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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

By Chris QuanUpdated Oct. 27, 2022

Situated at the top of Thailand's eighth-largest mountain, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of the country's holiest Buddhist sites.

The construction of this sacred temple began in 1386, and the Buddhist belief is that it holds a sacred connection to one of the relics of the Buddha.

If you have booked a holiday to Chiang Mai, then Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of the first attractions that you should take the time to see.

This guide will take you through the reasons for the construction of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, what to see at the temple, what else you can do on Doi Suthep mountain, and anything else that you might need to know.

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Facts of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

  • Year of construction: 1386
  • Popular activities: 306-step staircase, meditation
  • Suitable for: temple / architecture lovers
  • Time needed: two hours
  • Location: at the top of Doi Suthep mountain (15 km / 9 mi from Chiang Mai)
  • Open: 6:00 a.m. to 08:00 p.m. daily

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Highlights of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Once you have made your way to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, you will have no shortage of sights to admire at the temple. Ornate statues, murals, and some fabulous views await you as you make your way through the stunning temple.

At Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, visitors can also make the most of their visit by exploring many other attractions aside from the temple itself.

The 306-Step Staircase

The traditional way to make your way to the main temple area of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is to take the long walk up of more than 300 steps. On either side of the path, you will be greeted by ornate and jeweled statues of nagas (water serpents). These are meant to bring good luck to visitors and look fantastic against the backdrop of flourishing trees.

The trek can take a while, but once at the top, you will find numerous stalls that offer food and other refreshments. This trek presents some superb photo opportunities, which offer a little break from walking.

The White Elephant

As you make your way to the lower terrace at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, you will come across a statue of the mythical white elephant that is central to the legend of the construction of the temple. It it is believed that a white elephant, which was carrying a bone of the Buddha, dropped dead at this spot. This was interpreted as an omen, and a temple was constructed there.

The Golden Chedi

The biggest attraction (literally) at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is the golden chedi (pagoda). Measuring 24 m (79 ft) in height, this gold-plated chedi glistens in sunlight and has a ceremonial parasol in each corner. They were constructed in the 16th century and are used by visiting pilgrims who wish to make merit.

Tree of Enlightenment

The other pictureque attraction there is the Tree of Enlightenment. It is a depiction of the Buddha sitting beneath the legendary Bodhi tree, where the Buddha attained enlightenment.

Learn and Practice Meditation

If you have an interest in meditation and other Buddhist practices, we recommend you visit the International Buddhism Centre. Here you can enjoy meditation alongside the monks or learn some Buddhist teachings by enrolling in study courses.

The Legend of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

The legend behind the construction of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is an exciting story in itself. It is believed that a monk once had a dream where he was told to go to Pang Cha. Acting on that dream, he is said to have found a bone that glowed and showed magical powers.

When presented to the king, the bone did not show the same magical powers that it did initially, so the king told the monk to keep it. Upon hearing of the relic, another king of an Indianized state In Thailand requested to see it. This time the relic broke into two pieces.

One of those pieces was placed on the back of a white elephant, which was sent into the jungle. The myth claims that the elephant trekked up Doi Suthep mountain, trumpeted three times, and then dropped dead. The king believed the relic to be a part of the shoulder of Buddha. So, he ordered the construction of a temple at the site of this event.

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Doi Suthep National Park

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of the top attractions in Thailand, so, understandably, most visitors to Doi Suthep National Park are primarily there to see the temple. That said, there are plenty of other things to see and do in the national park.

Doi Suthep National Park is home to more than 300 species of birds and features landscapes of lush beauty. Also, there are several picturesque waterfalls in the park, including the Mon Tha Than Waterfall, Huay Kaew Waterfall, and Mae Sa Waterfall.

Bhubing Palace is another attraction worth visiting. Built in 1961, the palace is often used by the Thai royal family when they venture into the north of the country. During their stay, this part of the national park is closes to visitors.

If you don't mind physical exertion, you can take several different trails. The Buddha's Footprint Trail, Monk's Trail, and Huay Tung Tao Circular Trail are three of the most popular ones.

Visitors can also stay on Doi Suthep mountain overnight. There are campsites and bungalows scattered around Doi Suthep National Park. Many restaurants, cafes, and food stalls can be found around both the national park and the temple.

Tips for Visiting Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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  • 1. Wearing shorts is frowned upon at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. A sarong is provided if you do accidentally turn up wearing clothing that is deemed undesirable. The same applies to women wearing skirts or dresses that do not cover the knees. Naked shoulders are also not acceptable.
  • 2. We also recommend that you wear suitable footwear that is both durable and comfortable. Many of the 306 steps that you have to climb to reach the terraced area are uneven.
  • 3. Unlike at some other famous temples in Thailand, you are allowed to take pictures at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. You can also carry a camera tripod with you.
  • 4. For an even better experience, visit the temple during the celebration of Magha Puja (February/March) and Visakha Puja (first full-moon day in May). During these festivals, you will gain an insight into Buddhist culture and get some fantastic photo opportunities. However, expect the temple to be crowded at these times.
  • 5. Admission to the temple is very cheap by western standards. It costs just 30 bhats if you take the scenic but long walk up the 306 steps to the temple. Those who opt to use the tram pay 50 bhats. Most other attractions in the Doi Suthep National Park do not cost anything at all.
  • 6. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a top-rated attraction for both visitors and locals. For that reason, we recommend getting there as early in the day as possible. That way, you can avoid the midday heat.
  • 7. As Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a critical historical and religious site in Thailand, visitors are expected to show respect when visiting the temple. Tampering or damaging any part of the temple or causing any kind of trouble will lead to the temple's armed security force dealing with you swiftly.

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How to Get There

The entrance to Doi Suthep National Park is just 15 km (9 mi) from Chiang Mai, but it is reaching the top of Doi Suthep mountain and the entrance to Wat Phra That that is the challenging part. Fortunately, there are different methods of varying difficulty to make the journey.

Once at the entrance to Doi Suthep National Park, you can continue your journey by motorbike or grab a songthaew (passenger vehicle).

The road is a little twisty, so the latter might be the best option for inexperienced riders. Either way, the best route is to take Route 1004 (or Huay Kaew Road). The journey should take about 20 minutes and will cost 40 bhat if you choose to take a songthaew.

From the entrance to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, you have two options.

  • Climb the 306 steps: If you are young and fit and want to experience the traditional path to the terraced area of the temple, climbing the 306 ornate serpent-flanked steps is the way to go.
  • Take the tram: The cable-powered tram is the other option, which also offers excellent views and requires a lot less exertion.

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