Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand is a beaut, but sooner or later you will want to get out. The dozens of splendid Chiang Mai temples and crazy cool cafe scene can only hold you so long. Nature beckons and mountain waterfalls in particular! In that department, Chiang Mai hiking trails deliver plenty of fulfilment.
Doi Suthep, just a little off of Nimman, is a popular hiking spot in Chiang Mai, mainly due to the famous Pilgrims Trail. But even if you are not deadset on a steep 5 hour hike up mount Suthep, you will get to walk it a little AND still see two wonderful waterfalls.
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Where to Find the Chiang Mai Hiking Trail to Huay Kaew Waterfall
Start your Chiang Mai hiking adventure near the Zoo. In front of the Tourist Police station, you walk past the Khru Ba Srivijaya shrine and through the parking lot. This is where you will find the beginning of Huay Kaew waterfall. Meander the wooden boardwalk and then follow the stone pathway until you reach a more rugged path beside the waterfall. This is where the real Chiang Mai hiking aventure starts.
What to Bring for a Chiang Mai Hike Adventure
Depending on the temperatures, you might want to take a dip in the fresh pools of the waterfalls. Therefore, wear your bathing suit underneath, bring a quick-dry towel as well as sunscreen and mosquito repellent to put on afterwards. If you have close toed shoes, such as crocs, for walking on the wet rocks and standing in the streams, all the better.
Otherwise, hiking boots with a good grip and long pants are a must. You will have to clumber up both rugged and smooth and slippery rocks, then beat your way through low growing bushes. Be prepared for a full on nature hike. This isn’t a casual trail! If you want to go easy, you can stay in the lower parts, where you can parade along the clear boardwalks. Bring trail snacks along the way to keep your energy levels up.
Huay Kaew Waterfall
Not even five minutes away from the parking lot, you can already splash in front of the Huay Kaew waterfall. There are smaller pools and pretty waterfall cascading along the rocks. Alternatively, you can sit back and relax on the smooth rocks and stare into the forest and village huts a little farther away. It already is a pretty spot to hit up.
Once you decide to see more of this waterfall, you need to walk up the rocks to Huay Kaew waterfall and find the small rocky path upwards. It follows the waterfall and up top, you have another pool to adore. The view from here is so much better! Now you need to focus more as the rock surface gets really even and you should think twice about hiking it if it rained the night before. It gets very slippery!
Mae Sa Waterfall
Once you have made it, you can follow a small path down to the water, where a rope swing awaits you. If you want more, head onwards to Mae Sa waterfall, which has bigger pools and feels a bit more secluded but with more open space. On top of that, Mae Sa waterfall isn’t just one but nine waterfalls.
Walking past the waterfall and up to the hut, you get up to a great view point, called Wang Bua Ban viewpoint. From here, you can overlook the city. It’s especially great an hour before sunset as everything is lit up by a soft orange glow. From here, you can walk down to Mae Sa waterfall again, to get a different angle and see it in its full glory.
Mon Tha Than Waterfall
From plateau beneath the viewing platform, jump over the small trickle on the even rocks and into the deep of the forest. The orange markings around the trees will guide your way. You can choose the path on either side of the river, both are pretty similar and were equally overgrown when I visited.
After about three kilometres, you will reach the Mon Tha Than waterfall and the Pha Ngoeb rock. You will see a mini shrine and several Buddha statues set up to honour it. Sadly, I couldn’t find out more information about it. This was my favourite part of the leg with the impressive cliff hanging over the river and the tropical trees providing shade and a proper jungle feel.
If you want to continue with the Pilgrims Trail up doi Suthep, you walk along and past the waterfall but that is where I stopped, so I cannot tell you more about it. It takes roughly four to five hours up to the top. Expect steep inclines but from what I’ve heard, it is absolutely worth it!
Lazy ones can hail one of the red songthaew from the road to go up or down again. A trip up to the temple costs around 40 baht, for the palace it is 70 baht and for the village it is 180 baht. One way. If they try to charge you more, haggle.
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai?
Where you should stay totally depends on the vibe you are seeking. The Old Town is more touristy but is close to the main temples, to the night markets and city wall. For a cosy guesthouse, you might want to look into The Scale House. Budget travellers should try the Bann Elephant Home hostel.
If you prefer a more laid back, hipster vibe or are a digital nomad seeking a base, Nimman is a good area. (Also because of the crazy cool Chiang Mai cafe scene.) To be close to the popular Maya Shopping Mall and Nimman, why not consider the futuristic looking The Pacific Cool Chic?
Are these Chiang Mai Hiking Trails Worth it?
Absolutely! You can make this hike as challenging or easy as you want with as many waterfalls as you want. Sure, there are more on doi suthep, but these give you a great alternative to simple village or temple walks – especially if you cannot make it to the sticky waterfall North of Chiang Mai.
My favourite was the Mon Tha Than waterfall. To me, the hike just got better and better. Even though the undergrowth and mosquito density became stronger. (The latter was also definitely due to the fact that sunset was approaching and the little pests came out by the dozen.)
Tell me, which of these waterfalls and Chiang Mai hiking legs would you like to see most?