You don't have to head to the distant mountains to go trekking during your stay in Chiang Mai. Doi Suthep, the 3,542-foot peak that broods over the city has its own national park with plenty of hiking trails to explore. One of these, a path taken by pilgrims over the centuries preceding the construction of a road, leads up to the gold-spired Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. It's a half-day hike from the edge of the city to the temple compound. Set off early to avoid the heat of the midday sun. If it's not a public holiday, you'll probably be alone on the mountain. The trail begins at the entrance of the national park, reached by a five-minute ride in one of the songthaews that wait for passengers at the end of Huay Kaew Road, near the entrance to Chiang Mai Zoo.
An easy hike lasting about 45 minutes brings you to one of Chiang Mai's least known but most charming temples, Wat Pha Lat. This modest ensemble of buildings is virtually lost in the forest. Make sure to explore the compound,
which has a weathered chedi and a grotto filled with images of the Buddha. After you leave Wat Pha Lat, the path becomes steeper. After another 45 minutes you emerge onto the mountain road, where you can flag down a songthaew if you can't take another step. Otherwise, follow the road for about 200 yards; a break in the forest marks the uphill trail to Wat Phra That. Keep a sharp look out for snakes; they thrive on the mountain, and some of them are highly venomous.