Chiang Mai’s Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep Temple
When I first clapped eyes on the sheer amount of steps between me and Chiang Mai’s Doi Suthep temple I prayed to Jesus Christ, Wonderful Wi’s Lord Buddha and any other divine being or infinite spirit who might be in earshot that Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep (วัดพระธาตุดอยสุเทพ) had a knee rehabilitation clinic at the top.
I had half expected to find scattered human bones from defeated mountaineers on my climb to Chiang Mai’s magnificent Buddhist temple perched high in the mountains just 15 kilometres outside of northern Thailand’s cultural city. Instead, I passed puffing and wheezing western tourists whilst I tried desperately to stay in the slipstream of Thai senior citizens who were striding energetically up to the mountain’s summit.
When I did finally scale the many hundreds of steps (309) it was truly worth every cruciate ligament click and puff on my ventolin inhaler. And I’m sure I saw Sir Roger Bannister, or at least a very good look-a-like, collapsed in a heap on the crown of Chiang Mai’s famous mountain.
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep Temple – Chiang Mai
Wilai and myself visited Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep on the last leg of one of two day tours we booked whilst staying in Chiang Mai last month and it was the one place in the region I particularly wanted to see. In one of my recent posts First Time in Chiang Mai I briefly touched on our trip to Doi Suthep and gave a little background to how it came about. Here’s the extract from that post.
‘Wat Doi Suthep’s location was chosen by a white elephant sent into the jungle carrying a relic of the Lord Buddha on its back. The elephant climbed Doi Aoy Chang (Sugar Elephant Mountain) and when it reached the top it circled an area, trumpeted three times, then collapsed and died. King Nu Naone of the Lanna Kingdom interpreted the act as a sign from Lord Buddha and ordered a temple to be constructed there. The mountain is now called Doi (mountain) Suthep.’
The short story above about the origin of Wat Doi Suthep dates back to 1383 and today, 628 more years down Chiang Mai’s cultural road, the temple is a big tourist attraction to both Thais and westerners alike, and a place which is more than worthy of the steep and energy sapping climb it takes to reach it.
Wat Doi Suthep’s centrepiece copper-plated chedi pictured on the right is housed within a square area which parades pagodas, Buddha statues, mural paintings and an assembly area where monks (or maybe a public class) sit silently in meditation.
The chedi (a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics) has a giant umbrella on all four corners and visiting Buddhists circle the chedi three times in a clockwise direction carrying flowers, joss sticks and prayer sheets. Each circuit of the chedi represents one of the Three Jewels of Buddhism, those being the three things most Buddhists hold precious in life. The Buddha, dhamma and sangha.
I inadvertently got on the end of the procession thinking it was heading somewhere and after my first circuit I realised my error and exited the chedi at the next corner and took refuge under one of the giant pit lane umbrellas. I put it down to being ‘tyre-d’ after climbing all those steps.
The chedi is 16 metres in height and 12 meters in diameter. One square circuit is probably close to 75 metres and there was a constant stream of Thais joining the procession.
Below are a few more pictures I took at Wat Doi Suthep.
The temple and its grounds have been subject to much renovation work over its long history and all structures, statues and artefacts were in excellent condition.
In 1935 an access road was built to the temple but before that a long trek through a jungle trail was undertaken in order to reach Wat Doi Suthep. The road has paid dividends with hordes of both Thai and western visitors to the temple each day. The photograph above is from Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep overlooking Chiang Mai city.
There’s someone I recognise. Young Wilai. No doubt she’s asking for winning lottery numbers, a better paid job for me, and hopefully a successful football season for Crewe Alexandra FC. Wilai, was that FC or KFC I heard you whisper.
This photograph is 100% proof that mothers are better looking than sons. You wouldn’t want to meet the blighter on the right on a dark night.
The entrance fee to the temple was 30 baht (included in my day tour fee) and free for Thais. Wat Doi Suthep is open seven days a week from six in the morning to eight at night. Weekends are rumoured to be very busy.
They say you’ve got to be in it to win it and I’m proud to say I was. Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep certainly ‘won’ me over.
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Martyn, I was going to say that you’d NEVER get me to walk those steps up to the Wat but then I remembered. I have walked to the top. And I’d like to say that I didn’t struggle at all but then I’d be lying. Totally.
Btw – great post. You are getting really good at writing travel posts so megga kudos to you!
