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 being 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Take some time to walk around the complex. It’s a great place to catch your breath.
The trail before and after Wat Phalad is marked by orange colored cloth from monks robes so it is very easy to navigate.
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.
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.
The picture below shows what the entrance to the next section of the trail looks like.
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.
Cross over the river and the trail continues up.
Recent rain can make the trail very slick, so be careful.
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.
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.
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.
The path has a stair case with a blue plastic pipe as a handle.
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.
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.
The old and tattered stair case has been replaced and is in good condition now. The picture below is of the old staircase.
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.
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.
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.
Here is a photo of the golden temple Wat Phrathat. This is your reward at the top.
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.
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.
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.