I'm not sure I should even tell you about it. Lost in a lush exotic jungle, Wat Pha Lat is the most beautiful surprise of my (many) trips in Chiang Mai. If you're looking for an experience off the beaten track, far from the crowds, here it is.
I've been to Thailand many times now, and this temple is by far one of the most beautiful discoveries I've had the chance to make. Wat Pha Last is nestled in the forest, a few kilometers down the road to Doi Suthep. Built on the top of a rock, this Buddhist temple is completely out of sight, lost in the lush jungle, as peaceful as it can get. You won't find any tourists here, any tuk tuk or food stall, but only butterflies, Buddhas and monks.
Wat Pha Lat, a secret jungle temple in Chiang Mai
Wat Phra Lat was originally used as a resting place for people on the pilgrimage up to worship to Doi Suthep up on the mountain. Then the location developed into a meditation retreat and a monk residence.
The hike starts with the most picturesque scene: to indicate the path, trees are wrapped in the customary orange cloth monks use to dress themselves. It's absolutely enchanting, all that being nestled in one of these typical Thai lush jungle. We are serenaded by weird exotic sounds of the forest -birds, insects, grinding bamboos, streams... It's truly magical.
After about 40 minutes hiking into the jungle, we can glimpse a large rock waterfall. There we are, this is the entrance of the temple. It's so quiet, we pay attention to every step, to make sure not disrupting this incredible serenity. The divine nature has taken precedence on the temple, making the environment magical. The jungle creeps and overflows everywhere between and on the sculptures, enshrining elephants and dragons. Tiny wooden bridges cross the river, tree roots interweave, poussins hide in the wild grass... Wat Pha Lat has been built under the pretense of harmony, and we can feel it.
We are the only people here, other than a couple of locals and some monks. We take our time, chatting with monks, wandering through the jungly ground, watching butterflies, taking photos and enjoying every second of it. -until we decide it's time to head back to Chiang Mai to cool down with a fresh smoothie by the pool.
How to get to Wat Pha Lat
Wat Pha Lat is a hidden gem in the middle of the jungle. The start of the monk's trail is only 15 minutes drive from Chiang Mai old city. Drive all the way to the end of Suthep Road, just after Chiang Mai university, then turn right at the cross roads then go up past the rear entry of the zoo. Go up, then when you see the red and white radio antenna to your right, there you are. You'll see a map indicating the trail to the temple. Once you enter the trail, follow the trees beautifully wrapped in orange robes.
It's a pretty easy 40 minutes walk up to Wat Pha Lat, although with the heat, it can be tough. Don't forget water and mosquito repellent -there a LOTS of mosquitoes in the forest, but believe me, it is worth the itch. And of course, as you're hiking to a Buddhist temple, proper clothing, short to the knees and covered shoulders -not necessarily during the whole hike, but at least when you are exploring the temple.