Perched in the mountains near Chiang Mai, Doi Suthep is a serene blend of natural beauty and spiritual sanctity. Home to the sacred Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple, it offers panoramic views looking over Chiang Mai city. This is a must visit destination when traveling through the northern end of Thailand.
Getting from Chiang Mai to Doi Suthep
The trip from Chiang Mai to Doi Suthep is a bit of an adventure itself as the winding road takes you up the 1685 meter high mountain. Doi Suthep’s foothills are located about 6 km from Chaing Mai’s Old Town centre, while the trip to the temple at the summit is about 35 km in total. Being a popular attraction, there are plenty of transport options available
Songtaew: the best option if you’re traveling on a budget. These red pickup truck style taxis depart from two different locations in Chiang Mai:
- Talat Chang Phueak, the busy street food market just outside the Old City northern gate. Tickets cost 60 THB one way.
- Chiang Mai Zoo, departing from the entrance. Tickets cost 40 TB one way.
Motorbike: if you’re confident on two wheels then this gives you the most flexibility. I have visited Doi Suthep multiple times with a motorbike. Just watch out for police around Chiang Mai Old Town as they’re notorious for handing out fines for any reason to tourists.
Private Tour: suggestion coming soon.
Doi Suthep Temple (Wat Phra That Doi Suthep)
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple is the most iconic destination on the mountain. It sits at an elevation of around 1,070 meters just nearby the summit. From the parking area you will climb over 300 stairs up the Naga-guarded staircase before reaching the temple itself.
The temple was built in the 14th century under the ancient Lanna King Kuena’s rule. Legend has it that a divine white elephant carrying a holy relic chose the site by climbing Doi Suthep mountain, trumpeting three times, and died on the spot. The construction of the temple was ordered immediately afterwards.
Plan to spend about an hour exploring the temple and the surrounding grounds. I recommend visiting in the late afternoon as you can experience the ehteral chanting of the monks just after 5pm followed by a great view of Chiang Mai from the nearby lookout point at sunset.
Doi Suthep National Park
While the temples is the most iconic destination, Doi Suthep National Park offers a range of other lesser known attractions. Waterfalls, mountain villages, a royal palace and even campsites! Read on to add a few of these to your half day trip, or even extend overnight!
Huay Kaeo Waterfall
There are countless waterfalls to explore on Doi Suthep and detailing them all would make this article far too long. Narrowing this down to just one waterfall for your half day trip from Chiang Mai, I certainly recommend visiting Huay Kaeo Waterfall.
Huay Keao Waterfall is located at the foothills of Doi Suthep. It is around 500 meters beyond Chaing Mai Zoo, easily walkable. From the carpark it is another 5 minute walk to the waterfall itself. Water flows best during the wet season from July to October. Water still flows outside of these months but will be nowhere near as impressive.
There are restaurants nearby the waterfall where you can buy food and drinks. Rent a picnic blanket for 20 THB (around $1) to enjoy a meal out in nature. The waterfall is free to visit and is open from 8am to 5pm. I suggest visiting in the morning on your way up the mountain.
Hmong Doi Phui Village
Doi Pui is one of the most easily accessible places near Chiang Mai city where you can meet and chat with Hmong ethnic hill-tribe villagers. Like many of northern Thailand’s ethnic hill-tribes, the Hmong people of Doi Pui used to grow opium for a living until 1953 when the Thai army cleared things up.
These days the Hmong villagers have replaced their opium income by selling agricultural produce as well as handmade souvenirs to visitors. You will find many of these souvenirs available for purchase at the market next to the village, which I find is much more authentic than the standard junk in the markets downtown.
Bhubing Palace is the royal family’s residence which they use during their visits to northern Thailand. It is located about 4 km beyond Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. The gardens around Bhubing Palace are known for birdwatching and butterfly watching opportunities.
The palace is open to visitors year round, except when the royal family is staying which is typically during the winter. Opening hours are 8:30am to 4:15pm, but may close as early as 3pm without warning so best to arrive early.
Camping on Doi Suthep
Keen on spending a night out in nature right by Chiang Mai? Consider camping on Doi Suthep! Doi Pui Camping Area is located about 10 km beyond Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, nearby the summit. The campground has sites with an awesome view looking over Chiang Mai, the ultimate sunrise wake up.
Camping costs just 150 THB (under $10). If you are not traveling around with a tent, no worries as you can hire all the gear there from the national park headquarter. A tent and sleeping mat will set you back around 250 THB.
Is There An Entrance Fee for Doi Suthep?
There is a small 30 THB entrance fee for the temple, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep which contributes to the temple’s upkeep. Additionally, Doi Suthep National Park has an entrance fee of 100 THB for adults and 50 THB for children (foreigner pricing). Thais get in cheaper, arguing it won’t get you any discounts.