Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one the most famous destination of the tourists who visit Chiang Mai. The temple is a precious, sacred space of Chiang Mai. It is a kind of must-not-miss attraction for any tourist who comes to visit this historic city in the north of Thailand.
“Wat Phra That Doi Suthep” or in formal referred as “Wat Phra Borommathat Doi Suthep Waraviharn” the second-class royal temple which means the temple under the patronage of HM the King (It is 1 of 4 royal temples in Chiang Mai). The monastery complex is one of the insignificant locations in religious and history of Chiang Mai. The temple situates on the top of Doi Suthep about 14 km from Chiang Mai town to the west with 1,053 m high above the sea level. The monastery compound established following to Lanna architectural art. The most important structure is a Chiang Saen octagon bell-shaped chedi covered with two layers of the Jangko gold (the brass leaf that coated with lacquer and finished with gold leaf). The base of the pagoda enshrined the Buddha’s relic. The chedi ground is a viewpoint to spot the beautiful landscape of Chiang Mai town. And there is a 7-head Naga stairway with 300 steps estimate to climb up to the complex.
Background of the Temple
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep founded in 1386 AD during the reign of Phya Guena the 6th King of Lanna of Mangrai dynasty. The king respectfully invited the Buddha’s relic that he had kept for 13 years to store at the temple. To choose the proper spot to house the Buddha’s relic made from the choice by the white elephant which considered as a sacred creature. The holy elephant walked until stopped at the top of Suthep peak then it roared 3 times and fell. The king then bestowed to dig the hole with 4 meters deep and 13.5 meters wide and assembled a big box made from 6 large sizes of stone. Later, he enshrined the Buddha’s relic in there and covered up with rock and built a 2.5 meters chedi above it.
In fact, the Buddha’s relic buried underground according to the ancient tradition that usually occupied the Buddha’s relic underground being the Inthakin or city pillar of Chiang Mai the capital of ancient Lanna. Therefore, it is prohibited for the Buddhist and any visitors to wear shoes within the area of Phra That. Moreover, it’s mainly restricted for the women to access the area of which the Buddhist believes that the woman with menstruation is dirtiness. This belief has existed when the arrival of Buddhism within this region for over 1,000 years ago that has tried to obstruct the women from the religious. Even presently most of the temples in the north still maintain this belief strictly.
In 1538, Phya Ket Chettharat the 12th King of Lanna gave the order to extend the chedi being higher to 12 meters wide and 5.5 meters tall. And specifically, he ordered to cast the gold lotus figure to install on the top of the stupa. And later, his son Chao Thao Sai Kham forged the gold being gold leaves to embellish the pagoda.
In 1577, a Buddhist monk Phra Mahayana Mangalabhodi from Wat Asokaram, Lampoon built the Naga stairway along both sides of the path to ascend to the temple. And then the famous monk Kruba Srivichai who initiated to construct the road to Phra That Doi Suthep. The way is 11.53 km in its length and Chao Kaew Nawarat the ruler of Chiang Mai at that time was one who begins the first excavate as the auspicious inauguration at the front of current Chiang Mai Zoo where is next to Huay Kaew Waterfall. The construction started on November 9, 1934.
Kruna Srivichai, so-called the Buddhist saint of Lanna came from Wat Ban Pang, Lampoon. He is the spiritual leader for Lanna people to defend the national transformation in the reign of King Rama 5. Western modernisation from the royal court in Bangkok was seen to dominate and demolish Lanna tradition. The monk then had tried to restore many temples in the north to maintain the origin of Lanna, although he was impeached and discredited for many times until he passed away.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep was proclaimed officially to be the National Archaeological Site and announced on march 8, 1935 in the Government Gazette, together with many monasteries in Chiang Mai.
What to See at the Temple
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep considered as one of the local sacred places in Chiang Mai. The temple compound well presents the art of Lanna, and it is the stupa for one who was born in the year of goat too. Furthermore, it is so-called the symbol of the cultural victory of Lanna over Rattanakosin regards to the belief to worship the stupa of the birth year.
Around the Phra Borommathat (pagoda) consists of
1. 4-corner Chat (Tiered Umbrella)
It is a brass craft created in the time of Phra Chao Kawila the King of Chiang Mai in 1805. Chat represents the peacefulness that influenced by the Buddhism spread over the land all over 4 courses.
2. Satti Banchorn (Speared Fence)
It surrounds Phra That which was built followed the event of allocation of the Buddha’s relic. It noted that after the cremation of the Buddha’s body, there was the vie for the Buddha’s relic among the rulers to take the holy object to enshrine at their cities. Finally, there was a Brahmin priest named Thona Brahma take charge to allocate the Buddha’s relic. There were the soldiers hold the spear to guard him while he was arranging the holy relic resulting in the construction of Satti Banchorn.
3. Hor Yor
It is a little sanctuary located in the 4 corners of the main pagoda. There is a Buddha image inside of each which means the esteem worship to the Buddha.
