Hi friends! Today I’m back with part 2 of my honeymoon recap, which included visiting lots of beautiful wats (temples) in Chiang Mai! We even hiked up a really cool monk’s trail to get to two of the temples, which I’ll get to in a minute. First, if you missed my Bangkok recap you can find that here! And, just a warning, this is a looooong post, so get comfy. Here we go!
After spending just over a day in Bangkok, Fabio and I hopped on a flight north to the second largest city in Thailand, Chiang Mai. We flew through Nok Air and it was very comfortable and quick!
When we arrived at around 10:30 a.m., we got in a cab to take us to our hotel which was inside the old city near the East Gate (Tha Phae Gate). We were staying at The 3 Sis, a boutique hotel/bed and breakfast right in the heart of the city. When we pulled up, we were in awe of the massive mango tree out front. Wow!
The lobby was peaceful and inviting, and we were greeted with the most amazing Thai iced tea. Ahh! I could use a glass of that right now.
Our room was comfortable and spacious (we stayed for four nights total), but my favorite part of the hotel was the view of Wat Phan Tao (one of the temples) right across the street. This was what we saw when we ate breakfast every day!
After we checked in and dropped off our bags (our room was ready early, thank goodness), we decided to walk around the old city of Chiang Mai. On our maps this part of the city had appeared to be pretty small, but we soon found out it was much bigger than we thought. We spent quite a while walking around the streets and still didn’t cover everything.
The first thing I saw that piqued my interest was all the monks! They were everywhere, much more so than in Bangkok. We knew there were lots of wats in Chiang Mai so this wasn’t surprising, but it was still really cool to see. There were even lots of monks shopping in our local 7-11!
After getting our bearings, Fabio and I decided it was time to see some of the wats! The dress code for these was definitely enforced more than in Bangkok, and I made sure to wear pants and a top with sleeves whenever we were exploring the temples. It was super hot, but I didn’t want to be disrespectful!
There were ornate decorations everywhere – on statues, walls, the roof, and even the ceiling – and everything had so many beautiful details.
Like with Christianity, Buddhists believe that making beautiful temples to worship God is a way to get into Heaven. It sure was beautiful!
It was cool seeing some of the older wats too – this one is part of Wat Phan Tao, which was the one that was just steps away from our hotel. Check out the monks! (Obsessed.)
As we were wandering around admiring the beautiful temples, we saw a sign in English that said “Come Meet a Monk.” We noticed a bunch of other Westerners sitting at tables talking to young monks, so we decided to see what it was all about.
When we sat down, we started talking to a 16-year-old monk who was interested in interviewing us for his English homework. Cool! He asked us where we were from, what our jobs were, and what we thought of Thailand so far, among other things.
In turn, we asked about his life and found out that he’s from a very small village in northern Thailand and that he decided to come to monk school to help out his family. He said his father passed away a few years ago, and he has many brothers and sisters. His mom works multiple jobs – all of which are about two hours from their home – and she can’t afford to pay for high school for all the kids (it’s not free in Thailand, apparently).
This monk (I forget his name!) was really dedicated to his studies and has a dream to go to college, so he decided to become a monk for a while so he can get his education for free. Though he doesn’t want to stay a monk forever, he said that once you learn the Buddhist monk values, you’re always a monk at heart. This was one of the highlights of our trip for me, and I loved hearing his story! Also, his English was great! What a smart kid.
Side note: He wasn’t allowed to sit or stand next to me since I’m a woman. Interesting. He also was amazed at how tall Fabio is. Ha!
After that, we checked out a few more wats inside the old city before calling it a day. (I’ll write another post highlighting all the other stuff we did in Chiang Mai like restaurants, bars, and massage places, but today’s post is about the wats!)
The next day, we had plans to hike up to see two more wats: the quiet, remote Wat Pha Lat and the busy, touristy Doi Suthep. This hike was recommended to me by a friend, and I was excited to get to the two wats by climbing up an old monk trail instead of riding in a car or tuk-tuk.
