Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is a beautiful Theravada Buddhist temple that crowns Suthep mountain, right here in Chiang Mai. I have been to over ten temples in seven weeks, and you can’t find the breathtaking views of the city that come with Wat Doi Suthep at any other temple.
This temple is less than a 30 minute songtaew ride up the mountain. If you’re prone to motion sickness, you will most definitely want to take some Dramamine because the drive is extremely winding. Luckily, after the car ride you can skip the stairs (over 300 of them) and take an elevator up. Once I arrived at the top of the temple I was overwhelmed with the beauty and culture that Wat Doi Suthep holds.
On my first trip to the temple, our lovely mentor P’Kai, who has more knowledge one could ever dream of, told us the significance of the bells that surround Wat Doi Suthep. If you choose to donate a bell to the temple, you are believed to be earning merit and good karma for yourself and your family. P’Kai explained that when the temple is flooded with bells, a monk will take them down. The gold from the bells is then melted and created into a new Buddha statue. All of us TEAN students had a chance to ring a bell, which lets Buddha know we have arrived at the temple.
I went back to the temple for a second time with my Buddhism class, when we learned about the legend of the white elephant. The king ordered a monk to bring him a supposedly magical Buddha relic which cloned itself before it was enshrined. The relic was then mounted on top of a white elephant. The elephant wandered up to the top of the mountain, where he trumpeted three times and then dropped dead from exhaustion. This signified the chosen location for the construction of the temple.
Once you get past the steep Naga staircase you can go to one terrace of the temple that overlooks all of Chiang Mai. On a clear day you can spot the airport and the mote that goes around the Old City. In another corner of the terrace is a statue of the legendary white elephant. Once you remove your shoes and get closer to the stupa, there are murals of the Buddha’s life story. There is also an area where you can be blessed by a monk which includes receiving a white bracelet to bring you luck.
Since this is one of the most renowned temples in Chiang Mai, it is a top tourist destination. I recommend going first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon for a more peaceful visit. Either way, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is a must-see destination.