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Doi Suthep Temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand: A Visitors' Guide

Updated on May 9, 2016
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Prayers at Doi Suthep TempleDoi Suthep Chedi (Pagoda)
Prayers at Doi Suthep Temple
Prayers at Doi Suthep Temple | Source
Doi Suthep Chedi (Pagoda)
Doi Suthep Chedi (Pagoda) | Source

Located just a few miles outside, and to the west, of the city of Chiang Mai in North Thailand, Doi Suthep Buddhist Temple (Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep), is one of Thailand's most famous temples. It is located on the mountain, Doi Suthep (Doi means mountain in Thai), which is part of Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, and even for non-Buddhists is well worth a visit, not only for the beauty of the temple architecture but also for the great aerial views of Chiang Mai city three and a half thousand feet below.

The history of the temple isn't well-documented, but its roots can be traced back to the 14th century, and it has grown steadily over the centuries, with new buildings, chedis (pagodas) and sculptures being added at various times.

Legend has it that a white elephant carrying a relic of Buddha climbed the mountain, stopped on a hilltop, trumpeted 3 times and promptly died. Somehow that was seen as a good omen and that a temple should be built there.

Novice Monks at Doi Suthep Entrance
Novice Monks at Doi Suthep Entrance | Source

Entry to the temple

The temple can be reached from its road level entrance by climbing a 309-step staircase lined by two naga serpent guardians. Naga, which originated in Hindu, rather than Buddhist, mythology, are a common sight at Thai Buddhist temples. They are are called 'nak' in Thai and are serpent-like temple protectors usually seen doing duty as a pair on either side of temple entrances. There's also a lift system in operation costing 20 baht (US$1=30 baht approx).

At the entrance at the top of the stairs, foreign visitors are expected to pay a 30 baht entrance fee. Thais can enter free, but as Buddhists, they're expected to make a donation inside. In typically illogical Thai style, foreign Buddhists have to pay the entrance fee while Thai non-Buddhists don't. In fact, no checks are made and there's nothing to stop anyone walking through without paying. There are a couple of shops at the top of the stairs selling souvenirs, refreshments and other sundry items such as camera batteries.

City Views

From the temple there are good views of the city below, although haze can be a problem. March and April are months to avoid because the amount of haze present greatly reduces visibility. Viewed from Chiang Mai, the whole mountain can disappear, so there's no way you'll get good views from the temple during those months. The haze is caused by the build up of heat as the hot summer season gets under way plus ash pollution caused by illegal burning of vegetation and scrub by hill tribes clearing land for planting crops on the mountain slopes of Doi Suthep and neighbouring Doi Pui.

Chiang Mai City from Doi Suthep
Chiang Mai City from Doi Suthep | Source
Songthaew shared taxi
Songthaew shared taxi | Source

Getting to Doi Suthep from Chiang Mai

If you go by hired car or motorbike, follow Huay Kaew Road, which runs from the north west corner of the 'old city' surrounded by a square shaped moat. Pass the zoo and continue for around 5 miles until you come to the temple. Paid parking is available opposite the temple entrance. There are also many crafts and clothing stalls here.

Alternatively, you can flag down a red songthaew taxi (pictured), and either be taken to the temple and back again after a visit for an hour or so, or, if you prefer, be taken to one of the departure points at the bottom of the mountain where other songthaews wait to fill up with passengers also headed for the temple. The first option will cost a few hundred baht, as it's a private hire, and you decide when you want to come back. The second option will cost 30 baht per person to the departure point and then around 100 baht per person for the ride up the mountain to the temple and back again. That's quite a bit cheaper, but the songthaew will be filled with other temple visitors, and you have to wait until everyone is back on board before you can make the return journey to Chiang Mai.

Beyond Doi Suthep

If you were to continue further along the road for a few miles past Doi Suthep Temple, there are two more places of interest. First is Phuping Palace, a royal residence that is open to the public provided there are no royals in residence at the time. Second is a Hmong hill-tribe village. It's a genuine village but has become very developed and touristy over the years.

© 2015 chasmac


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    • chasmac profile image

      chasmac 14 months ago from UK

      Thanks ValKaras. Yes, the architecture is very inspiring.

    • ValKaras profile image

      Vladimir Karas 14 months ago from Canada

      A very informative and detailed hub, indeed. I never got a chance to visit any of those fascinating sites in the Far East, but their culture keeps amazing me as I am reading about it.

      When you observe those seemingly ordinary people living in vicinity, it doesn't come easy to understand that their ancestors built something so intricate and decoratively artistic.

    • chasmac profile image

      chasmac 2 years ago from UK

      Yes - It's certainly worth a visit, Alun.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 2 years ago from Essex, UK

      Thanks for this information. Chiang Mai is one part of Thailand I have not yet visited, but one day I hope to go there, and if I do, I will surely visit this temple. Alun