The Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of the most important temples of Northern Thailand. During the Buddhist holidays of Visakha Bucha day and Makha Bucha Day Thai people come to this temple in great numbers.
This temple is located on top of the Doi Suthep mountain, some 15 kilometers out of Chiang Mai. From the carpark there are two ways to reach the temple. The first is a 309 step pretty vertical climb up the mountain. The stairs are flanked by huge Naga creatures. The Naga is an underwater creature from Buddhist mythology in the form of a large snake. If you don’t feel like climbing, there is a cable car to take you up in comfort.
If the weather is clear you will have some magnificent views of the the city of Chiang Mai, the airport and the Ping valley. The views and the peaceful atmosphere of the place alone is worth the visit.
The legend of the white elephant
There are several versions of the legend of how the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep was founded.
According to a popular version of the legend a monk from Sukhothai was in possession of a relic believed to be a shoulder bone of The Buddha. This relic was believed to have magical powers. The monk took the relic to King Kuena, ruler of the Lanna Kingdom.
When he arrived, the relic had split up in two pieces, one being of the original size, the other one smaller. The smaller part was enshrined in the Wat Suan Dok, a temple just outside the old city of Chiang Mai. The original relic was to be placed in a newly build temple.
To choose the location for the new temple, the relic was placed on the back of a sacred white elephant that was then set free to go where ever it wanted. The elephant climbed up Doi Suthep mountain and just before it arrived at the top, it trumpeted three times and died. This was taken as a sign that this was the place to build a temple to house the relic.
Then in 1368 the first chedi of the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep was build to keep the holy relic. Since then, the temple complex has grown considerably. At the top of the stairs is a statue of the white elephant that determined the location of the temple.
Other structures on the grounds
Within the temple complex are a number of pavilions, pagodas, statues and viharns. The pavilions contain the living quarters for monks. A small museum with ancient relics, photographs and old pieces of temple wares can also be visited.
The Phra Ubosot or ordination hall is the place where the prayers take place. Striking a series of small bells in the complex is believed to bring good luck. Whenever there is wind around the atmosphere is filled with the sounds of temple bells adding to the tranquility and peacefulness of this beautiful place.
Lastly, there is a souvenir shop and a small shops for drinks and snacks. When visiting this sacred place, dress appropriately. Inside the temple grounds, please take off your shoes.
Mural paintings telling the story of the Buddha
The main chapel and pagoda is surrounded by a terrace visitors can walk through. The walls of the terrace are covered with beautiful mural paintings, that tell the tales of the Jataka and the previous lives of the Buddha.