The Doi Suthip pilgrimage
The pilgrimage walk up to Doi Suthep is one of my regular exercise events when I visit Chiang Mai. The starting point is very close to the city, behind the Chiang Mai zoo where the 800 metre climb provides views over the city once the ultimate goal has been reached. My first attempt was a challenge; carry two litres of water and having three major rest stops along the way before reaching the well-known temple at Doi Suthep in just under an hour and a half.
The famous Temple, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep was built around 1383.
Few people know about this monk’s trail and even less people know about the hidden Wat Pha Lat “Monastery at the Sloping Rock” which is about a third of the way to the top. You won’t find any stalls, crowds or pushy guides here, just the odd monk going about their business. It is worth a visit even through it’s not as glamorous as the well known temple further up the road. It has a pleasant stream that forms an almost waterfall appearance and don’t forget to look at the stone monks on your left before you cross the bridge. The track itself is easy to follow with the orange cloth wrapped around the tree posts along the trail by the Buddhist monks believing that a spirit inhabits the tree. Some locals have also helped out by painting arrows on the road to show where the track starts again while walking on the only 30 metres section of road you need to walk.
I belong to a small group of like-minded expats, that challenge ourselves to race up to Doi Suthep with both a GPS tracker and timer and sometimes a heart monitor keeping records of our performance. I must admit it’s not very sociable as sometimes within minutes of starting, the challenge is on, and when we have a visitor, we show no mercy as we push ourselves hard all the way. Our reward; being the first to the top or bettering our previous times. Okay, I have to admit it, we don’t always race away, some days we just don’t have the energy and are happy to achieve the walk in about 60 minutes.
The best time in our group was 43 minutes, which has only been achieved once where timing with weather conditions and fitness levels have to be spot-on.
It is best to start the walk is early in the morning as it gets very hot come mid-day and unpleasant; make sure you at least take some water with you and good walking shoes. Don’t forget that if you do run out of water, there is always a supply of free filtered water at the Wat which is a common tradition at all temples in Thailand. If you are the type that will stop many times, prepare for the mosquitos as sometimes they are very active with exposed skin. We have walked up to Doi Suthep in all weather conditions, walking in the rain going up can be pleasant with the cover from the canopy from the forest, but coming down can be a downright hazard where many of us can show battle scars to our bodies where speed, slippery condition and the steep terrain isn’t a good combination to rush down for our morning coffee