An inspiring hiking guide to the Monks Trail in Chiang Mai. Hike on a scenic jungle trail to Wat Pha Lat Temple, a serene Buddhist monastery on the mountain slopes overlooking the bustling streets of Chiang Mai, Thailand.
If you’re up for a quick morning adventure, then hiking the Monks Trail Chiang Mai to Wat Pha Lat temple is an incredible way to experience a slice of Chiang Mai’s natural beauty. This one is a relatively short and easy hike, but well worth it to escape the tourist crowds and the hustle and bustle of city life.
Unfortunately, the trial isn’t really frequented by monks anymore. Instead, they’ve carved new routes through the mountain to avoid the tourists. Still, the hike is far from a tourist-trap, and a visit to the hidden forest temple in Chiang Mai was one of my favorite morning trips in the city.
How to get to the Monks Trail Trailhead
In order to get to the Monks Trail, you will need to make your way to the trailhead, which is located near the Chiang Mai Zoo. Depending on traffic, it should take roughly 15-25 minutes to get here from the Old City in Chiang Mai.
There are a few different ways to get here:
- By motorbike – Motorbike rental in Chiang Mai is 200 baht per day
- By Grab – Can cost over 150 baht, one way from the Old City
- Songthaew – This will cost roughly 70-100 baht
I believe that the best way to get here is to simply rent a motorbike for the day. Since this is only a short hike, it makes sense to have one for the rest of the day. Also, leaving your bike at the base of the mountain also means you don’t have to wait for another Grab or Songthaew after the walk.
Of course, if you’re planning to spend the whole day hiking around Doi Suthep, then leaving your motorbike near the trailhead for the Monks Trail might not be the best bet. In this instance, I’d hail a Songthaew.
Tip: Keep quiet on the track. The track is used by many people as a morning meditation hike.
Monks Trail Map
In the Monks Trail map below, you’ll find the starting point for the trail, as well as the temple itself, pinned as “Pha Lat Temple”, just to the west. The walking trail starts on the bend of this road, where you’ll be able to enter into the forest and begin the walk.
Hiking the Monks Trail in Chiang Mai
Length: Roughly 40 minutes one-way
Distance: 1.5KM one-way
Hiking the Monks trail in Chiang Mai is a great morning sunrise walk that anybody can do. The track ascends the mountain slope gently, with several stops along the way worthy of a photo.
On the track, you’ll traverse through lush jungle and a few elegantly flowing streams. Upon reaching Wat Pha Lat temple, hikers will find a small waterfall and a magnificent view over Chiang Mai city.
Are There Monks on the Trail?
Unfortunately, hiking the Monks Trail Chiang Mai isn’t the mystical and enchanting experience it once was. The trees once wrapped in buddhist robes are now bare, and the monks seem to have found new routes to Wat Pha Lat.
As mentioned, there are a few unmarked side trails, which now have monk robe wrappings and which lead all through the Doi Suthep mountain area. We were told that these new trails are where the monks now walk every day in order to not be disturbed by tourists. So, if you see some winding trails leading off the path, I’d stay off them in respect for the monks.
In a way, this compromise has lead to a good outcome. The monks still have trails to walk and meditate, and tourists, ex-pats, and locals are still able to enjoy the Monks Trail and the Wat Pha Lat Temple.
When is the Best Time to Go
Hiking the Monks Trail Chiang Mai can be done any time of year. The best time to do the hike is in the early morning or for sunrise in order to beat the school and business traffic and to get great golden views over Chiang Mai City.
Tip for Expats and Locals: You can join the Doi Suthep Walker’s Facebook Group to find useful and up-to-date information on hiking around Doi Suthep and the Monks Trail Chiang Mai.
Wat Pha Lat – Forest Temple Chiang Mai
The temple of Wat Pha Lat is the main attraction and end-point on the Monks Trail. Wat Pha Lat translates to “Sloping Rock Monastery” in Thai. This small monastery was constructed to serve the purpose of a rest and prayer stop for people and monks walking up to Doi Suthep. However, since Doi Suthep is now accessible by road, the monastery has turned into a monks’ residence and meditation centre.
Upon reaching Wat Pha Lat, the forest temple, you’ll realize that you have several areas to explore. Perhaps the first thing you’ll notice is the long dragon bridge that runs down the mountain to the edge of the flowing river. Also, there are several smaller temples and stupas, as well as many statues and depictions of Buddhist deities around the monastery worthy of a look.
Where to go From Here?
So, what’s next? After the Monks Trail hike, you’ll have three options. I’ve outlined each below to help you better plan your day hiking in the Doi Suthep mountains above Chiang Mai.
Continuing the Hike to Wat Doi Suthep
A popular option for people who are looking to progress onto a longer hike is to continue up to Wat Doi Suthep. This is a larger and much more popular temple. The hike here is a little longer but also much steeper. Expect at least a 1.5-hour hike from Wat Pha Lat.
Continuing on from the forest monastery, follow the river up until you reach the road. From here, there is another skinnier and unmarked trail that leads all the way to Wat Doi Suthep.
Walk the Monks Trail Back Down
If you’ve left your motorbike at the base of the trail, then you can simply turn around and walk back down the way you came to Suthep Road.
Lazy Option: Hitch a Songthaew From the Road
This one is for the laziest hikers. On the right side of the temple, you’ll see main road access to the forest temple. You can walk down this road and wave down a passing songthaew to take you back to the start of the track or all the way to Chiang Mai.
After Hiking the Monks Trail Chiang Mai: More Adventures
I hope this guide to hiking the Monks Trail Chiang Mai has been informative and inspires you to take the adventure. If you’re in Chiang Mai for a few more days, why not check out some of the other articles I’ve written for the region below?
If you have any questions or you want to say hi, leave a comment below or contact me via email!