Hiking the Monk's Trail, Chiang Mai

Hiking the Doi Suthep Monk’s Trail and Preparing for Nepal

Things are hotting up in Chiang Mai, quite literally. As temperatures hit 38 degrees, we’ve had to switch on our air conditioning and start avoiding the scorching midday sun again. That’s how we found ourselves rising at 6am last weekend to trek in the relative morning cool up the Monk’s Trail, a forested path marked with orange monk-robe cloth, which snakes up Suthep Mountain.

Us at Wat Pha Lat, Chiang Mai

The trek was long overdue. If we were smart, we would have done it a few months ago when the weather was cool and the scenery was lush and green from the rainy season. It’s only now, with our Nepal trip hurtling towards us at lightning speed, that we finally dragged ourselves to the foot of the dusty trail. Clad in our brand new walking shoes, which we hope we take us the 62 kilometres to Everest Base Camp in May, we started upwards.

Monk's orange robe on the Monk's Trail, Chiang Mai

Trekking in Chiang Mai – the Monk’s Trail

Since the ancient times of the Lanna Kingdom, Buddhists have been making this pilgrimage up Doi Suthep, carving a steady path that leads to the golden temple at the top, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. There, they pay respect to a sacred piece of Lord Buddha’s bone that lies encased in a shiny pagoda. Today Buddhists, monks and tourists alike continue to make this three-hour trek to the viewpoint high above Chiang Mai city.

As it’s the dry season, the first section of the trail was a brown-yellow path of dust and rocks, with hazy views of the cityscape peeking out from the bare trees below. Under the incessant beat of the morning sun, we sweated hard. Relief came halfway up, when a sign announced that we’d reached 4,000 feet above sea level and the vegetation transformed into tropical green forest. Here, a cacophony of insects started up an industrious, steady hum, while lizards scattered through underbrush and birds flitted through the treetops.

Stone Buddhist Statues at Wat Pha Lat, Chiang Mai

After 45 minutes we reached a shaky wooden bridge leading to Wat Pha Lat, the Monastery of the Sloping Rock. Initially, this was meant as a pit stop before embarking on the steeper path to the mountain top, but now it’s a residence for monks and a meditation retreat. Mythical carved creatures line the staircase to a temple entwined with the forest. Crumbling brick, cone-shaped pagodas sit next to ornate tiered-roof buildings, while stone statues of dragons and Buddhas litter the grounds.

Laughing monk statue at Wat Pha Lat, Chiang Mai

The dry weather had reduced the waterfall to a trickle, but we ventured down the steps decorated with white mosaic dragons anyway to look out over the tangle of trees. A few monks and temple dogs padded softly about and we were joined by a handful of other tourists. Still, Wat Pha Lad felt peaceful and humble compared to Doi Suthep temple above, which is always heaving with crowds who come to marvel at its golden finery.

Buddhist statues and staircases at Wat Pha Lat, Chiang Mai

Preparing for Everest Base Camp, Nepal

We could have continued on the Monk’s Trail, but by that point the sun was rising higher in the sky and we were keen to descend for some tea. We also had plans to make for Nepal, a route to research and a list of equipment and supplies to compile. Luckily, we know a family who are currently in Nepal, just about to begin their own Everest Base Camp Trek. They’ve been advising us on the best places to pick up gear in Kathmandu and feeding us information about prices, routes and the weather, which is behaving unpredictably right now, trapping trekkers in the higher villages with snowfall.

Elephant at Wat Pha Lat, Chiang Mai

As our trip draws closer I feel an increasing mix of nerves and anticipation about our trek. We’ve never been at high altitude before, so I have no idea how our bodies will cope with the physical exertion and thin air. How will I deal with the cold, especially at night in the thin plywood teahouses? What will it be like to go without a shower or wifi for days on end? Then there’s the terrifying flight to Lukla, one of the most dangerous airstrips in the world, the dizzying suspension bridges and herds of horned yaks that could bully us off the track.

