Keen on witnessing the best vantage point in Chiang Mai, Thailand we hopped on a red sangthaew and made our way up Mount Doi Suthep to visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Buddhist Temple (วัดพระธาตุดอยสุเทพ).
Our party of eight shuffled into the back of a Red Sangthaew (Thai transportation truck) and made our way up the serpentine road leading to Doi Suthep temple. Peering out the back of the truck as we ascended the mountain, I spotted Thais whizzing past us on crammed motorbikes with as many as three passengers on one seat. The ease at which locals were making their way up the temple was in stark contrast to how our party was faring as we grabbed tightly onto the passenger railing trying our best not to vomit given the excessive fumes being emitted from our vehicle in tandem with the constant back and forth motion of truck on the winding road.
After 15 minutes of shifting back and forth we finally made a stop at the first lookout point located roughly half way up the mountain. Traipsing past Thai ladies selling trinkets and refreshments we witnessed our first unobstructed views of Chiang Mai; however, unfortunately, a combination of morning haze and clouds prevented us from seeing much aside from a a few select buildings.
Upon reaching the top of the mountain we began our climb up 309 steps to reach Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple. Immediately, I couldn’t help but notice the hoards of tourists – especially Chinese vacationers – visiting this temple situated high atop of the mountain. I’m not sure why I expected differently but I had envisioned a quaint temple on top of a mountain with very few visitors. Immediately, I found myself having to recalibrate my expectations to correspond with reality.
This popular Theravada Buddhist temple was built in 1383; however a road was not constructed to temple until 1935. The origins of the temple remains a mystery to this day. Legend has it that a white elephant climbed up Doi Suthep (at the time called Doi Aoy Chang (Sugar Elephant Mountain)) trumpeting three times before passing away at the site. This significant event was interpreted as a sign and King Nu Naone immediately ordered the construction of a chedi.
Wandering around the perimeter areas of the temple wasn’t particularly impressive. Aside from it being overcrowded, the exterior of the Wat was very ordinary and typical of other ‘free’ and easily accessible temples dotted all over Chiang Mai; however, once I removed my footwear inside the interior section, I was treated to more impressive statues, bells, shrines and the spectacle of locals praying (both walking and sitting down) around the courtyard area.
Our goal of witnessing spectacular views of Chiang Mai remained elusive as the weather conditions had not changed since our first vantage point.
Overall, visiting Doi Suthep temple was an inexpensive way to spend one of our final mornings in Chiang Mai. It would not be one of the top attractions in Chiang Mai I’d recommend for visitors with scarce time in the city; however, for those with ample time it is worth checking out.
Located just 15 kilometers from the old quarter of Chiang Mai, Doi Suthep can be easily reached by Red Sangthaew. Our group of eight paid 800 Baht total (100 per person) for our driver to take us up the mountain (30 minute drive), wait for us for two hours and bring us back into the city center. Overall, I thought this was excellent value. To visit the temple you’ll need to pay 30 Baht per person unless – of course- you’re a Thai national.
If I had to do it over again, I would suggest heading to the temple earlier (or later in the day) to beat/avoid the crowds. An interesting alternative to taking shared transportation up the mountain, for those who are fit, would be to climb it! Apparently, it takes close to three hours.
This morning we’re venturing up to Doi Suthep and there is a temple atop the mountain overlooking Chiang Mai, so we’re going to be taking a red songthaew to get there and hopefully the views of the city will be amazing.
Here is the songthaew crew! Say hi! Hi! We’re going to Doi Suthep. Woo Hoo!
We just got out of the vehicle and this is our first vantage point. Unfortunately, it is still a bit hazy outside, so we don’t have a great view at the moment. But the city is there somewhere.
The long climb begins. I’m not entirely sure how many steps we have to go but I know it is going to be a long way. I think there is over three hundred.
Ideally you should be able to see the views of Chiang Mai from up here but today it is just really hazy, so there is a cloud hanging over the city. We can’t really see much, which is unfortunate.
That concludes our visit to Doi Suthep. It is definitely different than what I expected. I was kind of expecting this quaint little temple on top of a hill and instead it is an extremely popular tourist attraction. It is really crowded over here.
I would say the exterior of Doi Suthep is quite similar to a lot of the other Wats we have visited here in Chiang Mai. However, the highlight for me was actually going inside the temple because there is a courtyard with a golden stupa and you can walk around light candles and there is incense burning, so that was a great experience.
Would you be interested in visiting Doi Suthep Temple? Have you been before? Do you agree with our assessment of the experience? What are some of your favorite Buddhist temples in Thailand? Please let me know in the comments section below: