Must See Chiang Mai Temple: Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Your daily life is your temple and your religion. When you enter into it take with you your all.

Khalil Gibran

Mountain View Doi Suthep

Montain View Of Doi Suthep from Puripiman Apartment
I can see Doi Suthep from my apartment window. The lights of the temple grounds are the only lights that can be seen on the mountain at night.

Motor Bike Ride to Doi Suthep

Late one afternoon Tyson and I decided to take the motorbike ride up to Doi Suthep ourselves to see the famous temple and viewpoints overlooking Chiang Mai. Many people refer to the temple as Doi Suthep but that is actually the name of the mountain, not the temple.  The temple is actually called Wat Phra That.  It is a popular attraction for visitors to Chiang Mai.  Doi Suthep is to the west of the old city of Chiang Mai and can be seen from almost anywhere in Chiang Mai.

The motorbike ride up Doi Suthep was fine but as soon as we arrived to the top it began raining.  Within a matter of seconds of getting off of our bikes we were running for cover.  Luckily where we parked there were several stands in a row selling food and coffee.  We both ordered a Cha Yen (Thai Iced Tea). We sat on little plastic stools in front of this elderly man’s stall and watched the waters come flooding down the stairwell entrance like a waterfall.  The heavy waters rushed all the way down to our motorbikes.  The unexpected rainfall turned into a severe downpour and it seemed as if the waters would just wash all the motorbikes down this very steep hill.

Fortunately after a few minutes it began to slow down, so we headed for the tram.  Once we reached the top, the rain had dissipated and we began strolling around taking pictures.  It was still overcast and the view of Chiang Mai from the viewpoint was not the best for pictures but we made the best of our time.  I didn’t speak much with Tyson, while we were up there.  It was a perfect time for silence and reflection.

Wat Phra That – Doi Suthep

Chiang Mai temples Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Doi Suthep has been recognized as a holy place for more than 1200 years.

Hindu god Ganesha – Remover of obstacles, god of wisdom and learning.

In short, the legend is that a monk was inspired by a dream where he had to visit a place called Pang Cha and search for a relic.  When he actually visited Pang Cha he found a bone.

The bone he found was thought to be the shoulder bone of Buddha and it was believed that it had magical powers.  The monk took the relic to King Dharmmaraja who ruled Sukhothai at this time.

When the monk brought the relic to the king it displayed no magical powers and the king told him he could keep it.

King Nu Naone from the Lanna Kingdom heard about the relic and he requested that the monk take it to him. When, the monk brought the relic to King Nu Naone it split into two pieces.

The smallest part was enshrined at a temple in Suandok.  The larger part was placed on the back of a white elephant by the king which was then released into the jungle.

The legend goes on to say that the white elephant climbed Doi Suthep, and then trumpeted three times before it knelt down and died.  This was interpreted as a sign and the king ordered the construction of the temple at this site.  The construction began in 1386 and was completed a few years later.

There are two options for reaching the temple and chedi from the main entrance.  Visitors may choose to ascend the 300 plus stairs by foot or pay 50 baht for a ride by a tram to the summit.

When you reach the summit, near the top of the stairs, and you are a foreigner, you will pay another fee to enter the temple grounds.

Typically, you cannot enter wearing shorts, but we were allowed in.  I am not totally certain but I think as long as your shorts cover your knees, you are allowed entry, if not you can also rent a sarong for a small fee.  Yes, men, a sarong.

Chiang Mai temples Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Wat Phra That Garden Doi Suthep

We walked around the outside perimeter of the temple first, which was decorated beautifully with gardens, bells, and statues.  There are smaller dwellings outside with beautiful shrines and Buddha statues inside them.  These rooms usually are occupied with those giving offerings and praying.

Bells and Her Majesty The Queen in the background.

Since my first visit to a Buddhist temple in 2012 with my friend Noph, I have made it a part of my journey when I visit temples to always take a quiet moment to kneel and pray, give thanks for the important things in life and pray for my family and friends.

I was raised a Christian, so I am not a Buddhist, but I have respect for his teachings in the same way that I respect the teachings of Christ.  It is the religious practices and limited belief systems that I usually have difficulty with, and the history of powerful men and women who have used religion to manipulate masses of people to do horrific things.  Ahem…anyway moving on.

We came back to the entrance near the dragons stairwell and I was surprised to see that we still hadn’t officially entered the temple grounds yet. We took off our shoes and entered the temple grounds.  It was still wet outside, so I climbed up the stairs inside barefoot, and tip-toed carefully along the cool slippery tiled floor.  I was able to get a few pictures of the chedi but it was difficult to frame the entire monument.

This is where a wide-angle lens would have come in handy, since there wasn’t anywhere to back up.  As soon as I entered the temple courtyard I had little space to move and many Buddha statues lining the wall behind me.

The good thing is that there was a covering because it began raining again.

It was a quiet and peaceful afternoon with only a few tourists around, and I had time to reflect and just enjoy the moment.

Chiang Mai temples Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Close-up Golden Chedi Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Contemplating the journey - Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

I am satisfied that every man or woman who goes to the temple in a spirit of sincerity and faith leaves the house of the Lord a better man or woman.

Gordon B. Hinckley

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Brian Dennis is a full-time software engineer, some-time traveler and location-independent entrepreneur.

Chasing his passions in addition to travel in recent years has become a little challenging but even more fulfilling with his wife Betina and 1-year old son Divine.

Currently he is located in S. Florida and continues to share what he's learned with travel tips, guides and some motivating inspiration to encourage others to do more and experience more outside of their comfort zones.

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