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Wat Prathat Doi Suthep Rajvoravihara - Near Chiang Mai
Wat Prathat Doi Suthep of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand.
You can get to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep by car or motorcycle but Tuk Tuks and cyclists will find it a bit of a strain as the Wat is over 1,100mtrs (3,520 feet) above sea level, situated on the top of Suthep Mountain about 13km to the north-west of Chiang Mai city. The Buddhist temple of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of, if not the most important temples in the province of Chiang Mai. Wat Prathat Doi Suthep is also one of the most revered amongst all Thai Buddhists and Hindus as a major pilgrimage destination during the main Buddhist holy days of Makha Buja and Visak when many devotees walk up the hill from its base by Chiang Mai Zoo. Wat Prathat Doi Suthep's importance owes much to the legend of its foundation.
According to legend, a glowing Buddha relic, magically replicated just before it was about to be enshrined in the big chedi at Wat Suan Dok, located just west of the old city walls of Chiang Mai on Suthep Road. This replicated relic was placed on the back of a sacred white elephant that probably belonged to King Keu Na of Lanna. The elephant was then allowed to roam where ever it wanted to, eventually climbing close to the summit of Suthep Mountain where it is said to have trumpeted three times, turned around three times, knelt down and promptly died. This was taken by the devout followers as a sign that this was the spot where the Buddha relic was to remain, so King Keu Na ordered the building of a copy of the original chedi at Wat Suan Dok on Doi Suthep. This happened at the end of 14th century.
The Wat Prathat Doi Suthep Temple - Chiang Mai has evolved greatly over the 600 odd years since its founding and was extensively renovated during the Thai economic boom years of the early 1990s. The Wat lost a lot of its original charm as renovation involved covering much of the site in granite and gold. This has not detracted from the fact that the site remains a visitor attraction that first-time visitors to Chiang Mai Province should not miss out on.
The Wat Prathat Doi Suthep Rajvoravihara chedi and courtyard underwent a major renovation in 1992. Car parks and a commercial trader’s area were also added, so that you could run the gauntlet of religious paraphernalia and tourist tat on your way the holy shrine site. There are 309 steps up the 'Naga' staircase or you can pay 20 Baht to use the newly rebuilt cable-car to the top! We chose a slow climb.
We visited Wat Prathat Doi Suthep in December 2007 and found the original gold plated Buddha relic chedi sits in the rather small courtyard at the summit of the Mount Suthep. The courtyard building sits within larger plaza terrace that contains several buildings. The plaza is also the site of a lookout point from where, on a clear day, you can see Chiang Mai city and much of the surrounding River Ping flood plain.
If you climb up the Naga stairs you arrive at the outer plaza terrace almost opposite the White Elephant Monument and the Hermit's Monument, but if you arrive at The Cable Car Station you have to turn left to arrive at the top of The Naga Stairs. We walked clockwise round the outer terrace coming to the Temple Hall in the middle of the pavement. On our left were three buildings devoted to a Buddhist Book Shop, Minimart and Coffee Shop. Around the next corner there is a small free entry Temple Museum, with a display of old temple artifacts as well as a collection of coins and banknotes that were monetary donations to the temple, opposite a Buddha Statue and adjacent to the Chiangmai Overlook where we spent a few minutes studying the layout of the city and Chiang Mai Airport. Around the next corner we found the King Kue Na of Lanna Vihara and a long cloister in front of a Bell Tower. At the next corner is a Bell House with large gongs inset into the walls and housing a huge bronze bell. The final few meters of the outer terrace are taken up with a Rest Hall opposite the Phrakuba Srivichai Statue and entrance stairways into the inner courtyard of the Doi Suthep Stupa Pagoda, Pra Buddha Vihara, Aon Muang Vihara, Doi Suthep Vihara and Tan Jan Vihara, joined together by cloisters containing many Buddha Statues.
There is an International Buddhism Centre, The Abbot's and Monk's residences on the same level at the upper Cable car Station - We descended the hill summit by way of the cable car.
Please remember to dress appropriately and remove your shoes before entering the chedi courtyard or any of the buildings that house a Buddha statue.
If you're on a budget you can get a songthaew (one of the many, yellow or red pickup trucks with seats along the sides of the covered back) from just outside the Chang Puak Gate, Chiang Mai old city. A round trip runs at about 150 Baht per person in total. If there are two or three of you it may be worth considering bargaining for a taxi, for about 500 Baht. When negotiating either option get them to include a visit to the Doi Pui Maeo, Humong mountain people village close by. Allow between 3 and 5 hours four your excursion.
If money is no object then you can take a half day round trip guided tour from your hotel for about 450 Baht per person.
The outer plaza terrace has some labled specimen trees that create a warm but shaded atmosphere. There are Asok (in bloom - left), Mango, Lantom, Jackfruit, Keaw, Pho, Pine and Durian within the grounds.
On the road from Chiang Mai there are a couple of lay-by car parks with overlooks. One known locally as 'Lovers Leap' has a small waterfall that cascades down the hillside forming cool pools that the locals swim in. Take your swimming cozy!
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