After a series of delayed flights, we finally arrived at the city of Chiang Mai. Since I was traveling with my sister and she’s always ever so efficient, she made sure we wasted no time touring around the city. From the moment we landed, we already had a private tour guide waiting to take us to one of Chiang Mai’s most sacred temples, the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Ideally, we wanted to catch the sunset there. Because the temple is located on top of the Doi Suthep mountain, which is 1053 meters above see level, it offers an incomparable view of the entire city and the most dramatic sunset. Unfortunately though, as all tourists know, things don’t always go as planned. Mother Nature just wasn’t feeling it that day. The weather was gloomy and it was raining the entire time so we weren’t able to catch the sunset nor see the temple’s view of Chiang Mai. All we saw was fog. The travel blogger in me wanted to cry.
Despite this, we continued on with the tour. Tourists have the option to climb up the 306 steps to reach the temple or ride the funicular for 20 Baht. We took the latter option since it was already dark and the rain hasn’t stopped pouring. If the weather is better, I’d definitely recommend the first option so that you can marvel at the intricately carved mythical Naga (Serpent) Staircase and its surroundings.
Once you get to the first level, you’ll see the White Elephant shrine right away. This was built in honor of the White Elephant that chose the temple’s location. Legend has it that when a monk named Sumana found a miraculous relic believed to be part of Buddha’s shoulder bone, King Kuna built Wat Suan Dok (which means Flower Garden) to house it. While moving the relic into Wat Suan Dok, it miraculously divided itself into two pieces, with each piece growing back to the size of the original. King Kuna felt the second piece of the relic needed its own temple as well so he placed it on a White Elephant and released the elephant into the jungle to look for divine guidance. The elephant climbed and climbed until it reached the peak of Doi Suthep Mountain, trumpeted 3 times, made three counterclockwise circles, and laid down refusing to go any farther before it died at the site. The King took this as a sign and built the temple there in 1383. Now, aside from the White Elephant Shrine, you’ll see plenty of other shrines enclosing the main golden pagoda or chedi–like the Shrine of Thao Mahaprom Statue and Shrine of Hermit Statue of Sudeva, along with copper bells, brightly colored murals and a Bodhi tree. Everywhere you look is a visual treat!
The main attraction, however is located on the 2nd floor terrace. At the center of the upper terrace is the picturesque golden pagoda or chedi that enshrines the relic. It greets you with its five-tiered umbrella built in honour of the city’s independence from Burma and its union with Thailand. I had to walk around barefoot because it was a scared area but I wasn’t really minding my feet getting soaked in the rain. I was in complete awe of the golden chedi and the buddha shrines around it! Seeing all of them upclose felt so unreal! I had to make sure my jaw hasn’t dropped to the floor by the end of the tour. If you ever visit Chiang Mai, good or bad weather, make sure you visit this temple. It is a must!
P.S. Be respectful of the dress code. Wear long pants and make sure your shoulders are covered.