Postcard from Chiang Mai, Thailand
At night, Wat Doi Suthep floats above Chiang Mai like a magical golden castle. During the day, the golden domes sparkle in the sun.
The wat, or temple, is almost at the top of the mountain (called Doi Suthep) at the edge of Chiang Mai, the former capital of the Lanna Kingdom in what is now northern Thailand.
The mountain and the glittering golden wat are easy landmarks for navigating Chiang Mai. If you know where the mountain is, you should be able to make your way back to the old town, bordered by an ancient moat, where most tourists stay.
Chiang Mai is known as “the most splendid city of culture” and is famous for its many wats. Doi Suthep is one of the most sacred and the most beautiful.
The wat is 15 kilometres from the centre of Chiang Mai. The most popular way of getting to Doi Suthep is to catch a song taew (red pickup trucks that are a cross between a taxi and a bus) from outside the Chiang Mai Zoo. You can hire a song taew for just yourself, or you can get in and wait for it to fill up. Alternatively, hire a motorbike and make your own way up the mountain.
Outside the main entrance to the wat are many stalls selling all kinds of souvenirs and food. At the entrance, you have the choice of climbing up the 309 steps to the temple, past little girls in traditional dress whose handlers expect to be paid for photos, or taking an elevator for 50 baht (US$1.60).
At the top of the stairs there is an open area, where beautiful girls perform traditional Thai dances accompanied by a schoolboy musicians. This lower terrace extends right around the mountain and has beautiful floral displays, prayer bells, superb views of Chiang Mai and the surrounding plain and a coffee shop.
The wat’s upper terrace is up another flight of stairs (take your shoes off at the bottom of the steps). Here, at last, are the magical golden domes you can see from Chiang Mai, as well as a multitude of shrines, statues, umbrellas and pagodas.
If you take a seat in one of the cool marble-floored cloisters, you’ll be able to see many pilgrims praying. The praying takes many forms – pouring oil, lighting incense or kneeling before statues of Buddha. Devotees also recite prayers from laminated prayer sheets as they walk around the chedi carrying lotus flowers.
Barbara is currently based in Chiang Mai, after dropping out of the rat race for a second time. With a two-year-old and a bewildered husband in tow, she is traveling the globe slowly seeking the world’s best street food - and trying to get her toddler to eat. Read some of Barbara’s funny travel stories at www.thedropoutdiaries.com and join her Facebook community at https://www.facebook.com/DropoutDiaries.