CHIANG MAI, THAILAND
A magical morning at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Throughout the 4 months I spent travelling around South East Asia, my morning spent at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai will always be one of the most beautiful and magical. A Theravada Buddhist temple located around 15 km from Chiang Mai on the Doi Suthep mountain, getting there is not the easiest walk—so I would recommend taking a taxi or motorbike, unless you fancy a hike! A Canadian couple from our hostel recommended a Songthaew (red truck) driver who would cart us there and back for only 250 baht per person (approx. £6)—we were sold. The first of many early morning wake up calls, we loaded up on mosquito repellent, donned our temple appropriate attire and set off at 5am.
The journey took around 1 hour as we wove up the mountain roads so definitely take some travel sickness pills if you suffer with travel related nausea. What a truck ride it was. The back of the Songthaew was completely open giving us stunning views of the mountain and even more impressive sights of Chiang Mai as we drove higher. The highlight of the drive was undoubtedly passing the monks as they made their daily walk up to the temple with their morning alms. In the darkness they lit their path with torches—it was a humbling sight to see.
Finally we reached the top of the mountain and the base of the temple where locals were setting up their stalls for the day as stray dogs curiously walked alongside us. Although there’s a tram to take you to the top, I’d recommend taking the stairs—the 306 steps aren’t so bad in the early morning and the jewelled serpent flanked entrance to the staircase is a stunning sight to behold. The temple glowed bright in the dawn light and being the first tourists of the day, it was surreal but appreciated as we were able to roam free and take our time looking around. When you first enter the temple I’d recommend heading straight to the viewing platform to watch the sunrise over Chiang Mai. The air was cool and clean, the birds chirped and monkeys chattered. The temple bells rang occasionally as monks set up the temple for the day. Sitting on the temple benches with a friendly dog watching the sun rise and temple shimmer in gold. Pure magic.
After soaking in the morning sun, we explored the rest of the temple including the inner terrace around the gold plated chedi (shrine), the most holy area of the temple grounds. We removed our footwear to enter and marvelled at the shrines and respectfully watched as local families pray. This was really special to see. During our walk around the golden shrine we heard chanting coming from the main temple grounds and just managed to catch the end of the monks chant before they dispersed and went back to business.
It didn’t take too long to explore the gardens and religious sculptures and we met our Songthaew driver at the bottom of the temple and returned to Chiang Mai, just in time for the hostel breakfast at 9am. Being one of the only tourists visiting the temple that morning made our experience so easy and enjoyable. A couple of tips for any potential visitors, I would highly recommend waking up that couple of hours earlier to beat the rush and the heat. Secondly make sure to generously apply mosquito repellent and wear temple appropriate clothing (cover your shoulders and knees). Finally don’t forget your camera as you’ll 100% want to capture the unforgettable moments spent here.