One of the many reasons that I love living in Chiang Mai is the nearby presence of Doi Suthep, the city’s ‘guardian mountain’, which rises about 1600 metres above sea level. The most popular place on the mountain is the temple called Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, which sits at an elevation of around 1300 metres and on a clear day offers sweeping views of the city and valley below.
While this temple is one of the must-see sights of Chiang Mai for visitors, there’s a place I much prefer to go to enjoy the mountain’s tranquil, natural surroundings. It’s a trail that leads up the mountain about 300 metres, taking about an hour, and ends at a dramatic waterfall that runs all year. I never fail to finish that walk in a better mood than I started.
A fifteen-minute drive from my house takes me to the base of the mountain and the starting point of the trail, which is near a standing Buddha image. The start of the walk is very gentle—a broad, level path that runs between the mountain and a lake. It passes a few trees equipped with ziplines, and if there is a group of visitors whizzing between the trees, there’s an excited chatter, but soon the only sounds to be heard are the twitter of birds and the rustle of leaves in the breeze as the path climbs steadily upward.
For most of the way, the sound of the rushing stream is evident, and the presence of water attracts all kinds of butterflies, caterpillars, and even snakes curled up near to its soothing flow. Splashes of sunlight fall through the trees, vines dangle across the path and fungi form attractive patterns on rotting tree trunks.
Just when I’m beginning to feel tired and in need of resting my aching limbs, the trail ends at the waterfall that plunges down a sheer wall of rock into a pool at its base. I sit on a convenient log, take a swig of water, feel the rushing breeze from the falls and give myself a pat on the back for having taken time out to indulge in the waterfall walk.
is a British writer and photographer based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.