Wat a view….Doi Suthep

Wat Doi Suthep PagodaMy new Aussie mate Jen had the daughter of a best friend in from Australia and as she wanted to show the girl and her boyfriend a bit of Chaing Mai she suggested a little day trip.  Seven of us piled into a really nice roomy van with a knowledgeable driver and off we went to visit Wat Doi Suthep and the village of Ban Tawai.

From my apartment I can see Doi Suthep as it glistens golden in the sunlight atop Mount Suthep. I had wanted to visit the monastery since coming to Chiang Mai but had not managed to pull it together so I was delighted to be heading off on this outing.

View of Chiang Mai from Wat Soi Suthep

View of Chiang Mai from Wat Doi Suthep

The Wat is situated 3,500 ft above the valley on the side of Mount Suthep about 15 Km west of the city. Located in the middle of a National Park, surrounded by trees it is a perfect spot for refection and prayer. Although, it is often filled with tourist who can make it feel like a visit to the county fair.

Many of the Wat’s in South East Asia are shrouded in legend and Wat Soi Suthep is no exception. The story goes that a monk found a bone that was a Buddha relic. This bone supposedly glowed and cloned itself…splitting in two parts but the original boned stayed the same size. King Kuena, who wanted to find a suitable home for this most important of relics, tied the smaller of the two bones to the back of a sacred white elephant. The elephant wandered around finally going up the side of Mount Southep where it came to a spot it liked…after trumpeting three times, it turned around three times knelt down and died. The King being no slouch when it came to sacred signs jumped on this event like a dog on a bone…no pun intended…and immediately started work on the chedi to house the relic in 1383.

The Naga stairs at Wat Doi Suthep

The Naga stairs at Wat Doi Suthep

After taking the winding road up the side of the mountain one is let out at the foot of a wonderful Naga stairway…309 steps…leading up to the temple. The area at the base is filled with food stalls, souvenir shops and little stands selling flowers, candles and incense for offerings at the temple. If you find the idea of walking up the 309 steps daunting then a funicular ride for 20 baht is available.

The faithful walking around the Chedi with prayers and offerings

The faithful walking around the Chedi with prayers and offerings

Once up on the side of the mountain you enter an enchanted world filled with great views of the city, gardens, courtyards lined with Buddha statues and a brilliant golden pagoda housing the Buddha Relic.  Before entering the main courtyard visitors must remove their shoes and be dressed appropriately. If a woman is dressed in short shorts and a halter top…forget it. Because of the heat and casual atmosphere in South East Asia tourist often wear the most appalling outfits into the Temples and become belligerent when they are asked to leave for improper dress.

Pouring Lustral Water on the Buddha while saying prayers

Pouring Lustral Water on the Buddha while saying prayers

This being one of the holiest shrines in Northern Thailand it tends to always be busy. Pilgrims come from all over Thailand to pray and make merit. A steady stream of people was walking around the golden pagoda lotus blossoms in hand and saying prays to the Buddha on the day of my visit. I was told that at certain times of the year people will even walk up the 309 stairs on their knees in order to makes special merit….I’ll just take the funicular if you don’t mind.

Monk gives blessings at Wat Doi Suthep

Monk gives blessings at Wat Doi Suthep

I went into one temple where a monk tied a string bracelet on to my wrist and recited blessings while sprinkling me with a lot of water… for only a 20 baht note.  It must be my addiction to ritual from my Catholic upbringing that compels me to always go for the bracelet and the blessing, but it makes me feel a tiny bit holy. I wear the bracelets till they fall off or I leave them as an offering someplace like the Killing Fields in Cambodia.

There are many ways to get to the Wat…tuk tuk, taxi, or rented van but what every your transportation try to get there early to beat the crowds and avoid the crush. I think it is well worth the visit!

Next time the Village of Crafts….Ban Tawai.


About Larry Bosco

In 2010 I had one of those “Is this all there is” moments and so in January 2011 I retired from Real Estate Appraising, sold off all my worldly goods and headed out as a solo traveler in search of a new place to live. Since then I’ve traveled around the world, made new friends and had many great adventures and some not so great. After staying almost a year in Cuenca, Ecuador I have headed back to South East Asia where I began the journey in 2011. Currently I am living in Chiang Mai, Thailand
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4 Responses to Wat a view….Doi Suthep

  1. Claudia Hammer says:

    I love the dragons and the steps!

  2. Barbara Ray says:

    All that gold…and seemingly unprotected! I suppose this is what the Spanish were looking for when they sailed around the world and got stopped by the Americas.

  3. Gene and Charlie says:

    What a lovely way and place to avoid the political debates and news media on the upcoming election here. I think I will plan a trip for two months before the next election. Ugh!

  4. Regina says:

    Those undulating steps are amazing.

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