The locals often refer to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep simply as ‘Doi Suthep’ for the mountain on which it resides; it’s considered to be the holiest temple in northern Thailand. This popular complex of pagodas and shrines is known for its breathtaking architecture, particularly the striking gold tower that sits atop the main temple.
Set approximately 15 kilometres from the centre of Chiang Mai, this sacred site dates back to 1383. It was originally built as a Buddhist monastery and continues to operate as a monastery today, albeit open to the public. Legend has it that the site was chosen when the ruling king nominated a white elephant to carry a magical Buddhist relic into the jungle. The elephant wandered to the top of the mountain, trumpeted three times and died, indicating the chosen spot.
Upon your arrival, take to the intricately carved Naga Serpent Staircase and walk the more than 300 steps from the base of the temple to the main site. If you’d prefer to relax, take the passenger tram for a nominal fee. At the summit, you’ll find historic pagodas and shrines, ancient statues, hand-painted murals, gongs and bells, and even a museum. Be sure to spend some time admiring the central chedi, which is the original structure on the site and the most holy building within the grounds. Other items of note are the fabled White Elephant Shrine and a model of the Emerald Buddha, the most revered religious object in Thailand. Don’t miss the giant gong (one of the largest in the world) near the viewing terrace.
The mountaintop location of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep affords excellent views over the surrounding countryside and city, so when it’s time to take a break, find a spot to relax and enjoy watching Chiang Mai unfold before you. It’s worth noting that as this is a holy site, you must dress modestly and remove your shoes. The complex is open daily from 6am until 6pm, and an admission fee of approximately AU$1 applies, with proceeds going to the running of the monastery.