They say if you visit Chiang Mai and don’t go to Doi Suthep then you haven’t really been there. Well, I took that seriously and made sure that it was a priority. Chiang Mai has no shortage of gorgeous Wats. Literally every three blocks there is another breathtaking temple, more ornate and detailed than the last. So, Doi Suthep couldn’t be that special could it? HAHA! Yeah, no. In the world of temple olympics, Doi Suthep is a gold medalist. It’s literally gold. All gold. I booked my half day tour of the temple complex with my hostel. I think the touring company was called Overland Tours. The guide spoke good english, the group was small, and it got the job done. The drive from the old city was about 45 minutes of very, very winding roads. The views were gorgeous but the barfing sensation was very real. Be prepared for that if you get motion sickness like me.
Once we were done with the market place we headed to the site of the temple. In order to reach the pagoda you have to climb up over 300 steps. The staircase is guarded by colourful dragons and is surrounded by jungle. You will also find many young girls in traditional Thai garb offering photos for some money. I honestly don’t know what the situation is with that, but I hope it’s harmless.
If climbing the stairs in the Thai heat seems undoable for you there is an escalator option but will cost you some cash.
Once you’ve reached the top you will see how large the campus (totally not the correct word) is. When walking around the outside of the main temple you will be surrounded by exotic fruit, large bells, and ornate statues. The view from Doi Suthep is one of the biggest draws. It looks out over the entire city which gives you a sense of just how big Chiang Mai is. Unfortunately, on the day that I visited it was very hazy due to a hash of forest fires that had recently broken out; but I still got a sense of what I should have seen. Surprisingly the viewing area wasn’t very crowded because if was all the way in the back, so make sure you check out all the nooks and crannies.
Before you enter the main temple area you must remove your shoes and women must be wearing trousers or skirts that go below the knees. If you forget and happen to be wearing shorts, don’t worry, you can rent a sash for a small fee.
As you enter you are greeted by the glory that is Doi Suthep. It is pure gold with red accents and is filled with more photographic opportunities than you can fathom. The Wat was founded in 1383 and has continued to be expanded ever since. The legacy and age of this place can be felt everywhere. Be sure to step inside the temple itself and you may just get blessed by the resident monk. He blessed our group in about seven different languages so I don’t think that was his first rodeo.
This is first and foremost a place of religion and offers a unique look into Buddhism. You can watch as people pray and walk around the central pagoda a number of times carrying flowers or lit incense. There are also a number of impressive statues including a green glass Buddha and twelve differently posed Buddhas each symbolizing a month of the year.
Yes, it was hot and crowded but worth literally every second I was there. We spent about two hours altogether wandering around which seemed like a good enough visit. It’s easy to see why this place is the pride and joy of the city. This was one of my favourite spots during my trip to Thailand and it is definitely a must do.