Wat Doi Suthep is probably Chiang Mai’s best known tourist attraction for both Thai and foreign visitors. This is a temple on a large mountain near Chiang Mai, called Doi Suthep, where you get great views of the city.
Like Wat Phra Gaew (The Golden Temple) inside the Royal Palace in Bangkok, this temple has a central area inside a walled square with various shrines and central chedi (pagoda like structure) covered in gold leaf. You must remove your shoes before you enter this inner temple.
Painted on the inside walls, there is a fantastic mural depicting the story of Hanuman, the monkey god. In Thai mythology Hanuman (a god worshipped by Indian Hindus) was the founder of the Thai nation defeating the enemies of the Thai people and enabling the Thai people to achieve nationhood.
What Wat Doi Suthep is best known for, however, is the magnificent 400 step staircase leading up to the inner temple. Two huge nagas (mythical dragon like serpents) form balustrades on either side of the staircase.
The reward for climbing all these stairs is an unrivalled vantage point over the Chiang Mai valley. Do not worry if think you might have difficulties in tackling this many steps, there is a funicular railway right beside the staircase that takes you right to the top.
Wat Doi Suthep is a place of worship
Wat Doi Suthep is an important place of worship for Thai Buddhists with many of the locals visiting on a Sunday for this reason.
There is no requirement to be a Buddhist to join in the worship and many people of other faiths have adopted aspects of the Buddhist religion into their own beliefs. One of the acts of worship Thai people engage in is walking around the central chedi clockwise 7 times. The custom is to purchase a lotus flower and incense stick (20 THB each) and hold them between your hands in a prayer position whilst you slowly walk around the chedi. After 7 circuits the incense stick is left in the sand buckets which surround the shrine.
Bells along the outer wall
Another act of worship is to ring the bells which surround the outer courtyard. There are 108 of these, a 108 being a significant number in Buddhism (it is the number of different types defilement or ‘sins’ a person can commit, as well as number signifying spiritual completion).
At the entrance/exit way to the outer temple you find a large gong. The challenge is to make the gong ‘sing’ by rubbing the large nipple in the centre of the gong in a circular motion. Do not be tempted to bang this gong – it’s cheating and disrespectful.
Travel To Wat Doi Suthep
Wat Doi Suthep is located about 30 minutes drive north of Chiang Mai in the Doi Suthep National Park. You pass by the zoo on the way, which is about 2 km out of town, and many people combine a visit to the zoo with a trip to Wat Doi Suthep.
The road to Wat Doi Suthep climbs steeply through the mountains with panoramic views over Chiang Mai along the way. There are a number of viewpoints where you can park and take photographs.
Shared songthaew taxi
A songthaew is a converted pick-up with two benches and a metal roof. Red Songthaews ply the route starting at Pratu Chang Phuak (White Elephant Gate), which is one of the four gates to the old city. Pratu Chang Phuak is the East gate. The Songthaews depart when enough customers turn up to fill the car. The cost is 100 to 150 THB per person. Sunday is a good day to catch a shared songthaew as there tends to be more Thai people going up to the Temple to worship and to the zoo on the way.
A private car, or privately rented songthaew, should cost between 400 and 600 THB for the return journey including the cost of stops along the way.