We are in Chiang Mai for the next 2 months living in the funky Nimman area. The area is mix of street stall sellers, new condos, university life, cafes galore and a shiny shopping mall. We love it here and glad we are managing to resolve issues with our neighbour to stay our final month. It does mean living somewhat saintly.

Every week, in order to take a screen break I organise a day tour for somewhere in Chiang Mai.

Recently we have enjoyed:

Chiang Mai temple 1
Temples in the Old City
Chiang Mai temple entrance with elephants
More temples outside the moat.
Chiang Mai rooftop dog
Resident groover dog at Rooftop Bar THC. Poor thing is blind, but loves facing the direction of the DJ.
Chiang Mai two temples
Wat Chiang Man. The oldest temple in the city famed for two statues – a beautifully carved crystal Buddha and a stone Buddha.
Chiang Mai rooftop bar
After a long walk through the crowded Nigh Bazaar a relaxing drink at THC Rooftop Bar is welcomed. We met fun people from Germany and the US. The place doesn’t get kicking until about 11pm.
Chiang Mai night bazaar rooftop
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar.

The day we went into town to renew our Australian passports we visited the Mae Ping River and nearby markets. It was nice to walk along the river with locals who were getting their daily exercise, having a picnic or fishing.

Chiang Mai Ping River
I affectionately shout Ping Ping! around the apartment. It’s a sign of happiness for me. Rich would prefer if I stopped.

So on this day’s adventure, I thought let’s hit the grand-daddy of all Chiang Mai temples – Wat Doi Suthep whilst also visiting the lesser known Wat Pha Lat.

I googled walking trails around the Chiang Mai area and was curious about the Pilgrim’s Trail (apologies for the broken link, Rich managed to get a cached version).

A 4.5km trail didn’t seem like a crazy distance even with another 3km to get to the starting point. I thought let’s give this 7.5km walk a go in reverse and we may even walk it back down to the University (the actual starting point) and go via our favourite market Ton Payom Market. Calling it a total 15km.

a display of vegetables at a market stall
One of my favourite things is getting to Ton Payom Market and picking up super fresh produce. If you ever go to a cooking class in Chiang Mai, this is where they will take you for ingredients. They have the best Thai Sausage! Just think Tom-Yum soup in tube form.

Here’s a map of our route to Wat Doi Suthep with marker numbers for reference below.

Excited, we walk out onto our street Huay Kaew Road (1) and turned right. We took a small detour through the Huay Kaew Arboretum(2), which is a park used by locals to picnic and monks come here to accept offerings in the early morning. We continue pass Chiang Mai Zoo and down a back alley (3) to a rocky bank where the Huay Kaew Waterfall flows. By this point we have already been walking for about an hour.

Chiang Mai - Pilgrims trail 1
Heading down the back alley.
Chiang Mai - Pilgrims trail 3
You cut through some scrub and come out to this spot.
Chiang Mai - Pilgrims trail 5
Loving how nature takes over.

We find a path and keep going to see the Huay Kaew waterfall (4).

Chiang Mai - Pilgrims trail 6

At this point, we head right and clamber up rain-slicked rocks to a ‘path’ of sorts.

Mozzies are a nuisance already. I’ll get back to this later.

We eventually pop out of some bushes onto Siwichai Alley and walk about 300m to the official trail for the waterfall.

Chiang Mai - Pilgrim's trail walk along the road

We think well that’s nice there’s an official trail and maybe we could have a crack at that another time avoiding our made-up route. With new enthusiasm that we are eventually getting to the points of interest in our own way, we continue on over the stream and back into the jungle, stopping for some great views (5).

Chiang Mai - Pilgrims trail 9

 

View point in the jungle overlooking a stream and Chiang Mai city.

We now see sign posts, so I feel heaps better about walking the path.

Sign post with the words Pha Ngoep in 40m

Turning the corner we see this wave-like cave Pha Ngoeb (6) and take a short rest stop here, taking in the scenery.

wave-like cave

Under a cave. Man taking a photo of a stream
Pha Ngoeb

It’s time to follow some signs (as opposed to my vague navigating), across the bridge and walk back out onto the road – Siwichai Alley (7).

Lady crossing a bridge

We turn left and I measure it roughly to be 2km (points 7 to 8) until the first temple on the Pilgim’s trail – Wat Pha Lat.

On route we pass a sign for another trail to Monthathan Waterfall and whilst I can only hear my breathing and feel my heart trying to escape from my body, I’m seriously thinking you know it could be a goer. Rich reminds me that would be a 6km round trip and it’s already 3pm (we did kick off late) and I’m not in shape to make it even to the end of this trail. So we walk and walk AND KEEP WALKING along this road.

I secretly curse every scooter passing us by. To make matters worse, I see a songtaew full of monks and realise, not even the monks bother with this pilgrim journey malarky anymore. Or if they do, they’re smart folk and walk it downhill.

We eventually arrive to Wat Pha Lat (8). We don’t get much further than this entrance because we are running out of time, but to see how you should complete this journey check out this post. This became my favourite temple in all of Chiang Mai. This photo does not look like much, but it’s totally worth it.

Temple Wat Pha Lat
Wat Pha Lat entrance from the road

Time to make the final 600m ascent on the Pilgrims trail. From the entrance of the Wat Pha Lat you turn left on Sriwichai Alley and walk about 300m and then cross the road to get on the right hand side. You see a tree (9) with an orange wrap to mark the second part of the Pilgrims Trail.

Starting point of the second part of the Pilgrim's trail
Staring point of the second part of the Pilgrim’s trail

This part is described as being “quite steep” and in parts “technical”. When I read this I thought pft! I got this!

Chiang Mai - Pilgrims trail 16

Oh how I was so very wrong. Rich is making the climb like a mountain goat and I am melting into the red clay wishing I could zipline my ass outta here.

And the worst part? Every time I take a rest the damn mossies would swarm and bite through my leggings. Those blood sucking little sh**s. I counted 28 bites in total.

So with that great sense of calm, patience and that Pali word anicca (I’m being sarcastic here) I kept going saying every swear word I know.

Chiang Mai - Pilgrims trail 17

After what seems like a lifetime, I hear Rich calling in the distance that he’s reached the road (10). Hallelujah!

This section of the trail took us an hour. Faster if you are fitter, but I could barely go on. The last 500m walking uphill along the road were a blur.

I’m putting it down to super low sugar levels. I thought a big brunch would do us until we got to the street stalls for an early dinner.

I saw a man with a drinks bucket and almost went a little mad sculling a full coke. As I’m catching my breath the drinks man offers up some deep fried insects. Asking “you like?” Then a dog with drawn on eyebrows walks past.

Chiang Mai - Pilgrims trail eyebrow dog

At this point, I think I’m seeing and hearing things. We had been hiking and basically sweating non-stop for about 4 hours and the temple was about to close. I couldn’t even bring myself to walk one more step. To get inside Wat Doi Suthep there are another 309 steps!

Rich makes the call and says let’s get a songtaew back and try this again another day on a scooter. He’s my hero!

If anyone saw us and the state we were in, you’d think we were lost in the jungle for days. We got dropped off outside Maya Shopping Centre and walked back to our apartment, feeling slightly defeated.

At least I nailed my Fitbit step count!.

Chiang Mai - Fitbit

A round trip would have been 24km. Hmm somewhere my maths went a bit wrong.

To see how this trip should be done, check out this post.

Listening to the Hamish and Andy podcast because laughter is the best medicine after a trip like this.

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Trekking the Pilgrim’s Trail to Wat Doi Suthep – A how not-to guide
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