Appreciating the Beauty of วัดพระธาตุดอยสุเทพ Wat Phra Thai Doi Suthep
Updated: Jan 15
Spread throughout the country of ประเทศไทย Thailand lies a diversity of beautiful temples that exquisitely leave behind an unparalleled legacy with a special significance in the history and religion of พุทธศาสนา Buddhism. Some of those temples in Thailand can be classified as more beautiful and more pertinent than others. That one is arguably the Wat Phra Thai Doi Suthep, a temple I appreciated the beauty of observing. For those who are enamored by temples, this striking and shimmering gold วัด temple cannot be overlooked.
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What is the religious significance of the temple? According to a legend, a 14th century venerated and devout monk named Sumanathera from Sri Lanka traversed to สุโขทัย Sukhothai, which was Northern Thailand’s early kingdom at the time. Sometime after his arrival, Sumanathera had a prophetic dream. In the dream, he was precisely instructed to pointedly discover a relic bone in the city of Ban Pang Cha, which was located in เชียงใหม่ Chiang Mai’s province. Obeying the dream, Sumanathera embarked on a long and arduous journey of approximately 121 miles to locate the bone. Upon his arrival, hidden among the tall and thick grass laid a relic fragment bone purportedly part of the shoulder bone of the historical Gautama พระพุทธเจ้า Buddha. Having such a special religious significance, the bone seemingly displayed magical characteristics: (1) Invisibility, (2) Replication, and (3) Glowing.
Subsequently, Sumanathera traveled back to Sukhothai with the bone and he brought it to กษัตริย์ดัมมาราวา King Dhammaraja (ruler of Sukhothai at the time). Thus, a grand ceremony was hosted upon his arrival. Unfortunately though a careful examination of the bone led the ruler to question its authenticity since the bone did not exhibit any magical powers.
Consequently, the ruler informed Sumanathera to keep the bone. It was not long after this event that the พระนารายณ์ ณ ลานแห่งลานนา King Nu Naone of Lan Na (the ruler of the Lanna Kingdom during the second half of the 14th century) was advised of the relic bone. Upon his request, Sumanathera brought the relic bone to the King in northern Thailand, which is current day ลำพูน Lamphun (11 miles south of เชียงใหม่ Chiang Mai). When Sumanathera arrived, astonishingly and miraculously, the relic bone split into two pieces. The smaller piece was enshrined in วัดสวนดอก Wat Suandok in 1373. This marvelous temple is located 2.8 miles from the สนามบินนานาชาติเชียงใหม่ Chiang Mai International Airport. On the other hand, the larger piece of the relic was secured on the back of a sacred and rare elephant called ช้างสามัคคี Chang Samkhan, an auspicious or promising elephant. Interestingly, this unique elephant is etched on the ธงกองทัพเรือไทย Thai Navy flag.
Nevertheless, on Visak Puja day, the elephant audaciously climbed to the top of the Mount of ดอยสุเทพ Doi Suthep, exhausitively stopped in his tracks, trumpeted three times, and then collapsed to his fateful death. พระนารายณ์ ณ ลานแห่งลานนา King Nu Naone immediately heard about this tragic news, interpreted the elephant’s demise as an ลาง omen, and he promptly arranged for the erection of the temple.
In 1386, the วัดพระธาตุดอยสุเทพ Wat Phra Thai Doi Suthep temple was completed. A brief explanation of this name implicitly tells the legendary story of the temple. วัด Wat” refers to a temple. It means an enclosure. พระไทย Phra Thai means Buddha’s holy relic is enshrined at the temple. ดอย Doi is a Thai name for a mountain, and สุเทพ Suthep is the name of the mountain.
In April of 2017, my girl friend and I booked a grab taxi for 400 Thai Baht or $12.08 in เชียงใหม่ Chiang Mai, Thailand. We traveled around dangerously winding roads surrounded by towering mountains for 45 minutes before reaching our final destination.
Once we arrived at the Wat Phra Thai Doi Suthep area, the taxi driver parked his vehicle in a parking lot that was surrounded by a ton of vendor stalls. We exited the vehicle and we followed the driver down a long alley area that was full of souvenirs. Passed this area was the entrance to the temple. You have two options for reaching the temple: (1) Take a funicular cable car to the top for an unbelievably cheap 20 Thai Baht or $.60 per person for a roundtrip and 10 Thai Baht or $.30 for one way. (2) You can take the 306 steps to the top of the temple for 30 Baht or $.90. We chose the latter option, but we took the steps back down.
