Wat Phra That Doi Suthep / Chiang Mai, Thailand
High up in the mountains overlooking the city of Chiang Mai, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of Northern Thailand’s most sacred temples. Legend tells that the temple was founded in 1383 by King Keu Naone, who upon being presented with a magical relic by a wandering monk placed it upon the back of a sacred white elephant before setting it free to wander the jungle. The elephant made its way to the top of Doi Suthep mountain, and once there trumpeted three times before laying down to die. This was considered an omen by the king, and he immediately set to work constructing the temple on that very spot. The magical relic is said to be the shoulder bone of the Buddha, and the golden chedi in the center of the complex now houses this precious treasure.
We had planned to visit the temple in the morning, but as we chatted to the owner of the hotel we were staying at about our plans she advised us to wait until a little later in the evening. She explained that it would be much quieter at this time and that if we were able to stay until around 6:00pm we would also be able to watch the monks doing their evening chanting and rituals. So, with this in mind we spent the morning wandering around the city and having a relaxed lunch, before hailing down a songthaew to take us the 30 minute ride out of town.
The journey along the winding mountain road up to the temple was a bit of an unplanned experience in itself. As we climbed higher and higher the mist gradually began to descend, and we slid around in the back of the songthaew, holding on for dear life, as our driver sped around the bends in the now thick fog. Once we finally arrived at the base of the site, and thankfully in one piece, we made our way up the 309 steps to the temple, flanked by two beautiful naga statues snaking alongside us on the stairway either side.
As we reached the top, a little out of breath, we wandered around the walkway encircling the golden chedi to take in the sights. We were worried the misty air would ruin the views we had heard so much about, but as we approached the terrace overlooking the city it took our breath away. The view across the city from up here is worth the journey alone, and the mist only seemed to add an extra layer of magic to it. We stood and watched as clouds floated by below us, and heavy fog rolled down the mountainside, and for a moment it felt like we were on top of the world.
As the sun began to set we heard the chiming of bells and soon the sound of rhythmic chanting grew louder and filled the air. We sat down on the steps outside of the shrine and quietly listened until it became dark. The sound was almost hypnotic and strangely moving, it left both of us feeling a little emotional and very thankful to have been able to experience it.
If you plan to visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, I would urge you to take the same advice we were given and head over in the late afternoon around 3:00 or 4:00pm. It was an incredible experience to see the monks performing their evening routines and the gleaming golden temple looks even more magical once the sun goes down.