• WAT PHA LAT

    CHIANG MAI’S HIDDEN TEMPLE

    Looking out from wat Pha Lat over Chiang Mai, reflected in the still water and surrounded by lush green vegetation
  • Looking out from wat Pha Lat over Chiang Mai, reflected in the still water and surrounded by lush green vegetation

WAT PHA LAT

HIKING TO CHIANG MAI’S HIDDEN TEMPLE

Towering more than 1000 metres above Chiang Mai, the unmistakable bulk of Doi Suthep is hard to miss. Looking westward, the mountain is an ever present on the city’s skyline (except during burning season when air quality and visibility suffers.) Doi Suthep is famous for a large and ornate temple near its summit – the two are so closely linked that the temple itself is known mostly as Wat Doi Suthep. Many a songthaew motors up the road each day, carrying tourists to the top, keen to see the temple and hopeful for a view of the city below.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is however not the only temple on the mountain, and depending on your criteria, it may not even be the best. Tucked half way up Doi Suthep, almost hidden in the dense jungle, is Wat Pha Lat. Accessible from Chiang Mai by hiking trail or road, this intriguing little temple complex feels altogether different from its famous cousin. Quiet, peaceful and full of fascinating statues and carvings, Wat Pha Lat is a serene place.

Orange brick walls, elephant sculptures and green vegetation at Wat Pha Lat in Chaing Mai, Thailand

Expertly carved statues at Wat Pha Lat in Chiang Mai in Thailand

Orange brick walls, elephant sculptures and green vegetation at Wat Pha Lat in Chaing Mai, Thailand

Expertly carved statues at Wat Pha Lat in Chiang Mai in Thailand

Hiking up the relatively easy ‘monk’s trail’ from Chiang Mai transports you somewhere seemingly far away. The city below feels distant and the temple’s gentle atmosphere has an instantly relaxing effect. When it comes to temples on Doi Suthep, biggest isn’t always the best. A visit to the hidden delights of Wat Pha Lat does not disappoint.

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WAT PHA LAT

A BRIEF HISTORY

Wat Pha Lat, typically translated as ‘monastery at the sloping rock’, was built during the reign of King Kuena (1355-1385). As the story goes, the royal entourage journeyed to the top of Doi Suthep, the king riding on his white elephant. When they reached the top, his exhausted elephant lay down and died. The king commanded that Wat Phra That Doi Suthep be built on the spot, and later ordered the construction of three more temples on the mountain – all places his elephant had stopped and rested. Wat Pha Lat was one of those.

Elephant head sculpture at Wat Pha Lat on Doi Suthep mountain in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Elephant head sculpture at Wat Pha Lat on Doi Suthep mountain in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Elephant head sculpture at Wat Pha Lat on Doi Suthep mountain in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Elephant head sculpture at Wat Pha Lat on Doi Suthep mountain in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Having fallen into disrepair, a wealthy Burmese businessman started to restore the temple grounds in 1934. New temple buildings were built across the stream from the old one, which was too far gone to repair. The Burmese influence can be seen in the architecture and symbols of these newer buildings, particularly in the main temple.

The temple in the sun at Wat Pha Lat on Doi Suthep Mountain in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Old door and twisted rock formation at Wat Pha Lat on Doi Suthep mountain in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The temple in the sun at Wat Pha Lat on Doi Suthep Mountain in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Old door and twisted rock formation at Wat Pha Lat on Doi Suthep mountain in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The road up the mountain was completed soon after. Wat Pha Lat, once an important resting place on the journey to Wat Doi Suthep, became a quieter place, used primarily as a monk’s residence and place of meditation. There it exists today, a haven of peace and quietude, half hidden on the jungled slopes of Doi Suthep.

Climbing the stone stairs beneath statues, bamboo trees and sunlight at Wat Pha Lat on Doi Suthep mountain in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Sculpture at Wat Pha Lat on Doi Suthep mountain in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Climbing the stone stairs beneath statues, bamboo trees and sunlight at Wat Pha Lat on Doi Suthep mountain in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Sculpture at Wat Pha Lat on Doi Suthep mountain in Chiang Mai, Thailand

GETTING THERE

The best way is to hike the monk’s trail from the base of the mountain. It’s relatively easy, requiring nothing more than some water and a good pair of shoes (saying that, the monk’s do it in sandals on their daily trips to the city for alms). This short hike takes around 30 – 45 minutes. You’ll see glimpses of Chiang Mai through the trees, and who knows you, maybe even bump into a monk or two. And if you fancy making a day of it, continue up the trail after Wat Pha Lat, all the way to Wat Doi Suthep. Be prepared though, it’ll take another hour and a half to hike to the top.

The trailhead is marked on the map below and you can find it on Google Maps (iOS/Android) too. The trail itself is marked on Maps.me (iOS/Android) – a simple trail to follow, you really can’t go wrong. Just head to the end of Suthep Road by Chiang Mai University (CMU) and make your way from there.

Alternatively, if you’re not up for hiking, head to Huay Kaew Road on the other side of CMU and grab a songthaew heading up the mountain (check map for details).

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WAT PHA LAT

HIKING TO CHIANG MAI’S HIDDEN TEMPLE

Chiang Mai has many temples, but none of them are quite like Wat Pha Lat. If you’re spending time in the city, make a point of hiking up Doi Suthep to experience the wonderful atmosphere of this special place. And if you keep your eyes peeled, you might even run into a little fellow like this.

Orange lizard at Wat Pha Lat on Doi Suthep mountain in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Orange lizard at Wat Pha Lat on Doi Suthep mountain in Chiang Mai, Thailand

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Know of other unique temples around Thailand? Share your experiences with us in the comments below!

2 replies
  1. Emily
    Emily says:

    Gorgeous photos! Last time I was in Chiang Mai I was lucky to be in town for a university event – the road was closed to cars and everyone hiked to Doi Suthep instead! Such a fun experience. I really wish I had seen this beauty as well! Never knew it existed 🙂

    Reply
    • Going the Whole Hogg
      Going the Whole Hogg says:

      Thanks Emily! We were staying with friends in Chiang Mai so were lucky enough to have a bit of local knowledge to rely on. It really is a beautiful place with such a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere. If you’re back in Chiang Mai sometime, it’s absolutely worth a visit.

      Reply

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Tucked half way up Doi Suthep, almost hidden in the dense jungle, Wat Pha Lat is one of Chiang Mai\'s most atmospheric temples. Accessible by hiking trail or road, this intriguing little temple complex feels altogether different from its bigger and busier siblings. Quiet, peaceful and full of fascinating statues and carvings, Wat Pha Lat is a serene place that doesn\'t disappoint. #Thailand #temple #Chiangmai
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