doi Suthep and I’m embarassed to say I did it the hard way following the main road all the way which not only lengthened the trip but I think I got carbon monoxide poisoning from all the car fumes on the way..LOL Anyways, I made it up to the Doi Pui Scenic View area and then took a songtaw down…:) I knew that there must be some kind of trail but wasn’t sure of the entrance and condition of it so just kept chugging along the main road. Despite all the traffic on New Year’s Day, it was worth seeing the Temple and the Chiangmai view.
    Beautiful northern Thai country. I liked Chiangrai as well but didn’t hike there.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • John says:

      Thanks for the comment Steve.

      The temple is beautiful, but you don’t often get a view of Chiang Mai. It looks like this is a lucky year for you. :-)

  8. matt says:

    Fantastic directions. I took the walk today and it was incredible. Only saw one other hiker the whole day! Thanks so much for the tips :)

    • John says:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Matt. I’m glad the post helped. It is a great, easy hike. Maybe I’ll see you on the trail sometime soon.

  9. Mark says:

    Awesome! My girlfriend and I live right near that end of Suthep Rd, and we’ve heard tell of this mysterious track but have so far failed to find it. Can’t wait to save this to my phone and try it out in the coming days.

  10. Jess says:

    Thank you so much for this hike! I did it last week with a friend and it was SO FUN. About as tough as I like a hike to be too! Felt like champs at the top. Thanks again!

  11. Dan says:

    Hi John, Just wanted to say thanks for the detailed explanation and photos. This was a really great post and extremely helpful. I’m pretty sure we’d still be wandering around up there eating bugs and drinking rainwater without your guidance. As soon as my girlfriend and I showed up in Chiang Mai, hiking this mountain was at the top of our list.

    Thanks!
    Dan

  12. Louise says:

    Hi John,

    Thanks for this useful guide. I’m keen to give this hike a shot when I’m in Chiang Mai but I’m a bit unsure whether I’ll be able to do it.

    Could you give me an idea of the level of difficulty of this hike? Is it do-able for someone in their 20s who is unfit? Is the majority of it very steep or just parts?

    Thanks for the info!

    • John says:

      It’s probably about 2 hours each way at a leisurely pace. There are a few step parts but for the most part is a moderately difficult hike. If you are unfit, it might be a good idea to do lots of walking to get in shape before you try it.

  13. Jared says:

    Thanks for posting this, really awesome hike and wouldn’t have found it without this blog!

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