Visiting Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple in Chiang Mai

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).


Introduction

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.

Hazy views of Chiang Mai from Doi Suthep

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.

Dog sitting down on the steps leading up to Doi Suthep Temple

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.

Cute girls dressed up posing with a guy who paid money for the photo opportunity

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.

A key chain beside a golden bell at Doi Suthep Temple

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.

Golden

Our goal of witnessing spectacular views of Chiang Mai remained elusive as the weather conditions had not changed since our first vantage point.

Mother and son banging on the bells at Doi Suthep

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.

A lady praying with flowers in front of her hands at Doi Suthep

Logistics:

Construction going on at Doi Suthep Temple

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.

A close up shot of of the hands

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.

A reclining golden Buddha at Doi Suthep Temple

Video Script:

The impressive golden Wat Doi Suthep Temple

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.

Men praying at Doi Suthep Temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand

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.

Three people praying at Doi Suthep Temple

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.

A monk walking down one of the 309 steps leading down from Doi Suthep Temple

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:

Family and friends waiting to visit Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Visiting Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Maria January 25, 2014 at 2:30 pm

I hear birds, bells, and children laughing.
I smell incense, feel the breeze and have to shield my eyes as I take in all that shimmers. Beautiful shots of such a special place.

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Samuel Jeffery January 25, 2014 at 5:53 pm

Thanks Maria!

I was fortunate enough to visit with just a few days left in Chiang Mai :)

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Heather January 25, 2014 at 3:41 pm

I actually loved this temple! (Having lived in Shanghai for two years, I am very used to hordes of Chinese tourists.) We went early in the day and had a lovely view of the city, without any haze. I could have spent hours up there, soaking it all in. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it as much as I did!

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Samuel Jeffery January 25, 2014 at 5:54 pm

That’s great Heather! The views (one a clear day) must have been spectacular. I’d really like to try hiking up someday :)

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Ruann (Solo Travel Uncut) January 25, 2014 at 5:21 pm

Ah, there’s something inside me that always wish no one else knew about these kind of temples. The crowds just usually spoil it a bit. But, a temple a hike is always worth it nonetheless. Glad you guys shared the video.

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Samuel Jeffery January 25, 2014 at 5:55 pm

Thanks Ruann,

I agree with you. Hiking up would be a great way to appreciate the views even more.

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Mike January 25, 2014 at 5:28 pm

They couldn’t install an escalator next to those steps? I’m kidding. I have not yet traveled abroad like you two are enjoying but I’m sure learning so much about where I wish to go and not go. Samuel, are those ringing bells in any way comparable to prayer wheels?

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Samuel Jeffery January 25, 2014 at 5:56 pm

Hey Mike,

I believe the ringing bells have a similar function as the prayer wheels :)

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Joanne Joseph January 26, 2014 at 2:53 am

I think I enjoyed my visit more than you did. I visited last November with a group of 14. The visit to this temple was just a part of our day. We opted to take the cable car to the top instead of hiking up all those steps. Much easier :). Here is a link to my pictures from that day if you are interested. http://wp.me/p3qZvN-HD

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Samuel Jeffery January 29, 2014 at 4:04 pm

That’s great Joanne! The cable car would have made it a lot easier getting up :) Thanks for sharing your photos as well!

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Laura @Travelocafe January 26, 2014 at 12:16 pm

One more amazing temple in Chiang Mai. Such a lovely post. And the videos are getting better and better.

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Samuel Jeffery January 29, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Thanks Laura! We’re still having fun making them ;)

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Jeff McNeill January 26, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Is this even a real post? Thais three-to-a-seat? You can see that everywhere, and four to a seat is an everyday scene. No views until the top? Not quite! There are several lookouts. Exterior of the temple similar to others? Not even! No pictures of you or your girlfriend? This smells of fraud. In any case you clearly have not real understanding of Thai culture. So definitely not a “culture vulture”.

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Samuel Jeffery January 26, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for trolling on my site this afternoon.

Well, I’ve seen five on a seat before with a dog. Does that impress you? How about a cookie?

Several lookout points? If you watched the video we posted you’d realize we stopped at them.

No pictures of us – well, once again if you had of taken the time to watch the video placed at the top of the post you’d see our faces.

Fraud? You may want to look-up that term in the dictionary. You don’t appear to have a strong grasp of the English language:

“wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.”

I may not be a ‘culture vulture’ but you’re certainly a troll. Have a nice day :)

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James January 28, 2014 at 9:48 am

You must be a hit at parties…

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James January 28, 2014 at 9:49 am

^^ NOTE: That was aimed at Jeff, not you Sam :P

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Samuel Jeffery January 29, 2014 at 4:08 pm

I bet he’s swinging from the chandelier ;)

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Rashad Pharaon January 26, 2014 at 1:21 pm

A great in-depth look at a great temple. Thanks guys, it can be hard to distinguish where to begin with so many temples and wats in Chiang Mai.

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Samuel Jeffery January 29, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Thanks Rashad,

There are A LOT of temples in Chiang Mai. This is definitely one of the more unique ones to visit :)

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Cheryl Howard January 26, 2014 at 6:32 pm

How beautiful! Great photos and the one of that dog is cute. :)

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Samuel Jeffery January 29, 2014 at 4:11 pm

Thanks Cheryl,

Lots of cute dogs there ;)

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Karisa January 26, 2014 at 10:07 pm

I loved visiting Wat Doi Suthep and I recommend it to all of my friends visiting Chiang Mai. The only complaint I had was that you can only get there by red songtaow or by renting a bike. I split a songtaow with a German man (Just the 2 of us-low season) and it still cost us 800 baht total.

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Samuel Jeffery January 29, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Oooh, that is expensive. That is what our entire group of 8 paid.

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Anna McPherson January 31, 2014 at 11:41 pm

Hi Sam
Seems your experience was much like the one we had three years ago. The hoards of tourists (us included!) was quite overwhelming, and the trinket selling was a little bit in your face for such a seemingly serene environment.
We decided to walk back to town from the top, and managed to find ourselves beside a stream, where monks robes were strewn across the rocky outcrop. It was quite a funny sight. Ending up somewhere at the back of the zoo, we grabbed a red bus back for the final stretch, as we were desperate for a soothing ale.
Thanks for sharing :)

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Brian February 2, 2014 at 5:04 am

We did the hike to the top a few weeks ago. Takes about two hours and is indeed very vertical. There is another wat halfway up that is nestled in the mountain with great views that we enjoyed more than Doi Suthep. Kind of difficult to get hiking directions but Rob at Spicythai hostel can get you a solid hand drawn map!

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