4. Hor Thao Lokabala
A small spired tower situated in the 4 corners of the main pagoda which means the house of the 4-guardian deities of the earth who are the guardians of the main pagoda which are
- Thao Kuvera or Thao Vaisravana has Yaksa (Giant) as the follower. He is considered to be the regent of the North
- Thao Dhatarattha has Gandharvas as the follower. He is considered to be the regent of the East.
- Thao Virupaksa has Naga as the follower. He is considered to be the regent of the West
- Thao Virudhaka has Asura (Demon) as the follower. He is considered to be the regent of the South
5. Hai Dok Bua or Puranakhata (Lotus Jar)
It means prosperity that referred to the glory of Buddhism in Lanna.
Moreover, Phra That Doi Suthep is one of the best viewpoints which allows the tourists to see the landscape of Chiang Mai city. In particular at night time featuring over thousands of light spots with the velvet black sky as the background. It is such a beautiful and impressive scene for the photo opportunity that any tourist must not miss.
It believes that to worship and make a wish toward Phra That Doi Suthep will bring the fortune and prosperous life. To praise the sacred pagoda should arrange popped-rice, flower, incense, and candle. Then, walks follow to the clockwise for 3 rounds together with recites Phra That Salutation Mantra. And then the visitor makes a wish. To worship the Phra That should do all four corners that offer different merits are; North provides a gift of wisdom, South delivers a gift to have a chance to enter the Buddhist monkhood, East provides a grant to go to heaven, and West is to show the most respect to the Buddha’s relic.
Also, something the visitors must not miss when you visit Phra That Doi Suthep is to pay respect to Kruba Srivichai shrine located at the foothill for luck.
Paying homage towards Phra That Tradition by walking up to the temple
Visakha Bucha Day is on the full moon of the 6th lunar month. The famous Lanna monk Kruba Srivichai compared the walk up to the top of Doi Su Thep to worship the Buddha’s relic to the journey to enlighten to be the Buddha’s Arhats (Buddhist saint). The procession of the pilgrims is set in the row and walk by foot with the incense and candle in their hands. There are the monks lead the group. A starting point of the parade is Wat Sri Soda or around the area of Kruna Srivichai Monument, then walks up to the monastery on the peak. After pay respect to the Buddha’s relic then the Buddhist practice of the precepts, meditation, give alms to the monks and make merit in the morning after. The Buddhist in Lanna believes that it is the ultimate virtue.
How to Get There
The visitors can stay in town and take the trip to Phra That Doi Suthep which is the most facilitated since the location is not far from the city.
From Chiang Mai town;
1. By Car:
It can get to the destination by bicycle, motorcycle, or any car.
- Drives along the route Huay Kaew – Chiang Mai University to pass Chiang Mai Zoo and Kruba Srivichai Monument at the foothill. Then, the road ascending to the mountain in about 14 km will pass by Huay Kaew Waterfall and later arriving the destination.
2. By Bus:
- Gets the bus to drop off in front of Chian Mai Zoo and takes Doi Suthep Touring Bus or hire for personal. If you do not employ the bus will take the visitors to the attractions around the area – Phra That Doi Suthep, Bhubing Palace, and Doi Pui Mong Village. In case you would like to visit any other place so can negotiate the price.
To access to the monastery complex can do in 2 options are;
1. The Naga stairway:
It is a remarkable symbol of Phra That Doi Suthep with its delicate and exotic beauty in art and invaluable in history. Most of the tourists who come to visit the temple like to take the picture with the Naga stairs that features the stunning and magnificent perspective. Many visitors who visit here for the first time will climb up to the monastery compound via this stair. The stair opens all through the day; however, there is a checkpoint operates in the evening between 8.00pm – 6.00am.
2. The Electric Trolley:
It operates between 6.00am – 6.00pm. The fee is THB20 per person for Thai and THB50 per person for the foreigner. If the tourist visits the location after 6.00pm, it needs to go to the temple by the stairway only.
Other exciting attractions nearby Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
- About 4 km from Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a location of Bhubing Palace where is inaccessible by bus. And from the Bhubing Palace, about 4 km is Doi Pui Mhong Village, the tribal-hill people residence. The path is very curvy and slope so the driver should be skilful and careful. Otherwise, the visitor had better leave the car at the Bhubing Palace and gets the pick-truck service from the palace to go to Doi Pui Mhing Village.
- To take a trip to San Ku where is the location of an ancient remain, you can drive on the route Bhubing Palace – Doi Pui Peak. Then, passes Ban Maew intersection and drives more 3 km. Even though it is the paved road but it is quite narrow. So, the driver should make carefully.
- Doi Pui Peak is about 7 km from Bhubing Palace. The road to reach there is quite narrow and steep. So, the driver should drive cautiously. The ascent of the location is further from San Ku in about 1 km.