Situated atop the Doi Suthep Mountain in Northern Thailand, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of the most cherished temples in Northern Thailand. Built in 1386, the shrine and temple was a feat for the times. Each piece of material used to create this master piece was dragged through the thick jungle to the top of the mountain. The road we see today wasn’t built until 1935.
Reaching the Mountain
To reach the pinnacle, many people take the taxi trucks available. This can be difficult for some who have motion sickness. You are enclosed in the back of a truck, able to only see what’s behind you. There’s hardly any wind despite the heat, and you’re winding up sharp turns through a mountain. Doesn’t sound too pleasant when there’s a ton of people packed in there with you, does it?
The best way to travel the road is to rent a scooter. Yes, for some this is a little nerve wracking if you’ve never ridden. There are a lot of cars and some people don’t abide by the rules of the road, but most people are extra careful seeing that it is tight corners. Riding a scooter is easier, because you can take your time, stop when you need to, enjoy the fresh, cool breeze, and bask in the foliage.
You’re in the jungle… in Thailand… on a mountain!
The Overlook (Or… at least that’s what we called it)
Travelling up the mountain takes quite some time, but there is a rest stop half way up. You’ll notice it by the food stalls, mopeds, and multitudes of people who gander over the edge of the mountain for a view of the city.
There’s an array of fresh fruit, grilled bananas, pork, and refreshments. Inside the small patio, there’s an artist doing caricatures, someone selling handmade bags, and another person making pliable rope animals.
What Phra Doi Suthep
While many can enter from various entrances, the main entrance to the temple is a 300-step staircase guarded by snakes, or Naga’s, from the 16th Century. If you don’t want to walk those steps or have a disability, there is an old elevator which will take you to the top. The lines are long and it gets crowded quick.
Around the shrine, people can bask in the view of Chiang Mai. The city sits among the jungle which expands for miles. Every where you turn is something new, fresh, and blossoming. Flowers and foliage cover the area. In one spot, you’ll find a tree flourishing with colorful flowers and lanterns. It’s a nice recluse from the pounding sun.
Before you enter the inner shrine for the main attraction, make sure you are covered up and your shoes are off. Shoulders, cleavage, and knees need to be covered since Thais are a conservative culture and it shows respect for the Buddhist religion. You can place your shoes with the hundreds lining the trees outside the entrance. They are generally safe here.
After checking out the temple, make sure to head down the stairs, because at the bottom there are some great gift shops but also amazing food. Since I had been living in Thailand for quite some time and my stomach wasn’t feeling well the weekend I went, I had the basic fried chicken on rice. It was fresh and amazing. The food vendors don’t look the cleanest. There’s flies, ants, spiders, and all sorts of critters hovering around, but the food is satisfying on an empty stomach with a good Est (similar to Pepsi).
“Myth and Mystery
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.”
Bhubing Palace (Winter Palace)
Take a drive further up the mountain to Bhubing Palace, where the king tends to reside during breaks. Built in 1961, the building was designed by members of the royal family and built in the northern Thai style.
Before entering, you must cover yourself as you would for the temple. There are shops below the entrance for you to rent or buy clothes. You can have fun with looking at all the intriguing designs and apparel.
The palace area is a cluster of houses (which, unfortunately, were closed off when I visited). I got to see a few of the main houses despite closures. The area is similar to a large garden nestled amongst the jungle.
You can visit the gardens, water reservoir, and Ruen Peek Mai (log cabin). The log cabin is reported to be where Princess Chulabhorn resides when she visits.
Make the Journey
Travelling the roads of a steep mountain amongst a jungle is something you don’t get to do everyday. Among all the things you can do in Chiang Mai, this is a must do! You can’t come here and not do it. You’ll found a boundless amount of culture and history in every turn.