If you are in Chiang Mai as a tourist or as a pilgrim, the one excursion you will certainly make out of town is to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai’s most gleaming golden symbol. This temple is not just important religiously but also historically. This is a Theravada (Old School) Buddhist Temple founded in the 14th century A.D. on a mountain called “Doi Suthep” at a spot where an elephant carrying a sacred relic of Lord Buddha trumpeted three times and then died, thus marking the spot appropriate for the temple. The path to the temple now has easy stone steps, a little over 300, and a cable car for those unwilling to climb the staircase. Foreigners need to buy an entry ticket (30 THB) to get into the temple. Cable car costs another 20 THB. The temple is open all day but the cable car is operational only from 6.00am to 8.30pm. In this majestic place, you will find Pagodas, Stupas, Buddha statues, a museum, Viharas, Towers, a book shop, a coffee shop, and even a mini mart. Foreigners not familiar with the local culture are advised to be careful of their behaviour.
Tour Cost and Availability
Your hotel’s tour desk or any travel agent in Chiang Mai will offer a half-day tour of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep for 700-800 THB. If you are taking a conducted tour, a visit to Meo (Hmong) Hill Tribal Village or Bhuping Palace will be thrown in as a bonus to the tour and the entry ticket/cable car ticket will be included in the price. If you are made to choose between the Tribal Village and the Bhuping Palace, I suggest going for Bhuping Palace because the Hill Tribal Village is nothing but a few shops.
Do It Yourself
If you do not want to take a conducted tour, you can do it on your own at a much lesser cost. First you need to go to Chaing Mai Zoo. Outside the Zoo, you will find many Songthaew (meaning ‘two benches’) that go to the temple on a per person – one way fare basis. However, they will start only when they are full. For coming back, you will get the same mode of transport.
Meo (Hmong) Hill Tribal Village Chiang Mai
I had booked my tour at the travel desk of Suriwongse Hotel Night Bazaar for Doi Suthep and Meo Hill Tribal Village. There was no discount if I missed the Tribal Village. We were first taken to this village where our tour guide tried her best to make us buy some souvenirs. It was a nice walk through this row of shops with the added benefit of fresh and cold mountain air. At the end of the shops, I saw a sign board pointing towards a Meo Hill Tribe Museum but our tour guide was in no mood to go that way.
I returned to our vehicle and then saw this nice little coffee shop. I had a hot coffee and really enjoyed it. The tasty coffee and the clean mountain air made this otherwise useless stop worthwhile.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
For visiting the temple complex, you are supposed to dress politely & not wear shorts, take off your shoes at the designated place, do not touch Buddha images, and do not show “affection” towards your partner (means no kissing, etc).
The temple complex offers a complete introduction to the Theravada Buddhist customs like lighting of lamps and incense sticks, prayers, meditation, writing your name on a robe that will be wrapped around the Pagoda, and taking special blessings from a monk, etc.
On one side of the temple there is a viewing platform offering stunning views of Chiang Mai city below. You are also treated to traditional Thai Dance performances by a troupe of little girls.