Wat Pha Lat (Thai: วัดผาลาด, wát păa lâat), or Wat Sakitakami (Thai: สกิทาคามี, sà-gì taa kaa mee), is among the most stunning hidden gems in Chiang Mai. This tranquil temple complex is tucked away in a beautiful woodland with views of the city and the Ping River. Rather than viewing it as a destination, it better resembles a soul-stirring experience that will pique your sense of adventure.
Add it to the bucket list and prepare to include a place that will forever be etched into a pleasant memory. So what does this oasis have that makes it a worthwhile destination?
Wat Pha Lat, also known as the “Monks’ Waterfall Temple,” is a place of worship, meditation, and residence for monks. It holds historical importance as a resting place for pilgrims en route to Doi Suthep temple.
The temple’s architecture seamlessly integrates with the natural surroundings, showcasing Buddha statues, pagodas, shrines, and sculptures ornamented with flowers and plants, making it a desired attraction not only to explore but also for nature lovers, culture enthusiasts, and those seeking spiritual experiences.
So if you’re planning a trip around Chiang Mai and want to include some of its finest highlights, you’re in luck! Our guide covers everything visitors need to know about the temple as we journey through the colorful story, traditional architecture, and majestic statuaries.
Known by a few names, including the iconic phrase, ‘the hidden temple in the jungle,’ Wat Pha Lat is quite unique compared to the temples in the city center. In fact, the temple is nestled in the immaculate verdant forests of Doi Suthep mountain, and you can take a short but worthwhile hike to get there (or you can travel by vehicle).
But trust me, the most rewarding way to travel there is on foot, through the famous ‘Monk’s Trail‘ that is located roughly 5 km (3 miles) from the city center.
Now, there’s an intriguing story behind this idea.
The history of Wat Pha Lat unfolds like a timeless tale, dating back to its inception in 1355. King Kuena, in a poignant tribute to his deceased white elephant, commanded the construction of temples at the locations where it fell and rested during its journey to the summit of Doi Suthep.
Among these sacred sites emerged Wat Pha Lat, intended initially as a resting place for monks en route to the revered Wat Doi Suthep temple.
Over the centuries, it grew into another name, “Monastery at the Sloping Rock,” embracing its serene perch atop a slanted rock, commanding breathtaking views of the city below. As you step into its sacred grounds, a hushed tranquility envelops you, for amidst the lush embrace of nature, the clamor of tourists, food stalls, and tuk-tuks fades away.
Instead, you are greeted by a tapestry of vibrant flora, meditative monks, timeless Buddha statues, and the enchanting dance of butterflies.
Beyond physical beauty, the temple carries deep cultural and spiritual significance. It serves as a sanctuary where monks devote themselves to meditation and the practice of mindfulness.
Within its embrace, you’ll witness nature and religion harmoniously intertwined, where jungle vines and roots embrace the very structures of the temple.
It’s an ode to the delicate balance between humanity and the natural world.
It may not boast the same flamboyance as its city counterparts, but it certainly exudes its own enchanting allure. It was crafted using locally sourced stone and wood in its early days, seamlessly blending with the surrounding forest. It wasn’t until 1934 that a Burmese entrepreneur embarked on a grand restoration project, breathing new life into the temple.
Across the meandering stream, new structures emerged, showcasing distinct Burmese influences, particularly evident in the main temple. As you explore the temple, you’ll encounter remarkable features that leave a lasting impression:
As a testament to ingenuity and artistry, it calls visitors to immerse themselves in its unique design and embrace its natural splendor. Traverse the tranquil pathways, meander through sacred halls, and let the temple’s charm and mystique weave their magic around you.
One of Wat Pha Lat’s most striking features is exploring the many temples. And to get you on the same page, the main stupa is usually referred to as Phra Chedi, which means “holy stupa” in Thai.
Note: A stupa is usually a dome-shaped structure that holds relics of the Buddha or other holy beings. The Phra Chedi of Wat Pha Lat has majestically aged from a white and gold structure with intricate carvings and statues to a remarkably darker version of itself. And this one, in particular, is believed to be very old and has been restored several times.
This scenic structure, often adorned with golden adornments, is believed to comprise relics of the Buddha and is a symbol of his enlightenment. It is also a place of worship and meditation for the monks and visitors.
As mentioned above, it has undergone several restoration works over the years. The most recent one was completed in 2018 and involved repairing the cracks, repainting the surface, and adding new ornaments. Local artisans used traditional techniques and materials, restoring it to a stunning, elegant stupa that blends well with the natural surroundings.
It truly is an artistic masterpiece with intricate details adorned with symbols of Buddhism and patterns that reflect the Lanna style of architecture and culture.
