The Hidden Temple of Chiang Mai: Wat Phalad

A tranquil, hidden treasure away from the bustling crowds of Chiang Mai.

Enjoy a refreshing hike on shady trails, escorted by hundreds of colorful butterflies, serenaded by tropical songbirds, accompanied by the flowing sounds of the babbling mountain stream. The hike’s reward is the tranquil, meditative atmosphere of Wat Phalad (วัดผาลาด), tucked away on Suthep mountain, perched at the head of a gentle rock waterfall. Come along the transformative journey with us in the music and natural sounds video below.

According to blog author Jeffrey Warner, legend says that an earth god visited a hermit and company resting on Suthep mountain, and began teaching them spiritual wisdom. Upon making a prophecy about the future greatness of Chiang Mai in the valley below, he left a footprint in the rock, visible only to those worthy to see it, and left the hermits to guard it.

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Stone angels greet the hiker at the top of the trail entering into the temple.

Eons later, a Chiang Mai king sent a white elephant carrying a Buddha relic to find a sacred place to keep the treasure. Three times on the journey up Suthep mountain, the elephant stopped and knelt. On the final stop near the top, the elephant circled and cried out 3 times and died.

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Saffron cloths mark the path and add to the atmosphere of a mystical journey.

Each stop became a temple site. At the bottom of the mountain are the ruins of the first, Wat Samyob, also known as Wat Sodapunnaram. The third stop, near the present-day Sirintorn Astronomical Observatory, is Wat Anakamiwanaram. The final resting place of the ill-fated elephant, where the relic was preserved in a chedi, was Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, one of the most renowned temples of the Chiang Mai area.

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Barustraded steps draw one from one inspired world to the next.

The second resting place was Phalad Temple, built approximately 650 years ago. Wat Phalad literally means “Temple of the Sloping Cliff,” as it sits atop a sloping rocky waterfall. It is very much integrated into the surround jungle, shrouded in lush green foliage. Along with the unobtrusive monks, stone angels and mythical creatures watch over the nooks and crannies of the grounds. The multi-tiered layout draws one into a magical journey, up and down balustrade stairs from one tranquil world to the next.

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The trail starts on a small road that leads to a communications tower, and is marked by a green, covered sign with a map of the trail. Expect a moderate workout on a well-defined trail for about 45 minutes. Informative nature signs, explaining some of the flora and fauna of the area, are scattered along the trail, but the most enchanting and helpful guide to stay on course are the saffron-colored cloths, made from the same cloth monks wear, tied around the trees. I recommend a sturdy pair of walking shoes, some water, and mosquito repellant may be helpful.

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The trail starts at the green marked area “Wat Pha Lat Hike.” Use the road that goes to the communications tower to find the trail head.

The trail and temple are not heavily traveled…a welcome alternative to the bustling and more commercialized Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. For those who love the beauty of religious sculpture and architecture in a natural setting, try a meditative journey to Wat Phalad.

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Author Robert Cummings and Ariya Chittawong

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Author: CummingsRL

Lt. Col. Robert Cummings, completed his PhD dissertation on the Thai-Chinese community in Hat Yai at Chulalongkorn University. He has an MA-International Studies and MBA. A retired US Air Force command pilot and Asian Affairs specialist, he served as assistant professor of history at the Air Force Academy and assistant air attaché in the US Embassy, Bangkok, Thailand. Conversationally fluent in Chinese and Thai, he currently resides in Thailand.

3 thoughts on “The Hidden Temple of Chiang Mai: Wat Phalad”

  1. I’ve been there is one most places go when in Thailand and will go back and see it again and Chiangmai has some beautiful temple in Thailand and yes bring water with you you bed .

  2. Mr. Cummings, I wish I could say “Good Job”. No doubt I could, but that alone would not convey, not only what I saw, but what I heard and felt while viewing your video. To reassure myself of my emotions, I re-watched a second and then a third time. Now I am sure, I cannot say “Good Job”. I must say VERY, VERY Good Job! ! ! , In fact Excellent Job. I do hope you have no objection to my forwarding this link to others, who I feel will also be so moved ….
    Thank You for sharing.
    Jay Mitchell

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