Those of you who’ve been paying attention will remember that there’s a rather large mountain (called Doi Suthep) situated a few miles west of Chiang Mai. It’s hard to do justice to its enormity in a photo taken by a smartphone, but here goes:
This is a beautiful shot I got one night when the sun was setting just behind the mountain.
Anyway. Val and I decided to hike this thing last week. Now, we’re not experienced mountain climbers by any stretch, but we’ve done our fair share of hiking in various mountains so we figured this would be a no problem. Spoiler alert: Let’s just say that “no problem” would have been a misleading description of this adventure.
We got up early, packed some water and food, and set out for the mountain.
Water check: 3 liters.
Time check: 8:40 am.
Here’s where what we’ll call a comedy of errors begins. Since the mountain is about 3 miles from our house, we figure we’d take a cab. We had heard/read that Thais don’t really hike, like at all – beyond that, the notion of someone hiking up Doi Suthep is literally laughable. So we hail a cab to take us to the foot of the mountain. The driver thinks we want a ride to the top. After some assistance from another cab driver who spoke a little English and some amazing, international hand-gesturing by yours truly, we were in business.
Only problem was, where we wanted to hike from was a fairly remote spot (we read about the trail in this amazing blog: http://jetsetcitizen.com/cheap-travel/doi-suthep-hike/ ). But the cab driver took us to the zoo which is also at the foot of the mountain, only a couple miles away. We decided we could figure out how to walk back to the intended spot. The driver saw us walking in the “wrong” direction and shouted something to us. We pointed up the mountain and he solved the mystery. He made a walking motion with his fingers and laughed as he drove off. If only we knew how right he was…
Long story short, it takes over an hour and about 2 or so miles of navigating back roads and being detoured by a few angry dogs but we finally find the trail head.
Water check: 2.5 liters.
Time check: 9:50 am.
The beginning of the trail is just beautiful. It’s hot out but it’s shady, and the bottom of the mountain is not too steep. There are little lizards skittering around our feet through the leaves. There are two temples on this mountain and the monks who live in the lower temple (Wat Pha Lat) have tied pieces of old robes around the trees to mark the trail (more for themselves, I think, than for us).
The whole hike is intended to take about 90 minutes up and 90 minutes back down. About 30 minutes in, we reach the first temple complex. It is amazing. There are 10 or 12 buildings, hundreds of statues, bridges, waterfalls, stairs. All of this hidden in deep jungle. We saw the monks playing and splashing each other in the waterfall. It was really spectacular to see all this. And since this isn’t the main temple on the mountain, and nobody else is hiking, it was just Val, myself and the monks.
The view of the city from this temple is already incredible, and we’re only about 1/3 up the mountain. Keep in mind; it’s very hot at this point. Just about 100F. And we have quite a bit of hiking left to do. We take a few minutes, explore the area around the Wat, and then we press on.
Water check: 2 liters.
Time check: 10:25 am.
Once we’re passed the temple, it starts to get pretty dicy in a hurry. We’re pretty much soaked in sweat already and the trail is getting very steep. It actually goes almost vertical at one point, which just little foot-sized steps carved out of the dirt. This only goes on for a few minutes, maybe 75-100 yards, but it’s tough and we’re trying to conserve our water and food.
We went up and up and up almost as fast as the temperature. And almost as fast as the water went down. There aren’t too many pictures from between the temples because we were pretty wasted and weren’t finding the thick jungle and swarms of insects as magical as we might have, though we did get a few good pictures on the way back.
Water check: 0.5 liters.
Time check: 11:25 am.
At this point, we found ourselves taking frequent breaks and each silently wondering to ourselves if how much longer we had to go. I found myself trying to remember the symptoms of heat exhaustion from Boy Scouts. Finally after we were really feeling wiped out, we saw signs for the temple and the main road over the crest of another steep hill. Almost there. So close to victory. There were some street vendors there and we each bought a can of soda and it was the most delicious, life-saving can of Coke you could possibly imagine.
Also, we didn’t know that the temple was going to be such a huge tourist spot. Not only tourists, but tons and tons of Buddhist people who were just there to visit a very special religious site. And here we are- muddy, disheveled and soaked head to toe in sweat. As we’re marching up the steps and panting, some touristy bitch in a fancy little dress makes a sassy comment like “keep going, you’re almost there” as if we were that winded and sweaty from marching half way up these steps. I was going to push her down the steps to her almost certain death, but I thought Buddha would frown on that. We finally got up there and I took my first-ever selfie:
As you can see, I was in a great mood at this point.
Once we finally got inside it was all worth it. There is a huge gold building that you can see lit up from the city at night. There are probably 8 or 10 large temple buildings within the complex and several HUGE statues. Everything is bright gold and red and there are hundreds of statues, bells, carvings and shrines all over the place.
So we had lunch, got some rest and the blessings of Buddha, re-upped on water decided to head back down the mountain. And thank the good dude up there that the way down was infinitely easier and quicker than the way up. We were exhausted. But we got some more cool pictures on the way down.
The adventure was finally over. We went back home, ate a huge meal and went to bed very early. But it’s a great feeling to look out at that mountain every day and know that we kicked its ass.