At 9 am a group of mostly strangers, from at least 6 different countries, met at a closed coffee shop to climb a mountain together. The mountain is Doi Suthep, standing at just over 1600 meters tall. There’s a group in Chiang Mai called the Walkers and Talkers and that is how our group of 10 connected.
Our group before we began to climb
Following Bryan, the most seasoned of the walkers, we began on our journey up the mountain. The trail follows along a river as we climbed for about an hour before we reached the temple Wat Pha Lat. This temple, in the middle of the jungle was once only reachable by this trail. Now, the road running up to the top of Doi Suthep allows easier access for those not willing to climb. The temple itself is beautiful, set among a gentle waterfall and a canopy of trees. Not a common stop for tourists, we were able to leisurely walk through the grounds and admire the sculptures in peace.
Statue at Wat Pha Lat
After a short rest at the temple, we continued our climb which we were told is the “Same distance, but much slower” read steeper. There were a lot more steps on this part, squishier terrain, and lots more bugs as we went deeper into the forest.
Once we’d had reached the top of the trail our group split up. 3 went for a bite to eat, 3 went straight to the top of Doi Suthep and 2 made their way back down via Song Teuw. I’ll give you one guess which group I was with… Obviously the food. We wandered through some of the markets at the base of the temple and made our way to a small restaurant. I had some delicious vegetable Pad Thai and we chatted with Bryan about his experiences in Chaing Mai over the past 17 years. After lunch, Stephanie and I headed for the temple and after committing, we realized there were another 308 steps to climb to the top. In the end the view of the golden pagodas and statues was totally worth it as was the final view from the top looking down over Chiang Mai.
The view of Chiang Mai and the surrounding province from the top of Doi Suthep
There is also an interesting story sometimes used to explain how this 13th century temple came to be. White elephants are considered sacred and are a symbol of royal power. It is rumored that a holy relic was placed on the back of a white elephant and the elephant was released. According to legend, the elephant ran to the top of what is now called Doi Suthep, trumpeted 3 times and then died. Taken as an omen and the relic was placed at that point and the golden Chedi was built above this spot to keep the relic safe.