Temple-hopping in Chiang Mai: Wat Phra That Doi Suthep; and the oldest temple, The Sacred Elephant Encircled Stupa
I’ve been wanting to fly to Chiang Mai for a while now, but never had the chance to until my gf Sutisa mentioned she would be home for a week, and urged me to join her. Unfortunately the timing wasn’t right, and the flight tickets were crazy expensive (900 SG dollars!), that I decided perhaps I’ll fulfill my wanderlust later.
That later came about a month after we had that conversation when Jetstar had a promotion of about SGD360-ish to Chiang Mai, but you couldn’t change the dates: you fly out either Tues, Thursday and only Saturday. I didn’t have much leaves left, so I opt to fly out Thursday evening and return back to Singapore on Saturday. Tight schedule yes, so I made it a plan to fulfill my heart’s desire to bask with the gentle giants at an elephant sanctuary and just discover the temples there.
From the airport to old town in Chiang Mai only took about 10 minutes via car, and from my hotel, Makkachiva, I took a taxi to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, and the journey lasted 30 minutes one way. My driver would wait for me, and I made my way up to the glistening tower atop a hill, Mount Suthep.
Just a bit of warning here, there are 300 steps leading to up the temple, so you’ll have to be a little wee fit or you’ll end up panting like mad. Dress appropriate, which means no sleeveless tops, no distressed jeans, no showing off skin if possible. I was in my gym wear: leggings and tank top, but I brought my Reebok windbreaker and I zipped up nicely. There’s also sarong/cloth you could borrow to cover your bits, so it’s all good. Oh, and remove your shoes before entering, of course! There’s a token entrance fee to pay for admission too.
What I liked about the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple is how majestic it stood against the ever floating clouds bobbing by, marble statues adorning the corners, and pretty tiles beneath my feet. I sat in one of the chambers for a while, just to say a little prayer, and helped a local take photos of his friends. A monk was praying over two kids while their mother looked on, and eager tourists observing his chant and sprinkling of water over them, blessing the children (and me when I got splashed on too!).
Outside, I took a container filled with red sticks numbered in gold, closed my eyes and thought about one thing or two, and the first time led me to a great mess of sticks flung out of the container. Second time, I shook gently and a stick was edging out, and it finally fell out. I took the stick, matched it to a sheet of paper and it led to a general prediction on love.
“Su, what does this mean?”
I send the screengrab to my Thai gf. There was an English translation but it was shorter than the Thai scripted message.
“Just take it, and throw it away. Don’t worry about the message, but don’t bring it home with you,” she texted back.
“Oh okay.” I hope it wasn’t anything serious. But basically the message was just telling me to be ‘patient about the matters of the heart.” Legit saying.
If you head up to the temple early, say 6AM, you may be able to capture the fog surrounding the hills at various viewing points en route to the temple. Just request for your driver to stop, and they will oblige.
Next: The Elephant Sacred Encircled Stupa
It was my last day in Chiang Mai, and I was scouting for a cafe that championed social causes. En route, with my Google Maps in hand, I turned to my left and saw this gorgeous temple! I turned back and stepped in to a time lost. I soon found out what this place was: The Sacred Elephant Encircled Stupa. Simply magical!
A small marble slab explained:
‘In B.E. 1839, King Mengrai from Chiang Mai, King (unclear) Muang from Payao and King Rjang from Sukothai, built a royal residence and sleeping quarters at this site and began construction of Wat (temple) Chinag Han at the same time. They also began construction of the ‘new city’ Chiang Mai’. When the temple and the city were fully completed, they then constructed this chedhi (stupa) where the royal residence and sleeping quarters had been and enshrined a sacred hair relic of the Buddha inside the chedhi (stupa).’
Elephant statues stand guarding the relic. I was so drawn to this tower, I stood a while under the scorching sun, just admiring it.
It was a well-maintained temple, with ancient history backdated to more than 700 years. Workers were sweeping dead leaves and flowers that descended to earth; pigeons cooing and chatters heard from monks from a nearby hall.
I smiled to myself, and made my way to Free Bird Cafe.
For a little more in-depth history, read more about this oldest temple here.