Catherine the 309 steps are quite a hike especially in Thailand’s oppressive May heat. I did quite surprise myself at how easily I climbed to the top. Maybe Thailand will make a movie to rival Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps.
Thanks for the positive review but I don’t think any Temples of Thailand association are going to post a travel review contract through my front door.
Martyn great account of your adventure. I have been once and yes as I remember it was tiring. Will be going back next week no doubt when I am in CM since your excellent photos remind me I need to refresh the rather tired looking ones I have.
Although I didn’t know the story of the elephant last time I went I had heard it since. Perhaps the elephant had been drinking Chang before setting out on its epic trek, which is certainly not recommended for any potential modern day mountaineers.
Mike thanks for your glowing review. The photos aren’t too bad at all considering my camera is a £99 range one. The secret with it is not to let your hands shake too much. That means laying off the booze a bit or having a few extra to steady the hands. The latter every time.
The elephant story is a nice one, very typical of Thailand’s rich cultural past.
You and your camera are going to have a lot of fun at Wat Doi Suthep. I look forward to your post and pictures.
Martyn the steps aren’t too bad if you’re climbing by yourself…Golf and I just returned from CM and we made the trip to Doi Suthep to give thanks for the birth of our darling little daughter. Of course we brought said daughter along and can you imagine climbing those steps carrying a 12kg 1 year old? Hahaha…I was sweating profusely and huffing a bit by the time we made it to the top, but we did make it. And the walk up the steps was vastly better than the 21 hour plane trip with Alivia in tow, but that’s another story 🙂
Steve that’s some trek you made carrying Alivia up those 309 steps but I can imagine the satisfaction you felt when reaching the top and your ultimate goal. I’d go up and down ten times rather than face a 21 hour plane journey.
Hi Martyn, I’ve been up there a few times. The first time I went there was during my drinking days. This trip turned to disappointment when I discovered there was no bar on top. During later sober visits I was able to appreciate it a lot better.
Paul anyone with alcohol in them tackling the climb to Wat Doi Suthep is going to sweat buckets making it to the top. Luckily for me I hadn’t had a drink that day but boy I could have done with one when I reached the top. I really enjoyed the trip there.
I agree with Catherine, more travel stories, please, Martyn. But like the ventolin, don’t leave the jokes at home.
I made it to the top of those steps a long time ago, and puffed a lot even then. Now I rely on youngsters like you to tell me about life at the top.
Lawrence I’ve a couple more travel posts up my sleeve but when I get round to writing them heaven knows.
If I make it back to Chiang Mai, which I should some day, then I’d like to go back to Wat Doi Suthep but in private hire transport and spend a bit longer there. It’s an impressive place.
I loved that climb up the 309 steps – from here! 🙂
Adullamite if Showaddywaddy (that’s going back a long while) had visited Chiang Mai their famous song would have been renamed 309 Steps to heaven.
Hmmmmm. Can’t say that I can sympathize with the steps, although I do like a good slipping into a slipstream story.
Imagine the people who walk that everyday!!!!
Lani there were some sprightly old Thai souls legging it up those steps, some were too fast for me.
I imagine someone (or two) must clean the steps everyday, they must have thighs like a weightlifter.
Martyn, what gets me is that at some Thai temples you huff and puff up steep stairs, only to find a parking lot at the top! So these days I hold out for the easy tour…
Catherine I’ve been lucky enough not to experience the parking lot experience…so far.
At Wat Doi Suthep I loved the view looking down on Chiang Mai city even though there was rain and mist doing its best to shield it. That view was worth the effort of climbing all those steps.
Wow, 309 steps, I don’t know if these old knees could take it. It definitely looks like a nice place to check out if I ever make it up to Chiang Mai. It looks like a pretty busy place up on that mountain, is it real touristy with a lot of people?
Lawrence Michaels – Wat Doi Suthep is worth checking out and yes it is a real busy place. It’s visited mainly by Thais but there are also plenty of westerners about. A fantastic place to see.
Martyn, you’re a braver man than I. I’m sure I took the funicular when I visited, only because I can’t remember the climb…so, I must have. Wat Doi Suthep is where Stray and I first discovered which is our birth Buddha. Not surprisingly, his is the reclining one 😉
Snap to be honest I didn’t even notice a funicular at Wat Doi Suthep otherwise I probably would have used it. Nevertheless I felt pleased when I made it to the top in a relatively fit state.
I think most Thais Buddha’s are the reclining one.