Take Wing in Thailand
Explore the mountains outside of Chiang Mai and beyond
View from the top of Doi Suthep, overlooking Chiang Mai
Wing. In English, the word wing is something that enables flight. It gives the ability to float effortlessly above the world, soar over logs, rocks and streams. In Thai, wing simply means “to run.”
I began my running explorations of Thailand in the foothills outside of Chiang Mai. While most tourists stay at the beaches in Phuket and Pattaya in the south, the mountainous north around Chiang Mai is deserving of a visit. Influenced by the Hill Tribes, the town is filled with creamy curries served on street corners, and local artisans selling hand-stitched clothing and crafts each week at the Sunday Market. A quality meal is easy to come by.
Get your bearings with a free map from a hostel, hop in a red Songteuw (a truck with seats in the back) and pay 20 to 50 baht (roughly $.80 to $1.30) to go anywhere in the city. Though many Thai nationals will know some English, it is helpful to know a few key Thai phrases, such as numbers and simple greetings.
Exploring Doi Suthep National Park
Just 15 kilometers outside of town, Doi Suthep National Park possesses some virtually untraveled trails. The entrance fee of 100 baht is a bit more for a farang—a foreigner—than for local Thai people, but it is still cheap compared to America’s parks. You may have to hop behind the Doi Suthep temple and over a few bushes to find the trails up the mountain, but the climb and views are worth the effort.
You won’t find many runners on the trails, which serve as connectors for the Hill Tribe people to get to and from town, find mushrooms and meditate somewhere cool during the heat of the day. More than likely, though, you won’t see another soul.
The 1676-meter ascent to Doi Suthep is full of lush, greenery, birds swooping and monkeys howling in the distance. It will take half a day at a good clip to reach the top. Don’t expect nicely groomed switchbacks; the trail was designed for its users to reach the top as quickly as possible, so the ascent is steep and swift, with plenty of roots, rocks and fallen logs to navigate. If you reach the summit on a clear day, it affords an amazing view of the hustle and bustle of Chiang Mai below—the moat and Tai Pae Gate that separates the old district from the new, the intertwining streets weaving through the city.
In spending time with trail runners in both America and Thailand, I have found two common threads: we love a good beer and we love a hot cup of coffee. While Thailand’s go-to lager, Chang, doesn’t quite live up to the standards of the Oregon IPAs I’m used to enjoying post-run at home, the coffee plantation I discovered while roaming the ridges of Doi Suthep more than compensated for the lack of hops in my diet. Sipping a cup of coffee brewed fresh by a small Thai woman at the summit is the perfect way to savor the cool air and calm quiet.