Commonly known as “Doi Suthep”, for the mountain it is located on, Wat Phra That is one of the most important temples in Chiang Mai, as well as one of the most revered in Thailand. This site has long been considered a holy place. The temple is a major pilgrimage destinations during the important Buddhist holidays of Makha Buja and Visak.
In 1383, the King Geu Na wished to find a site to house a holy Buddha relic. It was placed on the back of a sacred white elephant that was trusted to devine the perfect location. The elephant walked up to the top of Doi Suthep mountain, trumpeted three times, turned around three times, knelt down, and died. And there, the temple was immediately built.
A road to the temple was first built in 1935… and what a long and winding road it is. Consider the ride up part of the experience. Once you reach Doi Suthep, you’ll find 309 stairs leading to the temple complex, although they are hidden behind vendor stalls. You’ll see another set of stairs to the right more clearly. Those lead to the funicular, which costs 30 baht one-way or 50 baht round trip. I was a little carsick from the ride up, so we took the funicular up and then walked back down the stairs once we’d toured the temple.
The temple is truly beautiful and well-worth the trip. Careful craftsmanship and plenty of gold adorn the small shrines, Buddha statues, and bells. You’ll also find a stunning view of the city and the Ping valley from the terrace as well as several large bells that are rung by pilgrims to bring good luck and even a statue of the legendary elephant.
Be sure to take note of the many Thais making merit: walking clockwise around the chedi three times, clasping a lotus bud and incense. As with all temples, shoes must be removed and shoulders must be covered before entering this sacred area.