Doi Suthep Pui National Park: Trekking the Doi Pui Nature Trail

written by local expert Caitlin Fairty

From hiking across Spain to teaching English in Thailand, Caitlin has been a wanderer for most of her adult life. She is an expert in traveling around Southeast Asia and giving out travel tips. Her passions include making music, exploring new places, and eating waffles.

The city of Chiang Mai is nestled at the base of Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. The mountain is a short distance from the city and is easily accessible by motorbikes, cars, and trucks, or if you’re a real glutton for punishment, by bicycle.

The Doi Pui Peak Nature Trail is one of the many routes that make the national park such a great spot for hikers. The scenery is beautiful, and it provides a grateful escape from the busy atmosphere of the city below. The hike to the peak of Doi Pui isn’t very difficult, but for the more adventurous trekkers (not me!), there is also the option to continue beyond that point to a nearby hill tribe village.

Getting to the Doi Pui Trail Head

In my opinion, the hardest part about this trail…is getting there. It begins near the top of Doi Pui. In order to get there, you will need to either hire a songthaew or rent a motorbike. If you’re an experienced driver, taking a motorbike is definitely the simplest option. But for novices who might struggle on rough roads and steep inclines, it might be better to negotiate a songthaew. But be warned—many drivers will not take you that far up the mountain or will charge a lot for it.

Songthaews can be caught anywhere in the city, but the best place to get one headed up the mountain is just past the entrance of Chiang Mai University on Huay Kaew Rd. If you wait for a full truck, it should cost you about 30 baht/person to go up the temple. Beyond that, you’ll have to negotiate with the drivers on the fee. Time to use those haggling skills!

Photo by: Abdul Rahman | via Flickr Creative Commons

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Doi Suthep-Pui National Park Sights

A big perk of taking your own bike up the mountain is having the chance to stop at different points of interest along the way. The first lookout point offers a panoramic view of Chiang Mai and is one of my favorite spots. I always take a few minutes to stop and take in the view on the way up. Though if you’re doing the trip in Chiang Mai’s burning season (March and April) beware–your view might be completely obscured by smoke.

From the base of the mountain (around the entrance to CMU) it’s about 10-15 minutes to the first lookout. Drive another 15 minutes and you’ll arrive at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. This temple is definitely worth the visit if you haven’t been before. And it’s a good warm up for your hike if you’re up to the challenge of climbing up all the stairs to the top. Actually…I think those stairs might be even harder than the hike!
When you leave the temple, keep heading up on the same road. You’ll pass Bhubing Palace, which is another option for a pit stop. If you’re not stopping, just continue around the small roundabout, keeping straight on the same road. About 15 minutes after leaving the temple, you’ll come to an intersection.

If you continue down to the left you will get to the Doi Pui Hmong hill tribe village. It’s a small village with a market and some shops. It’s a great spot to stop for lunch or a snack and have a chance to see a more rustic Thai lifestyle. I’d recommend trying the Khao Soi there, a traditional northern Thai curry dish–it’s delicious!

To get to the trail, turn right at the intersection instead of heading down toward the village, and drive another ten minutes (getting tired yet??) up that road. Finally, after a slew of twists and turns and heavily potholed roads, you’ll arrive at the trailhead.

Related: Top 10 Things to Do in Chiang Mai Upwards view of a golden buddha and temple

The Doi Pui Nature Trail Hike

I’m not a super athletic person. I’m pretty good at walking, but once a hike gets into steep inclines and snowy peaks, I’m out. This trail is definitely more my speed. It has a few ups and downs, but the route is roughly paved for most of it and is easy to follow. You don’t need heavy duty hiking boots or big packs to reach the viewpoint here. From the gate at the start to the peak is about a 30-minute walk. Another 5 minutes more will bring you straight to the viewpoint.

The walk through the woods is a breath of fresh air—literally. I did the hike most recently when Chiang Mai was entering burning season and the city below was filled with a smoky haze. Thankfully, the air up on the mountain was still clean and crisp. As we hiked, my friends and I only passed a few other people but were by ourselves most of the time, which was a nice break from the traffic and chaos of the city. doi-pui-trail-photo

When you reach the sign for the peak, you’ll notice there’s not really much there. The highest point of the mountain is obscured by plants and trees. The real highlight is just past that. You’ll see a big sign at the end of a clearing with a rough staircase heading downward (here’s where your training at the temple steps comes in handy!)

After a few minutes of walking through dense trees, the greenery clears and the views come into focus. You’ll quickly see that the hike was worth it. To the right of the trail, you’ll be able (if the weather is clear) to see the city of Chiang Mai sprawled out in the distance. To the left and straight ahead the mountains roll into the horizon. For those who want to make the most out of this trip and hike, you can also opt to go camping in Doi Pui– something we highly recommend doing! (You don’t even need to bring anything as they have everything there available for rent) pui-mountains

Editor’s Note: Looking for where to stay in Chiang Mai? Check out our list

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Things to Consider Before Doing this Hike

  • Weather: Chiang Mai’s rainy season is roughly from June-October. During this time, the trail can be muddy and the drive up can be treacherous. There are lots of twists and turns coming down the mountain, with accidents waiting to happen. Keep in mind that the temperature will be quite a bit colder on the mountain than in the city, so even if it’s hot and humid in town, bring extra layers with you.
  • Bike quality: If you are riding a motorbike up the mountain, make sure it’s reliable. The rickety 100 cc rental you got for 99 baht might not be the best choice for the trip. Take a reliable motorbike with good tires and a full tank of gas. It’ll save you a lot of trouble if something goes wrong.
  • Communication: There’s little to no cell reception on the mountain, so make sure people know your plans in case something goes wrong. Better yet, go with a few friends. For this reason, make sure you know your driving route before you go since it’ll be tough to look up directions once you’re on your way.

What to Bring

Whenever I do this hike I always bring:

  • a couple of water bottles
  • my phone/camera
  • an extra sweatshirt or jacket
  • comfortable walking shoes (sandals are even fine for most people on this hike, as long as they’re easy to walk in)

It’s a short hike, but it is pretty far up the mountain, so if you want to be extra cautious, it doesn’t hurt to bring a first aid kit and some snacks too, just in case! Load up your bike, you’re ready to go!

If you’re looking for a simple day hike, this is a great place to start as the trekking in Chaing Mai is generally quite fun. In total it takes a little less than an hour to get to the trailhead from the bottom of the mountain (without stops). The trail itself is about 30 minutes each way. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also try hiking out beyond the ridge viewpoint. The path continues down to the hill tribe you can see in the distance (about another 40 minutes) and goes even beyond that, though I’ve never been that far. If you make it past the village, let us know!

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