Riding Distance: 50 km
Ride Time: Approx 2 hours round trip
Allow a total of 3-4 hours depending on stops
Skill: Basic experience is sufficient (but not “No Experience”!). There are taxis, buses, and deep drains on the side of the road to avoid, otherwise its a more peaceful and easy ride. The road gets rough if you visit the coffee shop at the end of the ride but if you take it slow you’ll be fine.
Motorbike: Ideally 300cc or more because of the incline but it can easily be done on a 125cc scooter. If you’re riding with a passenger on a 125cc scooter, some of the hills will be slow.
Overview: Doi is an ideal first “mountain” ride in Chiang Mai. Its close to the Old City, the quality of the road is good, and there are plenty of stops on the way. If you’ve already been to the temple via taxi or tour, its worth doing this ride and stopping at the other points before and after the temple. Its a fun ride, the temperatures will be cooler than down in the city, and you’ll see more than you would on a tour.
(Optional) Scenic Stop: Wang Bua Ban Viewpoint
You’ll see a parking area on the left, then its a 30m walk to the viewpoint. Its a decent view of Chiang Mai but you’ll see a better view if you wait until the next stop. No food or drink available at this stop.
Scenic Stop: Viewpoint
This unnamed stop is easy to find as you’ll see parking and food stalls on the left as you round an extreme hairpin bend to the right. The food and beverage offering is basic but usually includes thirst quenching cold coconut water. The view of Chiang Mai is worth stopping for.
This is the main attraction on the mountain and is considered very sacred by Thai people. Though referred to as “Doi Suthep”, which is actually the name of the mountain, the correct name of the temple is “Wat Phra That Doi Suthep”.
Access to the temple requires a climb of 309 steps. This will clarify those who exercise from those who don’t 🙂 At the top, turn right and you’ll be rewarded with a 30 Baht entrance fee. Once inside the entrance, remove your shoes before entering the temple (as you would for any temple). Also, don’t miss the scenic lookout to the right of the temple.
There’s plenty of snack foods and drinks available from vendors opposite the temple. Most people visiting the temple via taxi or tour will end their trip here, but if you’re on a motorbike there’s more to see!
Scenic Stop: National Park
After the tour crowds, this stop is a peaceful contrast. Its only a few hundred meters up from the temple but it feels like a completely different part of the mountain. Look for the sign on the right and climb the slightly bumpy road. Stop for the view and then continue the one way road as it loops around the small buildings. Return to the main road and continue your climb up the mountain…the best part of the ride begins here. There’s less traffic, the temperature is cooler, and trees are a little greener.
Scenic Stop: Bhubing Palace
If the Thai Royal Family is not using their palace, you’re able to walk the gardens for a 50 baht entrance fee. I have not yet visited the gardens but if you’re botanically inclined, this may be for you. Check ticket booth and palace opening hours in advance if you plan to visit as they change, based on the Royal Family.
Coffee Stop: (no English name)
If you continue past Bhubing Palace, the quality of the road drops so beware of large potholes. When you come to a fork in the road, take the left option (downhill) to head toward the Doi Pui Hmong village. Just before you reach the village, this small coffee shop will appear on your left. Its difficult to find on a map but is located just above the Doi Pui Research Station (hence the map link above). The coffee selection is basic but the view from the balcony is excellent and its a great place to soak up the relaxing sounds of the forest.
Be careful when parking in front of the coffee shop as the road is steep! If you continue past the coffee shop a short distance, you’ll arrive at the Doi Pui Hmong village. It consists mostly of market stalls selling souvenirs to tourists. Not much to see but its a convenient place to turn your bike around and retrace your path back down the mountain.
There are other places to explore on Doi Suthep including waterfalls, small temples, and lookouts. Make sure you see more than just the temple!