We relied heavily on this blog post with step-by-step instructions for following the hike, so if this is ever something you’re interested in doing, definitely check out that post!
Anyway, after taking a tuk-tuk out of the old city one morning and walking uphill a ways from our drop-off point, we arrived at the entrance to the trail.
There we met a fellow American (who took this picture), who has been living in Thailand for a few years. She warned us that the hike was not easy at all and asked how much water we had with us. *Gulp* What did we just get ourselves into?
We aren’t quitters though, so we forged ahead with her word of warning swarming in our heads.
The trail itself was made by monks who needed to climb up the mountains to get to the different wats. They still use it today, and do the whole climb in sandals! The path is marked by pieces of their customary orange cloth, which served as reminders that we were in a serene and sacred place.
Some areas of the trail were absolutely covered in cloth, and other times we would walk for a while without seeing any.
One tip for this hike is to put on lots of bug spray! The hike takes you through some really dense woods and there were lots and lots of bugs. Sometimes the bugs would also be super loud, and all you could hear were bug noises and the rushing water of some small waterfalls along the way.
After hiking for about 45 minutes and seeing a couple of other hikers along our path, we crossed a somewhat rickety bridge and then arrived at Wat Pha Lat.
Wat Pha Lat is a very quiet temple that was built next to a waterfall. Apparently it used to be a resting point for travelers on their way to Doi Suthep, but when they built the road to Doi Suthep this place became a quiet retreat accessed only by monks and hikers.
The only real way to get to Wat Pha Lat is by hiking to it since it’s located deep in the forest. This, of course, limits the number of tourists who go there which allows you to really soak up the beauty and serenity of the place.
Since it was pretty hot and humid during our hike, I packed some light-weight pants and a shirt in our backpack and just put them on as we walked around the temple. Again, I wanted to be respectful, but it was too hot to wear those kinds of clothes during the whole hike.
Wat Pha Lat was beautiful and so peaceful! Fabio and I really enjoyed our time walking around and taking in the calm atmosphere. It felt like we were in a movie!
Then it was on to part two of our hike, which was the much steeper and much longer climb up to Doi Suthep!
This is the part of the hike we were most worried about and although we were fine, it definitely was a little challenging at times. At one point it started to drizzle and the clay trail got wet, making it super slippery to walk up. We were able to find some walking sticks though which really helped us keep our balance! Better hiking shoes would have been helpful here, but we only had our sneakers.
We also met a really nice Swiss girl at this point and spent lots of time getting to know her during the hike. It made the time fly by, and before we knew it we were close to the top! (Not before we made a wrong turn and Fabio had to climb a waterfall in search of the trail. Oops. Wrong way!)
We also spotted this crazy blue Lion King-esque bug when we were almost at the top. Gross! Its body was probably four inches long.
Right after the giant bug sighting, we arrived at the end of the trail! Woohoo! The second half of the climb took us about an hour and fifteen minutes and was definitely more challenging than the first half, but not as impossible as that other American woman had made it sound. Thank goodness!
At the top, we rewarded ourselves with fresh mango smoothies and then headed in to visit the famous Doi Suthep. (There were lots of tourists and carts selling things here. Very different from Wat Pha Lat!)
Doi Suthep is pretty famous for its dragon stairs, which are intricately decorated all the way up to the top.
It was a pretty long climb to the top, but nothing compared to the hike we had just done!
The view from the top was definitely beautiful, but it was pretty crowded and made me appreciate the peacefulness at Wat Pha Lat all the more.
Still, it’s worth a visit when you’re in Chiang Mai!
Once we were done at the temple, we hopped in a songthaew (a red pick-up truck that acts much like Thailand’s version of Uber pool) back to the old city. During our ride, we met some interesting tourists from Los Angeles and the UK, and it was nice to hear about their respective trips.
When we arrived back at the hotel, we took some much-needed showers since we were coated in bug spray and mud. Yuck!
All in all, I would absolutely recommend checking out the wats in Chiang Mai, and would especially recommend doing the hike and trying out the “Meet a Monk” program!
Question of the day: What would you ask a monk?