Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Yesterday was our first full day in Chiang Mai. We had spent some time on Tuesday working out the various things we wanted to see while we’re here. Towards the top of our list was Doi Suthep, a temple located on a mountain just a short way out of the city.

We had breakfast at Elliebum at 8am then walked to the north gate of the Old City to catch a songthaew. These are a form of taxi, basically a red ute with a special canopy built on the back providing bench seats and shelter.

A row of song thae near Doi Suthep
A row of songthaew near Doi Suthep

They can seat 10 people and the fare is then split by the number of people riding. Generally you can bargain for the price, but it’s 1000 bhat return to Doi Suthep, so we sat and waited about 20 minutes for some other people to arrive and share the fare. In the end there were six of us, so it worked back to 170 bhat each. Victoria did a great job translating Thai into English for the Japanese and European tourists who were waiting with us.

Traffic in the city was heavy, but once we were on the mountain road we picked up speed. It was quite windy and felt like we were flying around the corners as we overtook a number of other songthaew. I was glad there were only 6 of us. If we’d managed to get 10 it would’ve been very crowded and hot. There was no air conditioning, just the air blowing though the windows.

Once at the top, the driver explained he’d wait for two hours then we should meet back there. There are about 300 steps up to the temple. The first part of the path is lined with market stalls selling souvenirs and snacks.

There were young children on the steps, dressed in traditional hill tribe attire posing for photos (for a price!). We watched as they slipped into a photo with a lady then asked for money. While they were distracted we took a few quick photos of our own.

A statue at Doi Suthep
A statue at Doi Suthep

We bought tickets at the top (there was a sign saying “Foreigner ticket purchase this way”) then entered the gate. There are a lot of smaller buildings around the outside of the main temple. We wandered around, watching dancers and exploring the details of the smaller buildings.

Bells surrounding the main building
Bells surrounding the main building

There is a lookout over the city. Although the sky was clear, the view was impeded by the haze sitting over the city. We could make out the airport and the Old Town, but it wasn’t as clear as we’d hoped.

Steps outside the main building
Steps outside the main building

According to the history of the temple, a white elephant was carrying an ancient relic through the jungle. It was at the site of the temple that the elephant died, and so it was taken as a sign that this was where the temple should be built. There is a large elephant statue beside the temple, marking the location the elephant died.

The elephant statue
The elephant statue

Having done a full circuit of the outside we removed our shoes and entered the main building. Inside was a spectacular golden chedi. We were very lucky to have clear blue skies when we were there, and it was beautiful with the sun reflecting off it. The chedi is surrounded my statues of Buddha and various other relics.

The golden chedi at Doi Suthep
The golden chedi at Doi Suthep

Surprisingly it had been almost 90 minutes since we’d been dropped off by the songthaew. We made our way back down the stairs and browsed the market. I bought a souvenir and we shared some Thai coconut pancakes, called kanom krok, which were sweet and salty all at once – very yummy!

Kanom krok from the market
Kanom krok from the market

Back in the songthaew we raced down the mountain, then spent 20 hot minutes stuck in traffic. Feeling hot and tired, we walked back to a strip of food stalls we had seen earlier in the day and had chicken rice for lunch.

After that we crossed the road and visited the Chiang Mai Cultural Centre, keen to be somewhere air conditioned. We spent about an hour there. The exhibits were interesting, with most captions in English as well as Thai. We learned about the various kings who had ruled the area, and the original construction of the city. There are two other museums and our ticket gets us into all three. We’re planning to visit at least one more this afternoon or tomorrow.

Monk statues for sale at Doi Suthep
Monk statues for sale at Doi Suthep

We made out way back to Elliebum after that to freshen up before heading out for drinks and dinner. We caught a songthaew out the western gate of the city where we’d read some good reviews of bars and restaurants. We had a beer then went across the road for papaya salad. The salad was super spicy, and I just couldn’t eat it. We ordered some chicken as well with a mild dipping sauce so I ate that instead.

While we were having dinner it bucketed with rain. We were glad to be inside! Fortunately it didn’t last long, and when we were done eating we could wander outside. We went to a bar and had another drink, then went to visit Victoria’s mum at the hospital. She was in Chiang Mai on a school trip when one of the kids became unwell. She was on night duty so we visited her briefly before heading back to Elliebum for a well earned sleep.

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