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.
2016 Update: It has been recommended by several people to avoid the back way into the temple. The cute little puppies have grown up into not-so-friendly dogs. Also, with all the development at the temple, you will be entering through the monks residences which is not very respectful.
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.
Good one! I’m going to do this next time I am in Chiang Mai 🙂
What an excellent guide, thank you! Hope we get to do this with the trail masters in person sometime soon 🙂
Thanks for the comment. I think we’re finished the hike now for this trip. It will have to wait until we get back to CM.
Greetings Sir James,
It’s been a while.
Yes, it’s a great way to get some exercise and get some clean air and nature.
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.
Thanks for the message!
I’m glad the post was of some use. It’s a great hike. I can’t wait to get back to CM!
I’m confused, “East on Suthep road”,
Don’t you mean west?
Yes, you are right. it is “west on Suthep Road. Thanks for catching that.
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!
Thanks for the comment Nick. I’m glad the post helped.
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! 🙂
Thanks Elizabeth, Enjoy the hike!
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!
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. 🙂
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 🙂
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.
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.
I hope the post helps.
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!
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 for the message Dan!
I’m glad it helped.
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!
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.
Thanks for posting this, really awesome hike and wouldn’t have found it without this blog!
We did this trail today. Nice treck.
thank you very much for your blog! Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to find that trek and it was an awesome trip! Especially pictures from places we were supposed to cross helped a lot! 🙂
Great hike! Thank you very much for sharing this information. Everything is still as you describe it. But my first attempt failed because I could not refer to your photographs when I was hiking up the trail. After the first temple Wat-Pha-Lad I reached the road but then I missed the entrance to the next section. Maybe its worth to mention that it is not at the striking parking place and that it is marked by an orange rag.
This is my FAVORITE temple in Chiang Mai. I have done this hike many times and LOVE it! Thank you for the great directions because it can get confusing to make it to the top!
Thanks for the notes. I have been up on my bicycle, my scooter and a car, so this will help me to walk up. Hoped to go today, but too smoky. Do you have any notes or ideas for other walks/ hikes around Chiang Mai?
Thank you for all the helpful info, the trek is really nice with no people. And we couldn’t find the way without pictures 🙂
Just one thing at the house with the stairs in the end. It’s full of barking dogs and some of them look quite mean. We also met the owner and he wasn’t so happy we wanted to use that way. Just a heads up.
Maung Pon Nya
My first attempt failed today because I could not refer to your photographs when I was hiking up the trail.
After the first temple Wat-Pha-Lad I reached the road but then I missed the entrance to the next section.
Greetings from Santa Cruz California, I’m starting to plan my first trip and get as much research and interesting places to visit as I can. Thank you for your article.
Awesome! Thanks for great detailed post! I have driven up to the very top on a rented bike but today I will hike it! Thanks for the trail info!
Thank for the awesome guide!
However: DO NOT GO THROUGH THE WHITE GATE ROAD!!! There is a pack of dogs that will chase you like you were a giant hot dog! (Pun inentended )
Otherwise, amazing walk!
Ahhh wish I had seen this comment sooner! Did the hike today and had a serious confrontation with this pack of dogs as well… Luckily we made it out ok!
Almost getting eaten is not worth 30 baht… DO NOT GO UP THE GATE ROAD! Unless taking on a pack of crazy dogs is your thing…
Other than that, great hike! Highly recommend! Thanks for the post john!
how much of a good hiker/shape do you need to be? My cousin loves hiking but I’m really out of shape so this looks to be about 2 hours?
It’s about 1.5 hours up and about 1 hour down (depending on where you start from) with a large vertical climb. If you are not comfortable walking for about 4 hours per day, then I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s not an easy trail, there are some steep sections.
John, these instructions are really clear. However you should update them to warn people about taking the driveway after the white gate (after the hairpin turn). As noted by two other commenters a pack of dogs lives at the house and they will aggressively rush you before you get to the stairs. They’ll chase you all the way back to the road (and in our case they kept following us pretty far down the main road until we got to the waterfall). It’s really dangerous, especially because you end up running down a mossy slippery driveway, and the dogs came really close to biting us. Unless people read all the comments, they’ll miss this warning and make the same mistake.
I just dos this hike today and as an update you can no longer take that last bit at the end that goes up to the stairs with the blue handrail up the path that has the abandoned house at the end of it – there’s a pack of about 8-10 very aggressive dogs who will attack and getting away from them is dangerous as the path is clear of debris but covered in slippery moss! Just take the road from there!
Here is a link on youtube for the route on Suthep Road to the trailhead starting from the Canal Road and Suthep Road intersection . Hope it is ok to post this here.
-You’re going to walk right past the Chiang Mai zoo on the way up to the main trail. Its a main marker so its worth noting!
-this guide is super easy to follow (take screenshots!), but the trail is also really well worn. We only used it to find the trail head and get back on the trail after the road section.
– after the first temple the trail continues fairly straight from where you enter the temple grounds. More left if anything. The gold statue in the guide picture is hidden from view until you start walking up the path a few meters.
Is it safe to hike alone? Are the dogs only in that one section? Or are they at Wat Pha Lat too? I have read a handful of posts about packs of rabid dogs being aggressive at Wat Pha Lat…. and not just after the white gate….
Just did this today with these directions and it worked great. Totally recommend it over just taking a red truck up to the top. The first temple, Wat Pha Lat, is totally amazing. No stupid tourist crap, just a 600 years old temple in the jungle with monks meditating around every corner. The hike is steep at times but it is totally worth it. Its rally not that bad. Just bring water. Tuk Tuk from west edge of old city was 50 baht, and the driver seemed to know what we were talking about. He took us to the signs in the first pic and we walked from there. Thanks for the great post!
Thanks for the guide! Was super helpful! For others who got lost like I did on trying to find the entry point: Tell taxi/songtheaw driver to drop you off at roastniyom coffee shop at CMU-B (Chiang Mai university). It may be best to show them the location on Google maps. Then you walk to starting point of trail (will take 15-20 mins), using these coordinates: 18°47’51.0″N 98°56’33.1″E
Excellent post! Very helpful. Thank you.