This post is part of the series Chiang Mai
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This post is part of the series Thailand
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Located in the Himalayan foothills of Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is the spiritual capital of the country. Like a sky looking down at all the people of Thailand, Chiang Mai has at least as many shining temples, as the sky has stars.
Chiang Mai is a city filled with temples. There are more than 300 Buddhist temples scattered throughout the city and the surrounding countryside. Just to be precise, no other province in Thailand is home to more temples than Chiang Mai! As you roam through the streets of the Old City it is impossible to walk more than 300 meters without seeing a temple. And after visiting some of them, you’ll notice that all temples are absolutely beautiful but some of them are “shining” a bit more than the others.
Although there are hundreds of temples within the city walls of Chiang Mai, the most sacred one is overlooking the city from its mountain throne of Doi Suthep! Wat Phra That Doi Suthep can be seen from almost every place in Chiang Mai as it is located on the top of the mountain near the city. Doi Suthep Temple is important not only for the people of the north, but it is also one of the most sacred temples for Buddhist in- and outside Thailand.
If you have the chance and time to visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep even for a short while, I cannot recommend it highly enough. The views from the mountain are impressive and the temple is also very rich in photogenic features, especially during the sunset. Doi Suthep is of great religious significance and together with its beauty makes it an incredible destination and must see in Northern Thailand!
The Legend of Phra That Doi Suthep
The Legend of Phra That Doi Suthep says that a monk named Sumanathera from the Sukhothai Kingdom had a dream. He was told to travel to Pang Cha, to take the Buddha’s shoulder bone (a relic with some magical powers) and bring it to King Dhammaraja who was reigning over Lanna Kingdome. The monk discovered the fragment of bone from the Buddha’s shoulder among the tall grass at Ban Pang Cha in Chiang Mai Province.
Unfortunately, the wandering monk broke the shoulder bone into two pieces at the base of Doi Suthep Mountain. The first piece was enshrined at a temple in Suandok. The second, though, was mounted on a sacred white elephant who then climbed Doi Suthep mountain and stopped near the peak. The white sacred elephant wandered the jungle where he laid down and passed away. King Kuena of Lanna Kingdom, declared the spot a holy site, and work commenced in 1383 to build a stupa to hold the relic. This was the place where the monastery was later founded.
How to Get to Phra That Doi Suthep
Doi Suthep Temple is located in the mountain region of Chiang Mai and offers a natural beauty that you don’t want to miss during your stay in Northern Thailand. Not only Doi Suthep Temple but also the road through virgin forests and waterfalls is a highlight itself. The landscape of Doi Suthep is covered in bulky tropical forest and covers a nice view over the city of Chiang Mai.
There are several ways to get yourself from Chiang Mai up to Doi Suthep located on the mountaintop near the city. If you plan to go on your own, you can hike, rent a motorbike or scooter, get a ride in a red songthaew (red trucks that act as shared taxis all over Chiang Mai), or do a guided tour.
Taking a songthaew: There is no doubt that this one is the most popular way to get to the temple. You can charter a songthaew from anywhere in the city – these are shared taxis which are for travelling in a group. This option could cost up 300 THB for one way and 500 THB if you want the driver to wait at the top and bring you back down.
But the better option, if you don’t want to overpay, is to go to Chang Pauk Gate. After passing the gate you will see many songthaews waiting for at least 6 persons. This option costs 50 TBH for one way per person and was the option that we also chose. The same driver brings you back to Chang Pauk Gate.
Driving: Up for an adventure? If you decide to drive yourself via car, motorbike or scooter you’ll be taking the Huay Kaew Road) towards the Chiang Mai Zoo. There is just one road up to Doi Suthep from Chiang Mai, so you really can’t miss it.
Hiking: I am definitely a hiking lover but not when the outside temperature is about 34°. But if you don’t care about the heat and you’re in the mood for some exercise I can recommend hiking up via Suthep Road. The starting point for hiking to the temple is near the Chiang Mai University. There you can see a sign with “Nature Hike”. Follow the road to the trail head. It takes about 1 hour up and 30 min down.
Highlights of Phra That Doi Suthep
When you reach the Doi Suthep Mountain you’ll see the huge place with souvenir stands and stalls selling food. Once you get to the base of the temple, you have two options for getting up to it. The Temple is reached via a 306-step staircase in a shape of snakelike nagas (ornate serpents) or take the funicular (20 THB for Thais and 50 THB for foreigners)
We decided to walk as we always do. Along the staircase, we saw many kids dressed in colourful hill tribe clothes. If you want to take pictures of the kids in traditional clothes, be prepared to pay. Once you have reached the terrace at the top you’ll see the statue of the white elephant that carried the Buddha relic.
One of the highlights in the complex is the large stupa located in the inner courtyard. Here you can find also the temple murals and many Buddha statues. I saw people walking around the main stupa. So I asked what was it about. A woman told me that one of the customs at Doi Suthep is to walk around the main stupa 3 times in a clockwise direction.
Things to Know Before You Go
Phra That Doi Suthep Temple sits on his throne in Doi Suthep Mountain! The highest peak here is called Doi Pui (1,685 m), while Doi Suthep itself reaches an altitude of 1,676 meters.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple was built at an elevation of 1,056 meters.
Official Name: Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Address: 9 Tambon Su Thep, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50200,
Opening Hours: Doi Suthep is open every day from Monday-Sunday – 6:00 am to 6:00 pm
Tickets: 30 THB per person, donations are always appreciated
Hotels Near Doi Suthep: Find the best deals here!
As with any other temple in the city, keep in mind to dress respectfully – shoulders and knees should be covered. You will also need to remove your shoes at the entrance.
Enjoy the day!
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Temple Hopping in Chiang Mai, Thailand