We were told by a local here that if you don’t go visit Wat Prah That Doi Suthep then you really never even came to Chiang Mai.
We decided to use our last day in the city to go explore the temple on top of the mountain. Man, are we glad we did! Something about this place moved me to really have a better understanding and appreciation for Thailand and the things this temple represent.
Here’s a little history:
“According to a popular version of the legend a monk from Sukhothai was in possession of a relic believed to be a shoulder bone of The Buddha. This relic was believed to have magical powers and was sacred because it was apparently the real bone of Buddha. Legend has it that in order to decide where to build the temple, a white elephant needed to be set free to roam around and wherever it died would be the landmark where the temple would be built. To choose the location for the new temple, the relic was placed on the back of a sacred white elephant that was then set free to go where ever it wanted. The elephant climbed up Doi Suthep mountain and just before it arrived at the top, it trumpeted three times and died. This was taken as a sign that this was the place to build a temple to house the relic.”
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We hired a red truck driver to take us up the mountain and wait for us while we explored. It only cost us 600 bhat ($17 USD) and we were allowed to take as much time as we wanted. One down side to Thailand is the roads and how we aren’t used to the way they drive here. For starters, they drive on the opposite side of the road than we do but there are also hardly any traffic lights and people cut off other people left and right. There’s really no such thing as merging either. It’s more like just drive into traffic and hope that you don’t get into an accident. This is the same for crossing the street! We kind of just have to run in the middle of the road and hope the cars and scooters slow down. Driving up a winding road in the back of a truck had us both feeling sick. It took about 40 minutes from our hostel to the top and our driver was even kind enough to walk us up to the temple entrance. We had two options, take the lift (sideways elevator) or walk up the hand built 306 staircase. We opted for the lift!
Upon arrival we bought our temple tickets and lift pass as a combo for 50 bhat ( $1.50 USD). Not bad at all to visit an extremely famous and important temple. We took the lift up and when it opened we were both in awe of how big the place was. We stopped to take our shoes off because feet are considered the dirtiest part of the body here and you are asked to take your shoes off before entering places. We spent a good hour walking around the outside of the temple admiring all handcrafted details of the buildings. There is now way I can even begin to describe how beautiful it is. We rang the meditation bells and saw an amazing view of Chiang Mai city from above. It was a tad cloudy so we weren’t able to fully enjoy the view but it was still a beautiful sight to see. We were looking down on the area of town where our hostel was located.
The amount of things to see at this temple were endless. Buddha images and carvings everywhere. Emerald Buddha statues and gold carvings of different Buddha images. Dragons lining stairways and buddist monks practicing their work in mini shrine areas. We witnessed a monk receiving offerings of money and thanking people by wrapping white string around their wrists. How lucky are we that we got to spend the day on top of a mountain at one of the most sacred places in the city.
We finally decided to enter into the actual temple where we got a taste of how symbolic this place is for the locals. There was an area where you could buy flowers & candles as offerings and then you proceed to the prayer circle. This essentially is a square where locals walk around a large gold statue and chant a prayer in Thai. We didn’t partake as we felt it would be disrespectful because we didn’t fully understand what was going on. So we just watched and admired what was happening. We passed an area where a reclining Buddha is located and watched as people kneeled down, lit candles and prayed. It was adorable watching a mother teach her young child what to do and showed him how to place his candle on the candle stick post. We spent quite some time inside the temple walking around and checking out all of the carvings and statues. I kid you not, there must have been at least 300 different Buddha statues and each set is changed our each day because they all represent something different. Temples rely on offerings to keep up with everything so as you walk around you will see coins in the hands of some of the Buddha. I found a beautiful gold one and offered a few bhat as a thank you. We got to see the famous white elephant carving which is extremely symbolic (refer to the history above). They also had coffee shops within the grounds which I thought was kind of cool because coffee if a big thing here.
We took the lift back down and found the biggest monk statue I’ve ever seen! We both decided to light some incense and say a little thank you as an offering in front of the monk. This was a cool moment for me because up until then I hadn’t felt comfortable in joining in on any of the religious stuff but being here for 2 weeks now and having time to learn about everything, I felt it was okay because it finally meant something.
Our driver was so kind to wait for us on a bench outside of the temple grounds and even let us to a little shopping at the vendors on our walk back to the taxi truck. The ride back down the mountain was worse that riding up and Christina and I both got sick, again. Once we returned to our hostel we took some time to relax before heading out to find some street food and explore the Sunday night market. We had to prepare ourselfs for our early flight the next morning so we talked to our hosts at our hostel about checking out early. The husband offered to come into the office early to check us out and even give us a ride to the airport, for an extra fee of course. Now that we had all of that set up we were able to go out and enjoy our very last night in Chiang Mai.
The night market was not too far from where we were staying and we were able to finish up all of our shopping for the trip! We also found a section of street food and decided to grab a few things to share. I don’t think I’ve talked much about the food here but it’s so good! Street food is the equivalent of food vendors you see on River Street during events. These vendors are way cheaper! We’re talking just 30-50 bhat for food ($0.50-$2.00 USD). Christina and I have been sharing everything! When we go to a restaurant we order 2 meals but share them so we can experience all kinds of food. Choosing street food helps to save a little on money but is also well worth it because it’s usually really good!
We tried to go to bed early and we were up at 4am to meet our host in the lobby for check out. He drove us 15 minutes to the airport where we went through the smallest security booth I’ve ever seen! This airport is very small and a lot different than what I am used to. Our flight left at 6:20 to head south to Phuket, the biggest island in Thailand. We ended up arriving a half hour earlier than expected but we were able to grab a taxi and drive maybe 30 minutes southeast to our hotel! Yes, an actual hotel! Since it’s around Valentine’s Day and we’re 2 weeks into our trip we wanted to treat ourselves to a nice hotel so we had time to relax.
We couldn’t check in when we got there but they were kind enough to let us leave our bags in a closet while we walked around the town.
Want to know how we got upgraded to a deluxe room with flowers all over our bed? Be on the look out for my next post where I’ll talk about our first 2 days in Phuket and our royal treatment.