Hiking To Wat Pha Lat, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Hiking To Wat Pha Lat, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Hiking is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in nature.
You might have heard about the benefits of having a “Forest Bath,” where you allow Mother Nature to heal you and to connect on a deeper level with your inner natural essence.
While hiking in the woods, the sound of the wind as it passes through the trees, the clunking of the bamboo, the sound of the water gushing over stones in the creeks, the sound of small waterfalls, the songs of birds, all blend together to quiet our busy and often anxious minds.
On the western side of the city of Chiang Mai lays Doi Suthep mountain.
It is a 5,499-foot mountain, with a few trails through the evergreen forest, and with famous and picturesque hilltop temples.
Beyond the summit, there is a high valley that is home to the Hmong hill tribe, that you can visit by taking a shared red open minibus.
The hike can be made in two stages if you start early enough.
The first part is a hike to the “Hidden Temple of Wat Pha Lat,” along the Monk’s Trail.
The second part is to continue up from there to Wat Doi Suthep, which is the most popular temple in the hills of Chaing Mai.
If you hike in the winter when sunset is at five PM, and you run out of time, you can always take a taxi from Wat Pha Lat to Wat Doi Suthep, and a shared minibus to the Doi Hmong hill tribe.
We divided our visit to the mountains into two days.
On day one, we simply hiked to Wat Pha Lat along the Monk’s Trail, visited the temple and hiked down.
The next day we took a taxi to Wat Doi Suthep and continued to the Hmong village, but I will describe that visit in another post.
To hike to Wat Pha Lat, we took a taxi from the old quarters to “Base Camp.”
Base Camp is a fabulous place to start any hike in Doi Suthep mountain.
It has a very cool cafe and restaurant, toilets, showers, and a shop that sells hiking gear.
We sat for awhile in the Base Camp cafe enjoying Thai tea with oat milk, among other hikers and cyclists, and even a few trail runners.
From there, we walked along the “Pilgrim’s Path” road to the beginning of the Monk’s Trail, near the zoo.
There is a well marked map on a sign at the beginning of the trail, and we simply followed the well trodden hiking path up to the temple.
The path was narrow and steep in some parts, but it wasn’t a rainy day so it wasn’t muddy nor slippery.
It was a hot day, but the path was mostly shaded.
Foolishly, we did not bring water with us, thinking that we had just drunk at the Base Camp Cafe, and we didn’t need to carry water for a 90 minute hike when we can drink again when we reach the temple.
Midway, I was already thirsty, but we kept a steady pace to the temple.
The temple looked magical, with many statues, a meditation cave and an ancient stupa.
Some of the statues were covered in green moss, that only added to their charm.
Massive stone guardians with the lower bodies of a lion and the upper bodies and faces of a human, decorated the staircase.
Statues of elephants and angels, Buddhas and monks, Phoenix and dragons, decorated the beautiful gardens.
In the past, the temple was abandoned with the overgrowth of weeds covering the Chedi and statues.
Today, the temple looks great and it is attended by a small congregation of monks who live there.
Jules pointed out that many of the monks were covered in tattoos, some, from head to toe.
The construction date of Wat Pha Lat is not known, but the temple’s name appeared during the time of King Kue Na.
The king rode his elephant to bring the relics of the Buddha from Sukhothai to be enshrined at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, and stopped at Wat Pha Lat for a rest.
The stupa is a Bagan (Burma) style round stupa, surrounded by a circumambulatory or Pradakshina path. It has a niche enshrining the Buddha image on the south side and stucco lions and deities at the corners of the base.
The Hall of Buddha is in a state of ruin, and only its base remains.
The Buddha images inside the hall have been restored to their original condition.
There is a car road leading to the temple, and in the parking lot vendors sold water and coconut milk ice cream, which we enjoyed while sitting in the shade before hiking down the forest path back to Base Camp Cafe.
On the walk down, we passed by quite a few hikers, who were making their way up.
We ate a light lunch of black sesame bagels and rested before heading back to town, exploring different neighborhoods and night markets along our long walk back.
With love from Chiang Mai,
Photos by Jules Landsman