Chiang Mai is the biggest city in the north of Thailand, popular with travellers from all over the world for its laid back atmosphere and many activities on offer. When walking through Chiang Mai you might not realise it, but it’s a city with a lot of history.
Chiang Mai was founded in 1296 to become the new capital of the Lanna Kingdom, a kingdom that ruled northern Thailand from the 13th to the 18th century. It was later occupied by the Burmese before it became part of modern day Thailand. Nowadays it’s the capital of the Chiang Mai province.
There are still city walls and moats around the old city centre. And between hip restaurants, souvenir markets and cocktail bars, you can find an incredible amount of buddhist temples. There are hundreds of them in and around the city. Built over time by different rulers, the temples are well maintained and are of great importance to the people of Chiang Mai.
In search of a hidden temple in Chiang Mai
After visiting some of the most famous temples in the city centre, we were keen to explore some lesser known places that wouldn’t be teaming with tourists. So we started doing our research. I remembered an article that I had read months ago, about a hidden temple in Chiang Mai, somewhere in the jungle. It sounded perfect. I had written the name down, Wat Pha Lat. After some searching on the internet I found a description of the route to take to get to the temple.
So we set out from our hostel and found a sŏrng·tăa·ou, a popular form of transport in Thailand, to take us out of the city to the start of the hike that would lead us to the mysterious temple. When we arrived at the start of the track it started pouring rain from heavy dark clouds. Big drops were beating down on us relentlessly as we ran for cover.
After a coffee in a nearby student cafe the rain had stopped. We continued our mission and soon found the start of the track that leads uphill through the jungle. We rubbed our skin with mosquito repellent and set off on the muddy path. The track is an old track, made by monks. It’s marked with pieces of orange cloth. The same colour fabric buddhist monks wear. As if on a treasure hunt we hiked up through the trees, past a stream and a small waterfall, over tree roots and under branches. Always looking out for the flashes of orange in the trees to guide us. The moment we would stand still to catch our breath, hundreds of mosquitos tried to attack our exposed skin. More rain fell and we were soaked by water and sweat when we finally reached the temple.
Exploring Wat Pha Lat
First we saw the white dragons between the lush green of the forest. Then we saw small statues along stairs leading up towards the place of worship. The stairs lead to a path which lead to a little bridge over a shallow stream. It was quiet, the only sounds were raindrops falling on the thick foliage and birds chirping in the trees. There were gardens and flowers, a little pavilion, statues and a small temple. And all around was the green jungle, misty and hazy from the low clouds and the rain. From the dragons we had seen first there was a view down towards the city. Everything was coloured in soft greens and greys.
We took our time to walk around the gardens. There was only a handful of people. It was a place so tranquil and different from any of the other temples we had seen. Like a secret place in a different world, a different era. A place to reflect and to think. So close to the hustle and bustle of Chiang Mai, yet so far away from it. This hidden temple in Chiang Mai is a real gem.
Wat Pha Lat was one of the most interesting places we visited in Chiang Mai. If you want to see more than what is mentioned in your guidebook, Wat Pha Lat is just the place for you. Hiking the monk’s trail up there instead of getting there by the main road really makes this a special experience.
Because Wat Pha Lat isn’t one of the famous temples to visit, it’s not very well signposted. We found some helpful blog posts that describe the route to this temple very well though. So instead of describing the route again, check out these posts on finding the hidden temple in Chiang Mai here and here