We paid the cable car fee and waited in line for the next group of people to enter. Several minutes later, the cable car descended and 12-15 people exited it. Then one of the employees motioned us to enter the car. About 10 people including myself and girl friend boarded the car and we started our ascent. As the car climbed, I keenly listened to multiple conversations in Thai. You know you are in Thailand when you hear only the language of Thai spoken.
When we arrived at the top of the temple area, the car doors opened and we walked out of the cable car. We turned right and proceeded up a flight of stairs. Once we reached the top, we looked down and located small red and green houses where Monks currently reside. Moving to the left, we found several statutes situated in front of a red artistically woven board that displayed gold Thai characters and a dragon.
The first statute displayed a man with a fish like tail next to some octagon shaped flowers. At the bottom was a dragon breathing fire.
The second statute displayed a man with 16 arms wearing a crown (representative of a king) sitting down in apparent meditation.
The third statute displayed a man (supposedly a monk) sitting down with a dragon behind him.
Next to the statutes was an artificial flower garden, where you could find red and pink flowers, swan statutes, as well as a lady like statute.
We passed through this area which led to a short flight of stairs. Then we ambled up another flight of stairs (these were beige in color) that were surrounded by a beige colored fence. Once we reached the top of the stairs, we were caught by surprise at the strikingly beautiful and breathtaking panoramic views of the Chiang Mai city as well as the countryside. We were approximately 3,520 feet above sea level.
Additionally, we observed four brown looking columns. Engraved in the columns were lions, tigers, dragons, mountains, the ช้างสามัคคี Chang Samkhan, a standing man praying, and kinds of people like figures. Holding the columns was a decorated square like roof containing engraved images such a cow, snake, and rooster, and many unique figures.
After the spectacular viewing, we were led to what was called the sacred area. There was a hanging poster that briefly explained the relics and the stairway.
In front of us were rows of copper bells, which will echo a loud reverberating sound when there is the presence of a strong wind. This sound creates such a serene, peaceful, and tranquil atmosphere. Not only that, legend has it that the bells bring good luck.
Then we observed a statute of a grey elephant occupied by two men. Beside this elephant was a structure and in front of it were two green dragon statutes.
In the same area was a brown and gold tall standing buddha like statute. To the left of him was a small green looking buddha statute. Directly to the right was a small white and gold looking buddha statute.
Adjacent to these statutes were a black and light brown circular gong. On the gong was a large black ball surrounded by 8 small black balls.
A small bell was positioned next to the gong.
In this same area, we observed a (1) Shrine of Hermit Statute of Sudeva and (2) Shrine of That Mahaprom Statue. Additionally, we observed a Bohdi tree (a large sacred fig tree where supposedly Buddha discovered enlightenment), colorful murals, and a museum.
Around the corner next to some elaborate buildings stood the notorious ช้างสามัคคี Chang Samkhan statute. It was a white elephant statue with a red and gold saddle and a gold, red, and blue head cover. The miniature chedi (resembling the shoulder bone of the Lord buddha) was mounted upon the elephant. This statute displayed is in reverence of the death of the ช้างสามัคคี Chang Samkhan elephant and it is a profound reminder of Buddhist history and the founding of the วัดพระธาตุดอยสุเทพ Wat Phra Thai Doi Suthep.
Once we passed the white elephant statue, we were clearly looking at the temple entrance area. You will be required to take your shoes off since it is a sacred territory. Inside the temple area you will find more than 12 golden buddha statues lining the corner of the temple. Behind each of the statutes is elaborate paintings of men riding horses. Other figures are displayed on the painting.
While viewing these paintings, I was quickly reminded of the rich history of this temple area. Next to us were about 8 people performing Buddhist rituals. Each of them held a flower in his/her hand as well as a long lanky stick lit by the fire (incense joss stick). Kneeling down at a gold altar with the flower and stick in their hands, the people would close their eyes and give an offering and prayer to Buddha in hopes of obtaining merit in Nirvana (Buddhist’s term for afterlife).
Inside one of the temple areas were four people kneeling down on a red carpet at the feet of a buddhist monk. They were praying. As this was happening, the monk raised his small stick up and down repeatedly. Then he closed his eyes and offered a prayer. Immediately after this event, the monk dipped the stick in some kind of liquid (maybe holy water), and threw it on the people who were praying.
In the center of the area was the spectacular วัดพระธาตุดอยสุเทพ Wat Phra Thai Doi Suthep. My girlfriend and I were taken aback by the absolute beauty of the stunning 52 feet high shiny gold and shimmering chedi or pagoda that enshrines the relic bone that Sumanathera found.
