Hiking up to Wat Phra Doi Suthep

Wat Phra Doi Suthep, otherwise known in Chiang Mai as “the temple at the top of the mountain” sits 1,676 meters (5499 feet) above the city of Chiang Mai. Of course, Lonely Planet will explain how you can take a shared taxi up the road full of switchbacks or, if you want more of an adventure and some exercise, you can hike up through the jungle and feel triumphant at the top.

At the very eastern end of Suthep Road, we met our friend Carolyn and left our bicycles at Pun Pun Restaurant, where we planned to return for a well-deserved lunch. The walk to the trailhead is a steep climb on a paved road past a beautiful Buddhist temple in the forest, which we explored a bit before continuing up the hill. Eventually, we came upon the back entrance to the zoo on our right, a checkpoint that marks the halfway point to the trailhead, and we forged ahead on the road.

As we took our first steps on the trail, we gladly exchanged the noise of pickup trucks, cars and motorbikes whizzing past for the sounds of the jungle: leaves rustling in the breeze; birds calling loudly; and the natural silence. We smiled at several points as we came across many trees wrapped in orange monk’s cloth, signifying that they had been blessed and bad karma awaited any tree-cutters.

Monk cloth wrapped around trees on the hike to Wat Phra Doi SuthepAs if the jungle could sense we needed a break, we suddenly came upon a Buddhist temple that offered beautiful views. We enjoyed walking around a bit, exploring the grounds, reading the many quotes in English posted on placards and playing with little puppies before continuing on our way.

Beautiful temple in the jungle on the hike to Wat Phra Doi SuthepAs we trudged along, the trail started to increase its grade was at its steepest when we arrived at the winding road. We watched a couple cyclists push their way up the mountain and countless song taews as we sat and caught our breath.

After finding the continuation of the trail on the opposite side of the road and a bit uphill, we discovered this section of the path maintained the steep climb. It was here along this part of the trail where we came across the biggest leaves we’ve ever seen and one of the most unique trees.

Big leaves on the hike to Wat Phra Doi SuthepInteresting tree on the hike to Wat Phra Doi Suthep

For about 45 minutes, we ascended Suthep Mountain, taking intermittent breaks for water and deep breaths, when we reached the traffic-filled road once again.

The next part of the hike was full of anticipation as we neared the top. We went around the gate  to the right, walked up the gravel driveway, and took the stairs with their green handrail. We knew we were close when we passed through the monks’ quarters and then, almost without warning, there we stood at the final staircase, seeing the golden stupa of Wat Phra Doi Suthep. [Update November 2015: We’re no longer in the area, but based on comments you may encounter a pack of territorial and aggressive dogs during this stretch of the hike. Alternatively, you can simply continue up the paved windy road to the top.]

After climbing the steps, however, we simply became another tourist group and our sweat-drenched shirts likely attributed to the front steps. The three of us shared a secret pride, though. We knew we had arrived via a different route, a more fulfilling journey. We reveled in our achievement, overlooking Chiang Mai through the haze, and quenched our thirst with some freshly squeezed orange juice.

Triumphant after our hike to Wat Phra Doi Suthep

The triumphant (and tired!) hikers

With our legs shaking, we opted to descend from the temple in the more typical fashion – out the front, down the steps and through the “vendor mall” where you can buy trinkets of all kinds, food and sadly, even a bird in a very small cage to release for good luck, and caught a shared taxi back to our morning’s meeting point.

Have you completed the hike to Wat Phra Doi Suthep?

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16 thoughts on “Hiking up to Wat Phra Doi Suthep

    1. Mindy & Ligeia

      Hi Simone,
      We’re so glad that you found our blog post useful and that you indeed made it to the top! I enjoyed your post, especially the pictures, as they would help with navigation. We felt so triumphant upon arriving to the top – did you as well?

  1. Annika & Torge

    This is the german couple you met at Din Dee teahouse 😉 we are so glad we met you, beside having a very nice chat with you, we got the link to your blog and discovered that there was a hiking trail to Doi Suthep. We just came back and it was a great trip 🙂 but exhausting 😀

  2. Jon

    Hi,
    Thanks for the great post. Do I have to worry much about snakes on this trail? I will be hiking alone.

    Thanks,

    Jon

    1. Bounding Over Our Steps

      Hi Jon, we don’t recall seeing any snakes on our hike. I think though, that even if you came across a snake, they would quickly leave as they are rather afraid of us. Enjoy your hike – it’s very nice. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Hike to Wat Phra Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai - The Track & Off ItThe Track & Off It

  4. Leslie

    As an update, I tried this on 11 Nov 2015 and that house where the steps are for the last bit is now inhabited by a pack of about 8 to 10 aggressive dogs, do NOT go up the paced driveway, just take the road. The dogs will absolutely chase you down and getting away from them is quite dangerous – the driveway is clear but covered in moss that makes it very slippery and dangerous so you end up running down the dirt along the side (which is very close to the edge of the mountain)

    1. Bounding Over Our Steps

      Hi Leslie,
      Thank you for this update. I’m so glad that you made it despite the dogs. Territorial dogs are definitely not to be messed with and there are so many around Chiang Mai. Knowing this we too would take the road next time. Hope you enjoyed the view once your heart rate returned to normal. 🙂

  5. Clair

    Hi, I really want to do this but I am on my own. What do you think. I have done a few treks before, just did the inka trail in June but I am not an experienced walker. Any advice?

    1. Bounding Over Our Steps

      Hi Clair,
      If you have done the Inca Trail then climbing to Wat Phra Doi Suthep will be easy for you. We are not by any means experienced walkers either. Just bring lots of water like you would do on any hike. Also, please read the comments by Leslie regarding the dogs towards the end of the hike, especially if you are walking by yourself. Might want to consider taking the road towards the end. Or alternatively, you could bring some treats for the dogs. Have a wonderful time – it’s such a beautiful hike! 🙂 When you are finished, consider going to Anchan for lunch. It’s located on Nimmanhaemin Road on a little soi just across from Salad Concept. Follow the little soi and Anchan will be on the your left on the second floor just before you get to the apartment complex Hillside 3. Tell Aye and Woulter that we said hello. 🙂 We recommend the massaman curry, but really anything is good!

  6. Lyndon Leeming

    Hello, Lyndon here. Just completed the trail today with my girlfriend Alice and I must say it was extraordinary! In the hot season in Thailand it was a hell of a hike and probably a few lbs were lost in sweat but my God was it worth it! 1600 (odd) meters climb in a relatively short distance is some going! The best part though? The temple half way up, wat pha lat. It was amazing, so serene and beautiful. The latter hike up the wat doi suthep was different though, a tad bit more steep shall we say haha. Luckily it’s dry season and we had a good footing and a sturdy stick at hand to help. The views at the top are worth it alone but taking a vehicle up the road is to cheat yourself of the beautiful temple on the trail. So happy we did it and when we did get back to town (via vehicle btw) the beer in the 1st bar we went in was all the more sweeter for our exercise and mine pilgrimage of our own.

    1. Bounding Over Our Steps

      Hi Lyndon, your description of the hike makes us this of our own adventure there! There is nothing quite like the exhilaration of arriving at the top but the journey offers so many neat things along the way as well.
      Enjoy the rest of your trip 🙂

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