One of my most memorable experiences in Chiang Mai was our day trip to Wat Phratat Doi Suthep.
It is a Theravada Buddhist temple built near the peak of the Doi Suthep Mountain and is located 14.5 kilometres away from Chiang Mai city center in Doi Suthep National Park. Locals say that a visit to the city is incomplete until you come here.
Background: Legend has it that one of Buddha’s bones was mounted on a white elephant - a significant symbol in Thai culture - which then climbed Doi Suthep mountain and trumpeted three times before dying near its peak. The temple was built on the spot where the white elephant is said to have died and now houses the bone that was previously mounted on it.
As we were staying in a hotel located quite a distance away from the park, we started our journey early in the morning and arrived there at around 9:30 am. Doi Suthep National Park is closed between June and September, so it gets really busy when it reopens in October. With that in mind, it’s best to visit it in the morning before the large crowds arrive.
We started by touring the park. We came across a golden statue of Kru Ba Sri Wichai, the most famous Buddhist monk of Northern Thailand, located at the top of the mountain. There are also several stands here selling food, drinks, and souvenirs. You might want to buy something to eat here before proceeding to the temple.
Afterwards, we headed towards Wat Phratat Doi Suthep. To get there, you have to climb a long staircase marked on each side by a seven-headed naga (ornate serpent) statue. The staircase is made up of 309 steps. We took our time climbing them, occasionally stopping to catch our breath. If you prefer, you can make your way to the top via tram or by hiking up to the temple from the city using the Monk’s trail.
One of the first things you’ll see is a statue of the white elephant from the famous legend. You’ll also notice that the temple is split into an inner and an outer terrace. A large collection of monuments, shrines, rock gardens, and breadfruit trees line the outer terrace; while there are steps leading to the inner terrace and a walkway that skirts what I consider to be the main attraction of the temple - the Golden Chedi (shrine).
It took us a while to explore the temple, as there’s so much to see here. There are quiet spaces where you can meditate in peace and viewing points from where photographers can capture stunning views of Chiang Mai. While at Doi Suthep Park, fitness enthusiasts can also explore the many trails and even take a quick dip in some of the waterfalls.
How to get to the park:
There are a couple of ways you can get to Doi Suthep National Park from Chiang Mai.
*Entrance to the park is 50 THB per person. However, you can tour the temple for free. Make sure you carry a bit of extra cash for snacks and souvenirs, too.