Buddhist stupa and stone statue at Wat Pha Lat, Chiang Mai

However, it’s these challenges and the unknown ahead that also fill me with tentative excitement. It has been a long time since we took on an adventure like this and I know that I’ll gain so much strength from the experience. I’m also drawn by the thought of being surrounded by mountains, of waking up every day with the sole purpose of simply placing one foot in front of the other, of cleaning out my mind completely. Of course, at the end of it all, there’s the promise of seeing Everest, of standing in the shadow of its terrifying, awesome peaks.

The adventure begins in just five weeks!

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How to hike the Monk’s Trail: take a songtheaw or taxi to the western end of Suthep Road, next to D Condo.  Follow the sign for Wat Pa Lad Nature Trail up a paved road. Two green-roofed information signs mark the start of the trail. Wear sturdy shoes and avoid hiking in the hottest time of day. We started at 8am and it was still incredibly hot in the dry season.  The full hike takes about three hours and you can catch a ride back down at either Wat Pa Lad or Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Remember to dress modestly, you’ll be entering temple grounds.

  • Patti
    Posted at 17:38h, 24 March Reply

    I enjoyed the video, definitely allowed me to see and get a good perspective of the trail. How did the shoes hold up?

    I don’t know if you can find it in Chiang Mai (or if you can order it) but if you can I highly recommend a product called NOK. It is a cream that you rub onto your feet before hiking. I found it in Spain while walking the Camino and it really helped combat further blistering. You know the story. 🙂

    Here’s an Amazon link just so you can see the product if you’re interested.


    • Amy
      Posted at 04:47h, 25 March Reply

      Hi Patti, glad you like the video and thanks for the NOK tip, I’ll add it to our list and see if we can find some or something similar here in Chiang Mai. The shoes were good except for a pinch on my little toe, which I’m hoping will go once I wear them in a bit more, we’ll see. I’m bracing myself for the possibility of blisters, although since our walk is shorter than yours I’m hoping they’ll be more minimal than yours (that looked so painful!).

  • Gilda Baxter
    Posted at 21:47h, 24 March Reply

    I loved the video, great to be taken on the Monk’s Trail with you. Sounds like your new walking boots are doing a great job of looking after your feet? Nepal is awaiting and what an incredible adventure it will be?

    • Amy
      Posted at 04:48h, 25 March Reply

      Thanks Gilda, yep, just a slight pinch on my little toe which I’m hoping will go once I’ve stretched them a bit and have proper socks on. It’s surreal how quickly it’s all coming around now!

  • Kristen
    Posted at 13:24h, 25 March Reply

    We’re debating between Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Circuit. I want the latter because it’s less extreme and altitude terrifies me, but G is so right when he says there’s a reason EBC is so popular.

    The girl I was sat next to on a recent plane ride had just done EBC and she flew while her partner took the bus (because the flight scared him too much). Her flying experience sounded absolutely terrifying, but his bus experience, driving fast on huge mountain ledges, didn’t sound any better. Ugh! Why are the great things all so scary!

    Good luck and can’t wait to hear more!

    • Amy
      Posted at 04:17h, 26 March Reply

      Hi Kristen, you’re right, the bus sounds really scary too, at least the flight is only half an hour I suppose! I’m sure it’ll be worth it 🙂 When are you planning to go to Nepal?

  • Telma | Blank Canvas Voyage
    Posted at 19:41h, 01 April Reply

    Hi Amy!

    When are you guys off to Nepal? We were there for 3 months, and had such a fantastic time! Get ready for some chaos! How long are you guys staying for?
    Also read that you are trekking to Everest Base Camp? YES YES, our favourite! We were so lucky because of the weather, we went in November and had crystal clear blue sky for 16 days! Do you need any tips? Let us know. I have written lots of articles about Nepal and about trekking to Everest Base Camp Independently.

    I remember, back in 2015, when we found your page researching about Fox Glacier in New Zealand. And now look at how much you have both achieved. Well done guys, we have been following your adventures since 🙂

    • Amy
      Posted at 04:22h, 02 April Reply

      Hi Telma, thanks for your comment, what great timing! We are heading to Nepal at the end of April and will be staying a month. First we’re doing the Everest Base Camp trek, then volunteering with All Hands. We will definitely head over and check out your Nepal posts and let you know if we have questions. At the moment, we’re trying to sort out a packing list. What did you guys do about water, we’ve heard that you can use iodine tablets? We looked at a Steripen but it was pretty expensive.

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