Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Chiang Mai, Thailand
The holiest shrine in northern Thailand, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (also spelled Wat Phratat Doi Suthep) was founded in 1386 under miraculous circumstances. It crowns the Doi Suthep mountain on the western outskirts of Chiang Mai.
History of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Construction on Wat Doi Suthep began in 1386 under King Kuena (r.1367-88) and was completed within a few years. The temple complex was periodically expanded and embellished over the following centuries.
Construction would have been an arduous task, with workers having to carry supplies through thick jungle: the road leading to the temple was only installed in 1935. The modern paved road was a joint effort of communities throughout the Chiang Mai region, each of whom contributed 1,300-foot sections.
Myth and Mystery
According to legend, a magical relic multiplied itself just before it was enshrined at Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai. A suitable place therefore had to be found to shelter the new relic.
Unable to decide on the site, the king placed the relic in a portal shrine on the back of a white elephant and waited to see where the animal would take it. Eventually, the elephant walked up to the top of Doi Suthep mountain, trumpeted three times, turned around three times, knelt down, and died. The temple was immediately built on the miraculously-chosen site.
What to See at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Wat Doi Suthep is approached by a steep flight of 300 stairs flanked by green trees and guarded by 16th-century Naga (snake) figures. An easier, if less atmospheric, route is via an adjacent funicular.
The temple is part of Doi Suthep National Park, a richly forested area supporting some 330 species of birds. The park also includes Phuping Palace and Mon Tha Than Falls, the later believed by some to contain evil spirits.
Doi Suthep mountain rises about 1000m (3,542 ft) above sea level; there are fine views over the city of Chiang Mai to be had from the temple's lower terrace. The terrace is surrounded by large bells that are rung by pilgrims to bring good luck. On the northwest corner of the terrace is a statue of the legendary elephant who chose the site of the temple.
Enclosed by a frescoed cloister, the upper terrace is home to a tightly-packed complex of small shrines, bells, golden umbrellas and Buddha statues. Shoes must be removed and shoulders must be covered before entering this sacred area.
In the center of the upper terrace is the great chedi, a 16th-century expansion of the 14th-century original. The dazzling gold-plated temple is modeled on Wat Phra That Haripunjaya in Lamphun, formerly the greatest temple in the Chiang Mai region.
Festivals and Events
Wat Doi Suthep hosts Northern Thailand's largest celebrations of Maha Puja, the anniversary of the Buddha's sermon, and Visakha Puja, the Buddha's birthday. Both are marked with candlelit processions up the mountain to the temple.