Adventure, Thailand, Travel

Off Roadin’ with the Buddha

Chiang Mai is located at the foot of a mountain. The mountain is called Doi Suthep.

Near the top of this mountain is a wat (temple) known as Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Since Friday is the last day of my meditation retreat, I’ve decided to conclude it by hiking up the mountain Saturday and visiting the temple.

My photos will probably not be this good.

This is a bit of a challenge. It’s the longest hike I’ve attempted on my post-surgery ankle. Each direction is about 8 miles and, with the steep terrain, is estimated to take about 4 hours. That’s a round trip of 8 hours of walking.

I don’t mind the challenge. It’s good training. But I also wouldn’t mind if the trip was shorter. Here’s the route, following the (only) road that goes up the mountain:

(Click for the real deal.)

What do you notice about that route? Yeah, it’s pretty circuitous. Check this out:

Clever clever.

This is my thought. If I’m willing to off road it, I can cut out a significant section of the hike. This will save time, energy, and footache.

There are problems with this. Usually when engineers make a road long and winding it’s for a reason. The routes in red and orange might go up a sheer cliff. Or other difficult terrain. They’re certainly covered in jungle.

But but butit would be exciting!

This is the Rogue Priest here. Do you think I got that name following roads? I really like the idea of forging my own way off-road. It appeals to me to say I climbed a mountain to visit a temple and mean it.

I’m a little torn about which route to try. The red route is close to the downhill end of the road. It’s probably not as steep and it won’t take long. The orange route would save me a lot more time, but it’s also higher up.

Either way, there’s a chance I’ll have to turn back and take the main road. The forest might be blocked by private homes, walls, or who knows what. On the other hand, I might find an easy footpath that Google doesn’t know about. It sure looks like one:

You are not Jesus, Google. You are not Jesus.

Here is what I plan to take on my trip.

  • Backpack
  • 3 litres of water
  • Lunch
  • Bug spray
  • Crudely drawn map
  • 100 copies of the tract, “Why You Should Convert to the Heroic Life”

Okay, that last one is a joke. It’s a joke! I leave first thing in the morning so my wanderings don’t strand me out there after dark. Wish me luck!


19 thoughts on “Off Roadin’ with the Buddha

  1. Have an adventure, Drew- an adventure with the good luck of no injuries that an antiseptic and bandaid cannot cure, the good luck of memories that keep your heart warm on the coldest night, and the good luck of meeting an adventure head on and coming out stronger for it.

  2. Sean says:

    I have to admit that the idea is quite enticing. Looking at the maps it seems to be pretty rough terrain. Footpaths or not, it is going to be a taxing hike.

    Difficulty of the hike aside, I would still attempt it. I don’t think I would try it when I have an alternate goal in mind. I would do it for the simple adventure of the attempt, the solidarity, and being in nature.

    Were I heading for a Temple, I would be more interested in the people I would run into, talk to, or observe while traveling to and from the Temple.

    But that is me and it may not be you. Either way, what I’m saying is; I like the way you think. May you have luck and adventure in which ever path you take.

    • Thanks for your response, Sean. I don’t think I’ll be missing out on the people too much by going off-road. The road in question is a highway and I’d just have motorbikes and trucks going past me. I hope to talk to both monks and visitors when I reach the temple itself, of course.

      I love that you would try the same thing. None of my expat friends in Chiang Mai have any interest in a hike. Wish you were here so we could partner up on the the trail!

  3. Soliwo says:

    Take the long road upwards and the short one downwards. Depending how steep the hill is, cycling may be more difficult than walking.

    • Definitely. That compass has indeed been quite useful. In general I can navigate fluently by landmarks and my natural sense of direction, but I won’t deny having pulled out the compass several times to check myself. It will be in my backpack for sure!

  4. You’ve got a mobile phone and someone you can call in case of emergency, right? I spent 7 hours lost at night in the Turkish mountains two years ago after following a trail my guidebook described as “an easy 90 minute stroll down to the beach”, but which shortly devolved into a network of goat trails going nowhere through the only uninhabited wilderness we encountered there… Having my mobile and the hotel’s phone number made a big psychological difference – I knew if one of us got injured, I could make a call and they’d get a search party out for us.

    The other things to keep in mind – do you know the dangerous plants and wildlife there? Snakes/ spiders/ plants that poison on contact? Do you know enough about what sort of things people do in the woods to avoid problems, of could you be walking into bush meat snares? Also, that looks like very steep areas you’re thinking about walking through – what kind of erosion damage will your feet cause to the local plants?

    Not meaning to mother hen, just looks like you’re working up to something that might not be the brightest thing to do on an ankle you want to keep working. Maybe doing a long enough hike to be sure it’s in working shape, then going on a backwoods trek, might be a better idea?

    • You’ve got a mobile phone and someone you can call in case of emergency, right?


      do you know the dangerous plants and wildlife there? Snakes/ spiders/ plants that poison on contact?


      Also, that looks like very steep areas you’re thinking about walking through – what kind of erosion damage will your feet cause to the local plants?

      I hadn’t thought of this. Judging by what I’ve seen of the forests west of town it will be okay, but I will make a judgment call when I get there. I agree, there is no value in eroding a delicate ecosystem.

      could you be walking into bush meat snares?

      I will come clean and say this is something I never thought of. If I use game trails I will be on the alert. I intend to have a walking stick and can probe ahead of myself. I’ve also checked and there are no land mine/ UXO concerns in this area.

      • Well, you did seem a bit concerned about your ankle!

        Anyway, I took another look at your google closeup picture and I suspect you’re right about there being a footpath through that section. You’ll probably be fine.

        Cell phones outside the US are generally a lot cheaper and better than inside. Get a sturdy mobile – Motorola and Sony Ericson phones have lasted Tony and I five years – and either get a new SIM card in every country (they cost about $5 usually) or an international card you can charge up online. It’ll take you from Mexico to Brazil once you’re on your long roadtrip. If you’re couchsurfing you’ll need one for meeting up with people and getting directions; might as well get one now.

        • True about the ankle. I wasn’t so much concerned as in “oh no, what if I re-break it” but more cautious. I know that walking is good for it but going from 4 or 6 hours to 8 hours of walking is a big step.

          The footpath turned out to be inside the zoo, so I couldn’t cut through there. I offroaded along the waterfall above the zoo instead.

          Thanks for the cell phone tip!

  5. Pingback: Photo Tale: The Temple on Doi Suthep « Rogue Priest

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