As I focused my attention on this magnificent structure, I was absolutely astonished by its majestic and marvelous glow directly reflected from the sunlight. Surrounding the padoga was a great number of diverse gold buddha like statutes. In the same area there was a bigger Buddha statute. He was sitting with his right hand forming a hello greeting while his left hand was placed on his feet and thigh. There was a roof like structure covering this statute.
Next to the pagoda was a five tiered umbrella. This umbrella is symbolic of เชียงใหม่ Chiang Mai’s direct independence from Burma as well as it symbolizes the city’s union with Thailand.
We also saw in this area architecture reflecting Lanna art from the พระนารายณ์ ณ ลานแห่งลานนา King Nu Naone of Lan Na (the ruler of the Lanna Kingdom during the second half of the 14th century).
After viewing the วัดพระธาตุดอยสุเทพ Wat Phra Thai Doi Suthep, we started our journey down the naga dragon staircase containing 306 steps. On each side of the staircase were mounted two colorful dog like statutes with dragon like faces. When we reached the bottom of the staircase, I noticed there was an aggressive green alligator engraving on each sides of the staircase. Facing the bottom of the staircase, I noticed that on each side of it, there was a large dragon head with his mouth open. Inside the mouth were four colorful, aggressive, and scary looking dragons with each of them having a horn.
Food and Drinks
We completed our trip with some authentic and savory Thai food and delicious green tea.
TIPS FOR FACILITATING YOUR TRIP TO THE TEMPLE
Wear long sleeves and pants. At many temples, you are required to wear appropriate dress wear in respect of the Buddhist religion.
Wear cheap shoes. You will be required to take off your shoes at the temple’s entrance. When I was there, I recalled seeing some Nikes, and other expensive shoes. Avoid wearing name brand shoes because they could be stolen.
Eat a good breakfast before your begin the trip.
Download google translate. I would recommend you download google translate prior to leaving for Thailand. I found google translate very helpful not only for speaking the language but also translating Thai. There is an option on google translate that allows you to take a picture and interpret the text on the picture.
Bring your camera, lots of batteries because you will be taken lots of pictures and videos.
Book a grab taxi if you can. It is difficult to book a grab taxi at the Chiang Mai airport because they are not allowed to pick up people there. If you are in the airport, head to the taxi stand, which is outside. Once you exit some closed doors, turn left, and you will find a machine that will spit out a ticket number. Find your number and wait for the taxi. Once you find the taxi driver, show him/her the Thai address to the apartment or to the temple.
The last piece of advice is have a great time and appreciate the opportunity to vacation in Thailand. Sawdi ka!!!!!!!!!
Getting to วัดพระธาตุดอยสุเทพ Wat Phra Thai Doi Suthep from สนามบินนานาชาติเชียงใหม่ Chiang Mai International Airport
From the airport, you can proceed North towards the ตำบล ป่าแดด Paradee road for .01 miles, continue straight for .14 miles. You should pass a McDonalds on the left. In .03 miles, you will turn right. You should see a gas station on the left. And in .21 miles turn left. You should see the Far Eastern University. This will be a total of .08 miles, or 6 minutes.
Take ถนน บุญเรืองฤทธิ์ Bunrueang Rit road to Route 1004. In .80 miles, you will turn left on Route 1141. You should pass a shopping mall on the left, the Rim Resort Chiang Mai on the right. After you pass the Chiang Mai Ram Hospital, you will turn left.
You will continue on Bunrueang Rit road ถนน บุญเรืองฤทธิ์ for .90 miles until you reach Route 1004. You will stay on this route for 15.3 miles or 54 minutes. This is a straight shot to the temple. Along the way, you will pass the following places: (1) 711 on the right, (2) Maya Lifestyle shopping center on the right, (3) Rajamangala University of technology on the left, (4) Chiang Mai Zoo on the left, and the (5) Colorful temple on the left. After taking a bunch of winding and curvy roads, you will pass the (6) Sirindhorn Observatory Chiangmai University. You will take many additional curvy and winding roads until you reach your destination. The total time for the trip is approximately 1 hour and 17 minutes or 17.9 miles.
Here is the address to the temple in Thai: 9หมู่9 ต.สุเทพ อ.เมืองเชียงใหม่ Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand.
Where to Stay
I would recommend staying in an AIRBNB apartment. We stayed at an apartment in Chiang Mai, and we were very impressed. It is called the Luxury and comfortable Modern@ Nimman St. The Host is Ramita. The price from the airport to this apartment is between 150-200 Thai Baht or $4.53- $6.04. The apartment is located about 15-20 minutes from the airport. I would highly recommend her place.
When you are selecting Airbnb apartments, make sure you choose “Entire Apartment.” This will allow you to have some privacy.
Below is address in thai for the taxi: