Wat Doi Suthep, The Golden Topped Mountain
Perched high above the bustling city, the temple of Doi Suthep serenely sits. A perfect escape from the busy city life.
Chiang Mai is famous for the ancient pagodas dotted around the old city. No doubt if you’ve spent any time in Chiang Mai, you will have been to a temple (or four!). You might feel like you’ve seen one, seen them all… but don’t miss out on this stunning monument.
An exhilarating road winds and climbs its way out of the city for roughly 45 minutes. The meandering curves and jungle scenery make for a fun ride whether in your own or public transport. The time spent traveling is worth it when you reach Doi Suthep Temple. You’ll be greeted with ancient stories, golden temples and serene monks.
Making the Climb
Legend claims that the King of Chiang Mai sent an ancient Buddhist relic into the jungle on the back of his White Elephant. The elephant climbed and climbed until eventually he reached the summit of Doi Suthep. After this, he refused to move until the King built the temple on the same spot. So, in 1383 the temple was built.
Nowadays the first thing you’ll notice upon arrival will be steps. Lots of steps. They were originally built in 1557, all 306 of them. Fiercely guarded by huge Naga serpents, the steps provide plenty of photo opportunities so you won’t be short of spots to catch your breath! However, if you can’t or don’t want to use the steps there’s a nearby funicular lift that can shuttle you to the top for around 20 Baht.
The Golden Temple
When entering the temple, one of the first things you’ll come across will be a statue in homage to the White Elephant. After making the climb yourself you’ll be kindred spirits! Shortly afterwards, under a sacred Bodhi tree, stands a small hermit statue believed to grant offers of good luck.
As you make your way through the entrance buildings into the main courtyard you’ll catch your first glimpse of the Golden Pagoda. Prepare to have your breath taken away. The 52-foot golden structure is mesmerizingly beautiful. Golden leaf is regularly attached to it by devotees as an offering to the gods, as well as being a symbol of devotion.
This is a fully functioning temple so expect to come across orange clad monks going about their daily routines and rituals without much care for the passing tourists. If you’re lucky you can sit and listen to their melodic chanting which adds to the atmosphere.
Take your time as you move around the temple complex and admire the stunning views down the mountain across Chiang Mai. There are many different small pagodas and temple rooms. We’d highly recommend that you stay in the temple area for dusk. As the sun sets the town lights up and makes for some picturesque photo opportunities.
Getting Up the Mountain
If you’ve hired scooters or a car the journey up is straightforward, just take your time with the unfamiliar road and hairpin corners. Sharing or hiring a red Songthaew is an easy way to make the ascent, it’s inexpensive and convenient.
Feeling particularly athletic? Then you can walk or cycle up the mountain. There are various trails to walk up, most cyclists stick to the road. We’d leave at least a day if you’re planning on embarking using leg power!
Dress code is important, this is a working temple after all. This means covering up your shoulders and legs to the knee. Avoid low cut tops and remember to remove your shoes at the entrance. Carrying a lightweight sarong is a simple way to keep cool whilst also being respectful. If you don’t own one, outside almost every temple in Thailand there will be souvenir shops who will gleefully sell you one.
Doi Suthep Insider Tip
Doi Suthep isn’t all about the temple at the top. Continue further up the mountain and you’ll find many other great sights. The fascinating Bhubing Palace (the still used, royal winter residence) is worth a trip and is complete with beautiful orchid gardens.
Even further on and you’ll reach the Doi Pui Hmong Village. This local village follows the traditional Hmong way of life and is a great stop for an incredibly tasty lunch. Have a look in the traditional clothing shops. Be wary of touts offering freshly cut “diamonds” from Burma…