An enchanting temple on a hill with monks chanting at sunset right before the temple is lit up with hundred of lights as the sun sets over Chiang Mai. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a temple experience quite like no other I’ve experienced in Thailand.
Getting There: catch a Songthaew from outside the Old city on the main roads that encircle it for ฿20 or do as I did and hire a bike and drive their yourself for ฿150
Costs: ฿50 Entrance fee for the temple
Suggested Times: open 6.30am -6.30pm you can easily spend a couple of hours here. For peace and quiet head here early in the morning or to watch the monks in action head here for sunset. It’ll be busier at sunset, but you’ll see the monks chanting and the temple lit up at night is stunning.
Additional Information: this is a pilgrimage site and as such should be treated with respect, make sure to wear appropriate clothing covering your shoulder and knees.
I’d heard about Doi Suthep before I arrived in Chiang Mai but wasn’t entirely sure what all the fuss was about, I’d seen many temples throughout my travels and was wondering if another temple was worth the visit. Despite my pecimmism I hired a bike to drive up to the national park and check the temple out for myself; it was such a great decision!
Jumping on my motorbike in Chiang Mai I started the journey out of town along route 1004, meandering through the traffic past a couple of shopping malls and markets on the way out of town I wasn’t too enthused by the drive, then suddenly the road opened up as I entered the national park, the traffic disappeared and the glorious mountain roads presented themselves. This quickly became one of my favorite motorbike rides in Thailand, the journey up to Doi Suthep was for me almost as good as the temple itself, the roads are perfectly paved, twisting and turning around lush green forest as your climb the mountain and experience jaw dropping views across Chiang Mai.
Doi Suthep Temple was constructed by King Kuena in 1386 and according to legend the site was mysteriously chosen by a white elephant. The story goes that an ancient relic multiplied itself before being enshrined at a temple in central Chiang Mai, unable to decide what to do with it the King placed the relic in a portable shrine on the back of a White Elephant, allowing the elephant to decide where it should remain permanently. The elephant trekked to the top of Doi Suthep mountain, trumpeted three times and then laid down to die, this would be where the temple would be built.
The drive takes about 45 minutes, where you’ll arrive at the base of Doi Suthep Temple and see rows of small market shops and a set of stairs leading up to the temple. The staircase consists of 300 stairs flanked by 16th century Naga (Snakes) figurines, however if you don’t have the energy to climb the stairs there is a lift of sorts that can take you up to the top for ฿20, although the queues tend to be quite long if you’re there at sunset.
I chose to climb the stairs, which wasn’t too difficult a climb (you’ll quickly get used to climbing stairs to reach temples in Thailand) the reason being that the journey to the temple is meant to be an arduous one to demonstrate your dedication to Buddha. Incidentally this is nothing in comparison to what it used to be as until 1935 when over 1000 volunteers from local communities constructed the road the trek was a 5 hour one from the base of the mountain, luckily we now have a beautifully paved road to get up there!
Arriving at the top to the lower terrace the temple is to the left where you’ll be greeted with magnificent views across the whole of Chiang Mai. Once you’ve enjoyed the views take your shoes off and wander into the temple itself, after climbing a small set of stairs the temple opens out to present an enormous gold gilded Chedi. If you’ve arrived late afternoon like I did you can not only enjoy the sunset but at around 6pm the monks will start chanting and lead a prayer. This in itself was an incredible experience, as the monks started with the thundering sound of a gong all of the locals bent to their knees and listened intently, I watched in awe as there is something spiritually awakening about watching monks chanting.
Once the Monks had finished their evening prayers the temple burst into light, which is well worth hanging around for. The photos you can get of the temple all lit up with the pitch black sky in the background are phenomenal. There will still be many tourists and visitors at this time of night, but the views and experience are worth it.
Watch my YouTube VLOG about my experience at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple Below!