The number one visitor attraction in Chiang Mai is without doubt Doi Suthep/Doi Pui National Park,which contains both the world famous Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep Temple and Bhubing Palace which is the Winter Palace of the Thai Royal Family, the Palace itself is not open to the public,but the beautifully landscaped gardens with their mixture of exotic flowers & ornamental plants, all set in the peace & tranquility of a mountain retreat, are worth the visit just on their own.Each year the National Park is visited by well over 3 million people, one useful tip, try and avoid any Thai National Holiday's, on these particular days you can queue most of the way up the 13km mountain ascent !.
Visiting the Temple at Doi Suthep
The temple of Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is not only the most visited site in Chiang Mai,it is also one of the most important & highly revered amongst all Thais.
The temple is a major pilgrimage destination during the important Buddhist holidays of Makha Bucha Day(21st February)and Visaka Bucha Day (19th May).
Its importance, as well as its location, owes much to the legend of its founding.
The original founding of the Wat(temple) remains a very famous Thai legend, and there are several varied versions. Popular belief is that the temple was said to have been founded in 1368 when the first Chedi was built. A Chedi is the bell shaped tower or stupa that traditionally houses relics of importance within the Buddhist faith See 1st photograph).
According to legend, a revered monk had a dream; in this dream God told him to go to Pang Cha and look for a relic.The monk travelled to Pang Cha and is said to have found a bone, which many claim was Buddha’s shoulder bone. The relic displayed magical powers; it glowed, it was able to vanish the re-appear, it could move itself and replicate itself.
King Nu Naone who ruled the Lanna Kingdom (around what is now Chiang Mai Province)got word of the relic and requested that the monk take it to him . The monk took the relic to King Nu Naone to what is now Lamphun, in northern Thailand.
On the journey the relic apparently split into two pieces, the smaller piece was enshrined at Wat Suan Dok which is located just west of the old city walls on what is now called Suthep Road in Chiang Mai. The larger piece was placed by the King on the back of a sacred white elephant which was then released into the jungle. The elephant is said to have climbed up Doi Suthep, which at the time was called Doi Aoy Chang (Sugar Elephant Mountain), trumpeted three times before dying at the site. It was interpreted as a sign and King Nu Naone ordered the construction of a temple at the site.
Over the centuries the temple has expanded considerably, and been made to look more extravagant with many additional holy shrines added, but it has never lost the the aura that surrounds its very existence.
The temple can be reached by travelling along Huai Kaew Road, past the zoo and then just follow the very windy road that eventually takes you to the temple entrance.
From the car park, at the temple base visitors can then either climb the 309 steps of the Naga Stairs , (see photo) or alternatively take the tram (50 Baht return including temple entrance).
Entry to the temple is 30 Baht for all foreign visitors (who walk up !).
Once inside the temple grounds ALL shoes must be removed. The original copper plated chedi is the most holy area of the temple grounds.
Within the site the Chedi sits within a raised courtyard at the very peak of the mountain, the courtyard has a larger area all around it containing several buildings including small temples, pagodas, statues, bells and shrines, there is also a small museum displaying old pieces of temple wares as well as some of the more ancient or unique monetary donations to the temple. From the viewpoints around the perimeter at 1650 meters above sea level (on a clear day) you can get stunning views of the city of Chiang Mai !!.
On your way back down, at the lower entrance to the temple, there is a large market of food stalls, jade factories and endless souvenir sellers which goes all the way back into the large car-park, with several restaurants located there as well.