Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is doubtless Chiang Mai’s most famous temple, located on the mountain called Doi Suthep. It is a sacred site for many Thai people. The temple is about 15 km from the city of Chiang Mai. From the temple, you have a fantastic view over Chiang Mai.

The original founding of the temple remains a legend, and there are various versions. The temple is said to have been founded in 1383. Over time, the temple has expanded and looks more extravagant with many more holy shrines added. Followers of the Monk Kruba Srivichai constructed a road to the temple in 1935.

Buddhist temple with golden chedi
Wat Doi Suthep early morning

The foundation of Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

According to legend a monk from Sukhothai took a piece of bone that was supposed to be a relic of the Buddha to Chiang Mai. King Kue Na of the Lanna Kingdom was particularly impressed with this Monk, whose name was Sumana. The legend says that the bone broke in two. A piece was enshrined in Wat Suan Dok. They attached the second piece on the back of an elephant and released it in the forest. The elephant climbed up the mountain and dropped dead. The King saw this as an omen and decided to construct a temple at that spot. That temple would become the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. This all happened in 1383. The location of the temple is spectacular and made it a very popular destination for  international and local tourists.

View on big city
Chiang Mai panorama from Doi Suthep

Wat Prathat Doi Suthep through the centuries

Up to now, I haven’t found many references to the temple up to the mid-1930s. Followers of the Monk Kruba Sriwichai constructed a road from where now the zoo is located to the stairway that leads to the temple. Monks walked to the temple along a trail that is now called the Monk’s trail. In the early 20th century the German botanist Carl Curt Hosseus was one of the first westerners who explored Doi Suthep. The famous Irish botanist Arthur Kerr followed him. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the foreign (western) community grew fast. Most of these people were either members of the American Presbyterian Church or employees of the British teak logging firms such as the Borneo Company and the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation.

Stairs with dragon statues
Stairs to Wat Doi Suthep

Sanatoriums or holiday bungalows?

The British and American residents of Chiang Mai found it difficult to cope with the climate, especially in the hot season months of March, April and June. To escape the hot and humid weather, they constructed bungalows on the mountain. In several sources, these bungalows are also referred to as “sanatoriums”. The British consulate in Chiang Mai had a bungalow on Doi Suthep but also the BBTC forest manager Arthur Queripel. There were also bungalows of the mission on Doi Suthep. Little research has been done into the history of Doi Suthep as a destination. We know that Dara Rasmi, the princess consort of King Rama V, had a rose garden on Doi Suthep. As far as I know, this rose garden was near to where now the flower garden of the Bhuping Palace is.

Ping flowers in a garden
Rose garden Bhuping garden

Hideaway on Doi Suthep

Based on some research I think that most of the bungalows of missionaries, consulates, teak logging firms and of individuals such as Queripel were at the location of the National Park bungalows, just up from the temple. Bill Streatfeild worked for the BBTC in Bangkok. In the early 1930s, he visited Chiang Mai with his wife, Ursula. They stayed in one of the BBTC bungalows on Doi Suthep. They travelled in a “carrying chair”, a seat slung between poles. Four local people carried them to the bungalow. Others would walk or ride a horse. BBTC Elephants carried their luggage. They stayed up there for six weeks. Contact with Chiang Mai was through “runners” who acted as mail service with the BBTC office and also took care of the shopping.

Large group of people and monks
Kruba Srivichai and his followers on April 30, 1935 at the foot of the stairs to Wat Doi Suthep

Doi Suthep after the completion of the road

As said, followers of the “monk-engineer” Kruba Sriwichai completed the construction of the road on April 30, 1935. An unknown photographer took one of the most famous Chiang Mai photographs on that day. It shows the Monk with his followers, flanked by Luang Sri Prakad and a businessman of Chinese descent called Chin Ngow. Luang Sri Prakad was the mayor of Chiang Mai and later became a member of the Siamese parliament for Chiang Mai. BBTC employee Maurice Colchester took a taxi in 1935 to the house of Evelyn van Millingen, the BBTC forest manager. He wrote: “…in order to make merit many Buddhists had made a motor road up to it (FB: the temple). This was very convenient for us, as we were to take a taxi almost to Van Millingen’s door.” Photographs of Edward Walter Hutchinson, another BBTC employee,  show a vehicle driving up to his bungalow on Doi Suthep in 1938. As yet I don’t know if the bungalows of van Millingen and Hutchinson were privately owned or property of the BBTC.

Group of people on a balcony
Kathleen and Evelyn van Millingen entertaining guests at their bungalow on Doi Suthep

Visiting Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

There are no official numbers, but I guess that several hundred thousand people visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep every year. If you visit the temple during the daytime, you will not be alone. The temple has an entrance fee of 30THB (about one USD) per person. For those who don’t want to walk up the 300 steps to the temple, there is a kind of elevator for an extra charge. The best time to visit is very early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Even though the temple is within the boundaries of the Doi Pui-Doi Suthep National Park, there is no entrance fee for the park.

Bungalow with a nice view
Doi Suthep National Park bungalow

Spending the night on Doi Suthep

I have spent the night often at the National Park accommodation on Doi Suthep. They have bungalows that are wonderful but a little too big and expensive for one person. They also have rooms that are basic but clean and fine for me. The park accommodation is less than ten minutes walk from the temple. At the parking lot of the temple, there are quite a few restaurants where you can have dinner and breakfast. From the national park office, you have a lovely view of the temple and Chiang Mai. It is extraordinary to be at the temple after all the other visitors have left. It is tranquil and serene. I am an early sleeper, and a very early riser to I made sure to be at the temple before sunrise. It is an extraordinary experience which I will always enjoy. The Wat Pra That Doi Suthep is an exceptional place and worth spending the night. Please send us an email if you are interested in spending the night on Doi Suthep. Accommodation is on request so we have to check first. We can put together a customised itinerary for you. 

Stairway with dragons
Stairway Wat Doi Suthep early morning

The Wat Phra That Doi Suthep features in these programs:

From: 14,500.00 ฿