See the pagodas, bells and museum of this fascinating and ornate Buddhist complex, the holiest shrine in northern Thailand, in a mountainous national park.
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is a spectacular golden temple whose origins are steeped in mystery. On the side of the Doi Suthep mountain in a national park, the temple offers panoramic views of Chiang Mai. Take the funicular tram or climb the 309 steps flanked by mosaic serpents, which lead from the parking lot to the foot of the temple.
Fearsome stone snakes guard the gates. Relax in the tranquil setting between the breadfruit trees, rock gardens and monuments of the main terrace. Admire the statue of a white elephant involved in the story of the temple’s origin.
It is said a monk named Sumanathera discovered the magical shoulder bone of Buddha, which could glow, vanish and replicate itself. Hear how a king placed half of the relic on the back of the white elephant, which climbed up this mountain and dropped dead where the temple stands today.
Let your kids honor the lizard-like guardian known as “Mom,” who guards the inner courtyard. Gaze up at the five-tiered umbrella that marks the city’s independence from Burma. Pilgrims leave lotus blossoms at the shrines that surround the copper-plated chedi, which is the main Buddhist structure and the holiest part of the grounds. The complex contains a blend of features from Buddhism and Hinduism.
Head to the far side of the temple for excellent views of the city. Spot your favorite attractions around the city walls and capture photos.
Note that you are expected to dress quite formally and remove footwear during your trip to the temple. There is a fee to enter the complex and to use the funicular rather than the steps. The site opens daily from early morning until early evening.
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is in the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park just northwest of Chiang Mai. Drive from the city center to the temple to get here in around 40 minutes. Leave the car in the parking lot at the base of the complex.