Hiking up the Naga Stairway
Naga stairway of Buddhist Temples in North Thailand
Many Buddhist temples in Thailand are located on the top of a hill or a mountain. Most of them have a Naga stairway lined on both sides with a snake-like being, called Naga. This has its origin in the myth of the Buddha. The Buddha had reached enlightenment and was meditating under a Bodhi tree when it started raining heavily. A snake-like creature appeared. It sheltered the Buddha with its hoods from the rain. This was the Naga called Mucalinda. The Naga is often portrayed with multiple heads.
Each temple has it own characteristic stairway. Sometimes trees give shade while you walk up to the temple, sometimes not. Walking these stairways is something we enjoy very much. Most temples have a road suitable for vehicles leading to them, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep even has a kind of an elevator. We prefer to walk! In this articles we present our favourite stairways to temples in the North of Thailand. In most cases you will be rewarded with great atmosphere and a fantastic view once you have conquered the stairway.
1 – Wat Analayo Thippayara, Phayao Province
This temple is about 20kms west of Phayao City. It is right across the lake, Kwan Payao, on a mountain called Doi Busarakham. It is an extensive complex with multiple impressive statues and building. The stairway to the main temple complex has a beautiful gate. The stairway itself is not very long but is very wide. It is the only one that has trees on the steps. More steps amidst building, statues and pavilliions will take you higher through the forest. You will have walk to the highest point of the temple to get a nice view of Khwan Payao and the city. We only visited the main temple but there are sideroads leading to more statues and sanctuaries.
2 – Wat Phraphutthabat Tak Pha, Lamphun province
This temple is south of Lamphun, about 60 kms from Chiang Mai. It gained fame because of the opening scene of the movie Rambo 3 that was shot here. According to a myth the Buddha once stayed here and dried his outer robe on the nearby cliff. There is a footprint of the Buddha on the temple ground and the likely spot where he dried his robe. There are some other interesting statues and buildings at the ground level.
From there you can see the Naga stairway leading up to a chedi called Phrathat Chedi Si Khruba. You can either walk through the living area of the monks to the bottom of the stairs or exit the temple and drive there. The stairs are really impressive but offer no shade at all. Do them early in the morning or late in the afternoon, is our advice. If it’s quiet you might be joined by one of the many cats and dogs that live on the hill. They are very friendly.
Once you are at the top the views are nice. When the weather is clear you will be able to see both Doi Suthep and Doi Inthanon, the “roof” of Thailand. As far as I know there is no other place where you watch both these famous mountains.
3 – Wat Santikhiri, Doi Mae Salong, Chiang Rai Province
This stairway is not the prettiest but it is still worthwhile walking up. The railings of the stairs are made of steel which is a bit disappointing. There is enough shade. The Wat Santikhiri is a fairly modern temple and is worth visiting. The best of this stairway is the view over the town Santikhiri and over the surrounding mountains. Also here I recommend an very early morning or late afternoon walk. The temple is located near where the morning market takes place, about halfway the main road that leads through town.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai Province
The stairway to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is the most famous of all Naga stairways to Buddhist temples in Thailand. Hundreds of thousands of people walk this stairway to the temple that is one of the main attractions of Chiang Mai. It is also the stairway that has an elevator. Besides that, it is the only stairway of which you can find many historical photographs. It is probably also one of the oldest stairways. I walked it many times. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep features in many of our tours such as Amazing Temples of Chiang Mai, the Buffalo Market, Lamphun and Doi Suthep Temple tour and the Chiang Mai Highlights Tour.
Wat Phra That Khao Noi, Nan
The Wat Phrathat Khao Noi is a bit out of town. It is not an old temple. The Naga stairway also doesn’t look very old. On top of the hill there is a small temple and a standing Buddha statue. The view over Nan and surrounding is worth the walk. Of course you can also get to the top by vehicle.
We will explore more stairways to Buddhist temples in the future. We will keep you posted.