Everyday as I return to my apartment on the west side of town I can see a golden peak that glimmers in the distance on top of the mountain.
Sometimes it catches the light of the sunset or the sunrise and it glows.
Wat Phra is the golden spire that sits atop Doi Suthep, the green mountain. It is a Theravada Buddhist temple. The story goes that early monks placed one of buddha’s ribs on a white elephant. The elephant carried it up the mountain to one spot where it turned around three times and wouldn’t go any further. There, the temple was built, and still stands.
Getting to Doi Suthep
To get up the mountain (which is not all that far from where we live) we backtracked into the city. At the north gate, Chang Phueak Gate, a line of Songtheaws [truck taxis] wait for tourists who want to see Doi Suthep. Once they’ve filled the back of the pickup with 8-10 people, they’ll take off. It’s a scenic drive into the jungle on the outskirts of town and then up and around a steep and windy road. Think Mr. Toad’s wild ride- except up hill.
Once we (finally) reached the top of the mountain- about 20 minutes later, we (ok… I) jumped out of the songtheaw just in time to receive a stern instruction on being timely for the return trip to Chiang Mai. We had an hour and half to explore. There’s a little hill walk with vendors, food, clothing and trinkets, before you see the stairs.
What a set of stairs. Red pavers cover 309 steps, each of which is lined by a dragon on both sides. Twin giant dragons slither down the hill, one giant mouth at the base gives way to four smaller but still very intimidating dragon heads. If this thing were alive, it would scar Smaug.
We climbed through the muggy hot air and sea of northern asian tourists to get to the top. There, if you are not Thai, they charge you 30baht, or slighty less than a dollar and hand you a ticket with rules on it. T does not like rules. We did our best to be courteous anyway. Also, T does not hunching around while he walks, which makes it very difficult to follow the rule “keep one’s head below monks and images of buddha at all times.” Also, as we won’t bow to an idol, we didn’t enter the temple itself.
Surrounding the temple, are a whole assortment of shrines. Some have skinny buddha, some have an elephant and others have scary dragons. The roof is gold and intricate and impressive. There are also a series of large bells which have a beautiful ring. They say “Do not touch.” This rule we actually did follow; plenty of others did not, so they were ringing throughout our time on the mountain.
There were places to sit under giant bougainvillea pergolas. Giant trees, some with orchids growing from the trunks grew along the outer courtyard. The jungled reached up to the Wat and surrounded it. There is a beautiful view of Chiang Mai city, although we had a hazy day so we didn’t see too much of it.
Walking back down the stairs proved a bit harder than waking up them as each step slants slightly down hill, We stopped at a few shops and grabbed some lunch on a stick- our go-to for now, before we got back into the Songtheaw to the return to the city.