Perched high on Mount Doi Suthep is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a magnificent Buddhist temple draped in gold, also known as Doi Suthep Temple, the holiest temple in northern Thailand and one of the most sacred temples in Chiang Mai Province. Wat means temple in Thai.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a popular destination, attracting tourists and pilgrims every day. Its popularity is well deserved, and the temple complex is so vast that you won’t mind sharing the experience. In fact, the panoramic view from the top of the mountain over the city and the land below is so breathtaking that you may not even notice the crowds.
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On Top of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
To reach the top of Wat Doi Suthep Temple, you must climb the 306 elegant steps of the Naga Staircase. There is also a funicular cable car to take you to the top, and the fare is 20 baht. Nagas are dragon-like deities in Hindu and Buddhist mythology, and these sacred serpents run the length of the staircase, guarding the gates to the entrance. Although they may seem daunting at first, the foliage-covered steps and their guardians are truly one of the highlights of the visit.
When you reach the top, you will be rewarded with golden pagodas, shrines, bells, statues, holy Buddha relics and a golden chedi, one of the temple’s holiest structures. A legendary white elephant statue sits near the top of the Naga stairs. This is no ordinary elephant – it commemorates the sacred white elephant that carried the relics of the Buddha himself to the top of Doi Suthep mountain, trumpeted three times and then lay down to rest.
There are numerous areas on the temple grounds to pay respect to the shrines, kneel in prayer, and receive blessings with offerings and incense. Elder monks offer blessings to those who wish to receive them in one of the two prayer rooms that are open to the public.
The centerpiece of the experience for many visitors is the view from the summit. The view of Chiang Mai over the edge of the mountain shows the countryside spread out into the horizon, Chiang Mai city in perfect miniature, glittering at sunset like stars on earth.
Many local Thais pay homage to the Buddha image during Visakha Buchaa Buddhist Holiday.
At The Entrance of the Temple
Across the street from the temple, there are a number of delicious food stalls where you can grab a bite to eat before visiting the monastery. Options like Pad Thai, Tom Yung Kung, and even sweets like ice cream and cookies are available to keep you going.
An abundance of souvenirs is aligned among the stalls offering gifts that can last a lifetime. Handmade jackets, shirts, pants, wooden frogs, and mini statues are just a few of the many popular items you can find.
Look out for the immense golden Buddha statue that stands next to the entrance of the temple. It can be reached via a separate path and makes an ideal photo opportunity to preserve the memory of your trip to Doi Suthep Mountain.
The Story of the White Elephant
It is very difficult to know exactly when Phra That Doi Suthep was built, but legend says it was founded in 1383.
According to one of the legends, King Kuena of Chiang Mai chose a lucky White Elephant to transport an important relic of the Lord Buddha to its proper place. During a religious ceremony in which they placed the relic on the elephant’s back and made a vow, the king let the animal run free.
The elephant climbed to the west side of Suthep Mountain and stopped at the top of the mountain where there is a pagoda containing Buddha’s relic. As soon as the elephant finished its work of finding the right place for the sacred relic, it died. The pagoda and the holy relic still stand today.
This monument was erected to remind future generations of the White Elephant and the story of what happened.
Doi Suthep Temple at Night
How to Get There
From the old city of Chiang Mai, it is possible to make the trip to the temple by scooter from Huay Kaew Road, but the mountain road is windy and steep, so only choose this option if you are an experienced rider. Some cyclists even brave the ride on a bike and push their way uphill around the curves. A tour in a truck or songthaew (a red taxi truck with an open back) is the best option for travelers without their own transportation.
On the way up, you can stop at a waterfall to cool off.
You can also take the Monk Trail to reach the temple, it takes about 1.5 hours to get there and back by red taxi, a very nice day trip. Halfway to your destination, you will also find the other temple Wat Pha Lat. It’s worth it.
Arrive early to avoid the crowds, or come later in the day to watch the sunset over the mountains. Clear your schedule and be prepared to spend a few hours here. You might even catch the monks chanting, praying, or performing their daily rituals. Simply put, at any time of day, Doi Suthep will take your breath away.
Open every day from 6 am to 8 pm.
Discover this famous Doi Suthep Temple and its history with one of our local guides.
Near By the Bhubing Palace
Bhubing Palace is the royal winter residence in Chiang Mai. The royal family stays there when they visit Chiang Mai, and it is only about 6 km from Wat Doi Suthep. To enter the palace, there is an entrance fee of 50 baht. You must be dressed appropriately, cover your shoulders and wear pants before entering the site.
There are several buildings here. The teak pavilion, the fern garden, the log cabin where the royal princess lives seasonally, and a two-story royal guest house are the main seasonal buildings. The gardens contain many flowers, including roses, and are well landscaped, manicured, clean and peaceful. Each building has its own sign indicating its purpose. It takes about an hour and a half to explore them.
Temples in the Area
Learn more about Chiang Mai Temples