The Phra Chedi is a must-see attraction for anyone craving to experience the beauty and serenity of Chiang Mai’s forest temples and where you can admire the craftsmanship and devotion of the people who built and maintained them!
You can choose from two ways to get to the temple: by vehicle or the scenic Monk’s Trail. The latter is a hiking trail that lets you explore the lush jungle and find some hidden surprises along the way. However, before you visit or hike Wat Pha Lat, there are a few guidelines that you should know to make your experience more pleasant and reverential.
For those seeking an exhilarating and picturesque hike, the Monk’s Trail leading to Wat Pha Lat presents a captivating opportunity. This scenic route spans approximately 2 km (1.2 miles), winding its way through the lush wilderness and culminating at the hidden jungle temple. Along this trail, you’ll find many moments of tranquility and be rewarded with splendid views of the city.
The Monk’s Trail offers a moderately low difficulty, featuring only a few steep and rocky sections requiring stamina and balance. The hike typically takes around 45 minutes to an hour one way, although it may vary depending on your pace and the frequency of stops to appreciate nature’s wonders.
For those seeking further adventure, you can continue hiking from Wat Pha Lat to Doi Suthep, the main temple atop the mountain, extending your journey by an additional 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) and approximately 1.5 hours.
As you venture along the Monk’s Trail, be prepared to be captivated by the natural beauty and cultural intrigue that grace your path. Marvel at the views of Chiang Mai; from that height, you can see exactly how huge the city truly is (which feels much smaller when driving around).
You will also find the beautiful sound of singing birds and enjoy being smothered by nature, including trees, plants, flowers, bamboo, ferns, orchids, and wildflowers. As soon as you near your destination, you will be met by the soothing sound of a running waterfall and miniature statues guiding you through the rocky path.
When embarking on the Monk’s Trail, ensure you are equipped with essentials such as water, sunscreen, and mosquito repellent, as the journey may be warm and humid. Remember to wear appropriate attire, cover your shoulders and knees, and if you want, you can bring a sarong or scarf to enter the temple grounds respectfully.
To ensure a harmonious experience during your visit, you’d want to ensure that you are familiar with some of the rules and guidelines:
Exploring Wat Pha Lat is just the beginning of your captivating journey in Chiang Mai. As you traverse through this ancient city’s wonders, immerse yourself in the myriad of attractions and delightful culinary experiences that await you.
From cultural gems to delectable flavors, let’s delve into the nearby attractions, thrilling activities, and vibrant shopping and dining options that will add even more excitement to your Chiang Mai adventure.
Prepare to be enchanted by the Ganesh Museum, a fascinating tribute to the revered Hindu deity. Board on a sensory exploration as you marvel at the collection of intricate statues, captivating paintings, and revered artifacts that honor Ganesh’s worship.
Don’t miss the opportunity to participate in workshops to learn the art of crafting Ganesh figurines and masks, immersing yourself in the vibrant culture. Located approximately 35 km (21 miles) south of Wat Pha Lat, a short 40-minute journey by vehicle or taxi will transport you to this captivating destination.
Venture into the mystical realm of one of Chiang Mai’s most sacred and iconic temples, perched majestically on a mountain overlooking the city. The awe-inspiring golden chedi, breathtaking architecture, and panoramic vistas will leave you in wonder.
Experience a spiritual discovery as you witness the devout rituals and immerse yourself in the serene atmosphere of this revered site. Reachable within approximately 15 minutes by vehicle, taxi, Songthaew, or even through an invigorating hike, the journey to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is an experience in itself.
Dive into the vibrant tapestry of Thai culture by exploring the Doi Pui Hmong Village. Learn about the Hmong people’s colorful history and unique lifestyle, an ethnic minority group in Thailand. Engage in interactive experiences at the village museum, peruse the bustling market for authentic handicrafts, and indulge in the flavors of local cuisine.
Wander through the enchanting botanical garden and take a minute to savor a cup of coffee sourced from the village’s own plantation. Located just 5 km north of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a short journey by car will transport you to this cultural haven.
Take a delightful pause at the Chiangmai Coffee Stop, a cozy cafe near Wat Pha Lat. Indulge in various aromatic coffee drinks, refreshing smoothies, delectable cakes, and tempting snacks.
As you relax in the inviting atmosphere, let the friendly staff guide you through a personalized coffee experience. With many positive reviews and an impressive 4.5 out of 5 rating on TripAdvisor, this charming cafe is a haven for coffee enthusiasts.
Anchan Vegetarian Restaurant: Savour the vibrant flavors of vegetarian cuisine at Anchan Vegetarian Restaurant, a popular culinary destination conveniently near Wat Pha Lat. Feast upon fresh and flavorful dishes crafted with organic ingredients.
