Boy am I glad that I give destinations a second chance! Back when I visited Chiang Mai, Thailand for the first time in 2011, I came away from that holiday unimpressed. The city was swelteringly hot when I visited and a lack of tourist attractions made it an incredibly uninteresting destination for my lofty travel plans. But when revisiting this summer during an OUT Adventures group trip through Thailand, I had the chance to rediscover the city and see things I’d previously missed out on.
And my favorite tourist experience in Chiang Mai was the few hours we spent atop Chiang Mai’s nearby mountain: Doi Suthep. The national park and mountain, just outside of the city, offers incredible views of the surrounding areas (so long as the skies are clear!). But besides the scenic viewpoint, it’s the temple that sits atop the mountain which is the real attraction. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (its official name) is an impressive, gold-colored Buddhist temple. It’s a holy site for many Thai people, though it’s also a very popular tourist attraction (ranked #3 on TripAdvisor’s list of things to do). Arriving at the temple via Songthaew, there’s then a large staircase up to the top of the mountain where the Wat (temple) sits.
Like most temples in Thailand, there are certain customs to be mindful of: removing shoes, respectful clothing, etc. In this temple, it’s customary to purchase a candle and to then light it in the ceremonial fashion. Lots of tourists do this and it’s easy to follow along — or to ask your neighbor. Thankfully, our local tour guide with the OUT Adventures group, Nai, was able to explain what we needed to do. Major benefit of being on a tour with a local! Nai insisted that we needed to walk three laps around the central part of the temple, and insisted that we should look straight ahead and count our steps. By focusing solely on counting our footsteps, hopefully we’d achieve some sort of meditation, trying to remove other thoughts and distractions from our minds.
The whole experience at the top of the temple, including hearing them ring the bells (see below), was a sobering and relaxing experience. The perfect way to gear myself up for an evening out at the gay clubs of Chiang Mai later that night!
If you visit, I recommend going in the late afternoon so you can catch the sunset. The view really is impressive. If you’re interested, the temple hosts overnight stays for tourists and aspiring Buddhists wishing to stay on the grounds of the national park.