I think it is funny that I’ve been to Chiang Mai several times and I had never heard of Wat Pha Lat until a few months ago. This is a temple on the way to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep that is seldom visited by tourists. Yes, Doi Suthep is the most famous temple and among the most beautiful in Chiang Mai; but Wat Pha Lat, while smaller and less opulent, has a setting that rivals Doi Suthep’s overall beauty.
Wat Pha Lat is nestled in the forest just a few kilometers down the road from Doi Suthep. There are no crowds, no shops or food stalls, no unwanted distractions. This Buddhist temple is as peaceful as it can get, sitting next to a waterfall and hiding under the tree’s canopy. It might be completely out of sight, but it has a stunning overview of the city of Chiang Mai that is worth admiring.
This time though, I could not miss visiting Wat Pha Lat. But even better, I would hike to it using the monk’s trail. When I was doing my research to hike the trail, I found it hard to find an overall description on how to do it, so here I tell you how you can hike it step by step.
To hike to Wat Pha Lat, you must reach the end of Suthep Road, just by Chiang Mai University. You can take a songthaew (the red shared “taxis”) to this point. From here, you will walk forward and turn right at the intersection, heading towards the rear entry of Chiang Mai Zoo. As you head this way, you will notice in the distance a big red and white radio/tv antenna to your right – this is more less the start of the actual monk’s trail.
Once you pass the zoo, you will walk slightly uphill for about 3 to 5 more minutes until you see the trail sign at the end of the road, slightly towards the left. It is next to the big antenna.
For this hike it is highly recommended to wear closed shoes or hiking footwear, as the trail is rough and quite rocky sometimes. But hey, monks do it with sandals! It is also recommended to take mosquito repellent since there are a lot of mosquitoes in the forest. It is also important to notice that you are hiking to a Buddhist temple, so wear proper clothing or carry some pieces of clothing in a daypack to cover your shoulders and/or thighs.
The trail has a mild incline of moderate difficulty and takes about 45 minutes from this point to Wat Pha Lat. Once you enter the trail, follow the trees wrapped in the customary orange cloth monks use to dress themselves.
There are points in which the trail itself becomes a picturesque scene full of trees wrapped in orange. It is beautiful on itself, but once you come across some of the monks that do use the trail, the scene becomes something completely surreal and even enchanting. At points I couldn’t even stop looking at the monks hiking effortlessly along the trail, making their way to the first shrine just a the base of Wat Pha Lat
Once in the temple, you’ll see that a 45 minutes hike is nothing to what you’ll experience. It is hard to not be amazed by the sight of the stair adorned with two dragons and ending abruptly at the edge of the waterfall.
When I arrived, I immediately sat on the dry rocks where the river tends to flow during the rainy season. It was serenity. I watched a few groups of monks emerge from the trail, stop to pray at the shrine, and continue forward to the temple or onwards to Doi Suthep. Dragons, elephants, and mystic creatures form an intrinsic part of the environment this temple creates. They mix the worldly with the otherworldly in a beautiful way.
The temple is well kept, yet you can see how nature creeps and overflows in certain areas, making you feel like you are almost in a forgotten land or time, surrounded only by the modesty and peacefulness of the monks. True peace does exist in this temple.
Wat Pha Lat, which means “Monastery at the Sloping Rock”, was originally used as a resting place for people walking up to worship at Doi Suthep. But once the road was built in 1935, making Doi Suthep much more accessible, Wat Pha Lat in turn became a monks’ residence.
Should you decide to stop your hike here, you can easily walk to the street and take a songthaew back to the city (around 60 bahts), but should you decide to hike up to Doi Suthep, you can continue the trail along the river until you reach the road.
Once at the road, you will turn to the left and cross to the opposite side of the road, where you will enter on the first path you’ll see to your right (the one before the street sign pointing opposite your way). From here on, the trail is not marked with orange cloths, but it is easy to follow. You’ll often see the power lines that go up to Doi Suthep parallel to the trail.
This part of the trail is more challenging, though, as it is steeper and longer. It takes about 1:15 hours to reach Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
Once you reach the road again, you’ll hike up until you reach the Naga staircase, leading you upwards to the temple. Here you won’t feel the serenity and peace found at Wat Pha Lat, but this temple is worth seeing. It shines thanks to its extravagant golden Chedi and its several holy shrines. The view to Chiang Mai city is also a highlight of this temple.