Wat Prathat Doi Suthep
Wat Prathat Doi Suthep is the most famous temple in Chiang Mai and we visited it one morning in late December. This site is always busy with lots of tourists visiting and since it was high season and close to the Christmas Holidays we encountered even bigger crowds.
The road and parking lots were congested with tour minibuses, red buses (songthaews) brown buses, delivery trucks, scooters and bicycles (yes, people do ride bikes up there from Chiang Mai!) And there are the inevitable hawkers, some quite aggressive, pushing bells and other trinkets into your face as you attempt to get into the temple!
We bought our tour tickets (Baht 600 or $16.60 each) through a local travel agency in our area. The price was less than several other companies we checked on so we were expecting a “standard” tour which, in fact, was what we received!
We arranged to be picked up outside our apartment building at 8:45am and received a call just after 9am telling us the minibus was just a short distance away. With the traffic in Chiang Mai, it’s not easy to estimate arrival times, so no problem! It was a beautiful, sunny, cool morning – perfect for a trip out of town.
The minibus was almost full of passengers who had been picked up earlier so we had the seat in the back to ourselves. Normally four people would be seated here so it was nice to have a little more room. Remember, tour buses in Southeast Asia are built for small Asian people, not big Westerners!
Royal Palace Gardens
The tour included a stop at a Hill Tribe Village but some of the passengers were visiting the Royal Palace and we opted to do that instead of the village. Having seen two working villages on our Northern Thailand Tour, we didn’t want to do a repeat, particularly since we felt it would be more geared to tourism i.e. selling souvenirs (which we found out later was the case!) The admission to the Royal Palace was Baht 50 each and we enjoyed an hour walking around the beautiful grounds before being picked up for the short drive to the Temple.
It’s a 15 kilometer drive from Chiang Mai to the temple on a very windy road that reminded us of our drive to Pai and Mae Hong Son. The temple was built in 1386 and expanded over the centuries. Construction of the temple would have been extremely difficult because the current road was not completed until 1935 and the only way to reach the site was through the jungle.
Once we reached the temple complex, which sits at 3,542ft (1000m) above sea level, we had a choice of walking up 300 stairs, guarded by Naga (snake) figures from the 16th century or taking the cable car. For us it was a no-brainer!
Our entry ticket explained the “Do and Don’t in the temple”:
After a short briefing by our guide we went to the lower terrace for a panoramic view of Chiang Mai which, unfortunately, was very hazy. After taking our shoes off, we moved on to the upper terrace and walked around the dazzling gold-plated chedi, among the many small shrines, Buddha statues and beautiful golden umbrellas.
All the colors were enhanced by the brilliant sunshine. People were praying, chanting, lighting candles, ringing bells and the smell of incense wafted through the air. Although there was a lot of activity, there was also a sense of peace and calm.
Sacred Destinations recounts a myth related to the location of Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep like this:
“According to legend, a magical relic multiplied itself just before it was enshrined at Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai. A suitable place therefore had to be found to shelter the new relic.
Unable to decide on the site, the king placed the relic in a portal shrine on the back of a white elephant and waited to see where the animal would take it. Eventually, the elephant walked up to the top of Doi Suthep mountain, trumpeted three times, turned around three times, knelt down, and died. The temple was immediately built on the miraculously-chosen site.”
What better way to end our article with that wonderful story! We’ll be back with more about Chiang Mai later.
Today featured a wonderful mixture of Thai culture, a medical “Resort”, beautiful plants, breathtaking landscapes, and an amazing journey across the mountains of northern Thailand to the town of Pai.
Surprisingly, we weren’t the last of our group to show up at the 6:30am breakfast! Bill is definitely not a “morning” person! An hour later we headed back towards Lamphun for our first experience of a Home Stay village at Huay Sai Kaw.
We’re sure you are aware that the King of Thailand passed away on October 13, 2016. This may not make much of an impact around the world but here in Thailand life changed quite dramatically.
His Majesty is greatly revered by the people of Thailand, many of whom have known no other monarch in their life time.
There will be a year of mourning and flags will fly at half-mast for at least the first 30 days. All entertainment is postponed during this period and Thais are wearing black or black and white to honor their King.
According to the Chiang Mai Expats Club, non-Thais are not required to do this but should not wear bright colors. We are wearing black and white when possible and have a black ribbon pinned to our shirts.
The TV is covering the many ceremonies taking place in Bangkok as well as reviewing His Majesty’s life. This is a very sad time for everyone in Thailand.