With options catering to vegans, gluten-free eaters, and those who appreciate raw food, this restaurant offers a diverse menu to cater to various dietary preferences. With a remarkable rating of 4.5 out of 5 on TripAdvisor and over 600 reviews, Anchan Vegetarian Restaurant is a haven for food lovers seeking nourishing and delectable plant-based dishes.
Here you will find authentic flavors of northern Thai cuisine at Galae Restaurant, a traditional Thai eatery. Delight in classic dishes such as khao soi, nam prik ong, and sai oua, lovingly prepared with traditional recipes and locally sourced ingredients.
Set amidst a picturesque garden with breathtaking mountains and city views, Galae Restaurant offers an enchanting ambiance that complements the exquisite flavors. With many positive reviews and a rating of 4 out of 5 on TripAdvisor, this culinary gem will captivate your taste buds.
You can treat yourself, near Wat Pha Lat, to a heavenly indulgence at 7 Senses Gelato, a delightful gelato shop. Taste the creamy delights of homemade Italian ice cream made with natural ingredients and without artificial flavors or colors.
Choose from an array of tempting flavors, such as mango, coconut, chocolate, and tiramisu, and let each spoonful transport you to a world of pure bliss. It’s an absolute must-visit destination for those seeking to satisfy a sweet tooth!
As you embark on your gastronomic journey, it’s essential to note that the pricing range varies depending on the establishments and the quality of offerings. Generally, cafes and gelato shops offer more affordable options, perfect for a quick treat or a casual gathering!
But whatever you’re looking for, from a caffeine fix to nearby attractions and shopping options, know that many places near Wat Pha Lat will surely delight your senses and enhance your Chiang Mai adventure!
Wat Pha Lat is a free ticket to experience a marvel in Chiang Mai that is soul-stirring for visitors, blending in with the lush forest and creating an atmosphere of serenity and spirituality. With its rich historical and religious significance, the temple is a noteworthy pilgrimage site and a peaceful abode for devoted monks.
The rewarding hike to the temple unravels breathtaking vistas and unveils remarkable architectural features, including the awe-inspiring Viharn, majestic Pagodas, captivating Naga Staircase, enchanting Waterfall, and so much more.
Beyond the temple grounds, the area offers a plethora of cultural delights, from intriguing museums to delectable restaurants and delightful gelato shops. A visit to Wat Pha Lat promises an unforgettable experience where nature, history, and spirituality converge to create a truly remarkable journey!
Wat Pha Lat was originally used as a resting place for monks during their pilgrimage to the Doi Suthep Temple. Over time, it became a temple in its own right and is now known for its beautiful statues and serene location in the heart of the jungle.
Yes, like many Buddhist temples, visitors should dress respectfully (covering shoulders and knees), remove their shoes before entering certain areas, and behave quietly.
Early morning or late afternoon are often the best times to visit, as these periods typically see fewer tourists.
Wat Pha Lat is nestled amidst lush greenery and features a blend of Thai and Lanna architecture. The various statues and structures within the temple, such as the Buddha statues, serpents, and other mystical creatures, are rich with Buddhist symbolism.
Wat Pha Lat is located on the slopes of Doi Suthep mountain. You can reach the temple by taxi, songthaew (red trucks), or even by hiking up the Monk’s trail from Suthep road.
While the temple itself does not offer guided tours, several local tour operators in Chiang Mai provide excursions to Wat Pha Lat and can offer insight into its history and symbolism.
Typically, it takes about 1-2 hours to explore the temple and its surroundings.
The jungle around Wat Pha Lat is home to various bird species, insects, and small mammals. Remember, it’s a natural habitat, so it’s important to respect all creatures and their environment.
There aren’t many restaurants near Wat Pha Lat due to its location in the forest. However, Chiang Mai city, located nearby, is famous for its street food such as Khao Soi (a local curry noodle dish), Sai Ua (spicy sausage), and Mango Sticky Rice.
Non-Buddhists are typically welcome to observe ceremonies at the temple, and in some cases, they may be invited to participate. It’s crucial, however, to always act respectfully and follow any guidance provided by the monks or temple staff.
Doi Suthep Temple, the Hmong Village, Bhubing Palace, and the Chiang Mai Zoo are all nearby attractions that are worth a visit.
The cooler months from November to February are generally considered the best time to visit Chiang Mai, including Wat Pha Lat. This period also coincides with several Thai festivals like Loy Krathong (usually in November) and the Flower Festival (in February). These festivals add a vibrant cultural dimension to your visit. However, it’s worth noting that these months also constitute the peak tourist season, so expect more crowd at popular tourist spots.
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