If you’re going to visit one temple in Chiang Mai, you’ll probably visit one of the millions of temples within the Old City because they’re everywhere. But if you’re going to visit a second temple, make sure it’s Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (a lot of people call it“Doi Suthep”). It’s that shining golden glimme
r up on the green mountainside that you can see from almost anywhere in the city. Most non-Thai visitors don’t even know that it’s one of the most sacred temples in Thailand, but on top of the great religious significance and beauty, it’s an incredible destination that can be as much about the journey as you want it to be.
If you have a chance to make a day out of it (or even allot a few hours), I cannot recommend it highly enough. The views of Chiang Mai are impressive, the temple itself has plenty to appreciate for history buffs and the average tourist alike, there are multiple waterfalls on the way, and it’s perfect for anyone who wants a fun but low-commitment motorbike destination. Here’s why and how to visit Chiang Mai’s temple on the mountaintop: Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
How to Get to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
There are several ways to get from Chiang Mai city to the mountaintop temple of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. If you plan to go on your own, you can rent a motorbike, hike, get a ride in a red songthaew, hire a songthaew for the entire day, or do a tour. For people who tend to do tours, it’ll definitely make transportation easy since the location is over 30 minutes outside the city. As mentioned above, we love a DIY approach on motorbike so that you can make an adventure out of it (and check out cool stuff along the way).
Getting to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep by Motorbike
Up for an adventure? If so, rent a motorbike early in the day and plot your journey. There is just one road up to Doi Suthep from Chiang Mai, so you really can’t miss it. It’s great for anyone who wants the fun and convenience of riding a motorbike for the day but doesn’t want to get too involved with highways or complicated instructions like other motorbike destinations.
Wherever you are in the city, make your way to the 1004 (more of a big avenue than highway). If you’re looking at an Old City map, you’ll see one long straight road leading away from the top left-hand corner (near Chiang Mai Ram Hospital). This is the 1004. Get yourself there and you will go straight until you hit the temple about the top (anywhere from 35-60 minutes later). You’ll know when the road finally widens and you see the crowds and flags in the trees. There is free motorcycle parking at the top.
Doi Suthep Waterfall
Those motorbiking will have the freedom to stop where they choose! Namely, at any of the waterfalls along the way. The first couple turn-offs without views are your hints that waterfalls and areas to explore lie below. The first on the left has a fun watering hole with a point where you can do a miniature cliff jump and enjoy a little natural water slide. Watch locals to see where is safe to jump.
Getting to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep by Taxi (aka songthaew)
Have you see the large red trucks driving around? Those are the taxis here (also known as songthaew). They run from several designated points in the city to the temple. You can pick one up from in front of the Chiang Mai Zoo (40THB/person) and in front of Wat Phra Singh (50 THB per person). However, they will only leave when the taxi is full so allow a bit of waiting time. (Look at where these locations are on a map from you- if neither is nearby, consider chartering so you don’t have to pay transportation to the pickup spot as well as up the mountain).
You can also charter one of these trucks from anywhere in the city. This should cost 300 THB for one way (as many people as you can fit), or 500 THB if you want the driver to wait at the top and bring you back down afterwards. These can fit from 8-10 people, and if you can get that size of a group and will be coming from the center, it will save you money.
Hiking to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Want a workout? This is a good one. It takes about 1 hour and 1/2 each way. For those staying in the city for a while, this hike often becomes a way to workout even once you’ve already visited the temple, and is definitely worth checking out. Wear bug spray!
Begin walking up Suthep Road past Chiang Mai University to find the start of the hike. When you come up a green area, you will see some billboards and a sign that says “Nature Hike”. Turn right onto this narrow road. Go straight for about 100 meters then take the first (and only) left. Follow the road to the trail head.
You’ll know you’re at the trail when you see the entrance with two green boards on each side. One has a map but it’s not very helpful. As you follow the hike to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep you’ll pass a couple other smaller temples, and likely several monks and locals along the way. Keep going upwards and you will eventually arrive at the back of the temple. The entrance (where you’re supposed to pay) is at the front, as is the impressive staircase you won’t want to miss. Don’t want to hike back down? Grab a ride from a red songthaew out front.
Visiting Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple
Entrance to the temple costs 30 THB per person.
Like all other Buddhist temples, attire should be respectful. This means shoulders and legs (at least to the knee) covered, nothing skimpy. Men and women wearing tank tops should bring something to cover up with, same with short shorts, dresses, or skirts. Avoid low-cut tops. Also remember that you will need to remove your shoes at the entrance.
If you go on a hot day, it’s easy to bring two sarongs and use them when you arrive. One as a skirt to cover your legs, one as a shawl for your shoulders. If you forget these and are dressed inappropriately, they sell scarves near the entrance.
On a similar note, PDA isn’t allowed in temples.
When to Go
Opening hours for Wat Phra That Doi Suthep are 6am-6pm every day. The temple doesn’t hold special events for Buddhist holidays like some temples in the city, so you can be flexible with when you visit.
If you have a choice, visit on a clear day for a better view. If you arrive a bit before sunset, the views and light on the temple are especially beautiful, and you’ll likely witness the monks chanting.
The Doi Suthep Vipassana Meditation Center at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep hosts several religious outreach programs and meditation courses. Check out their website for more information.
You’ll notice several interactive spots in the temple, such as tiles that you can write your name on, incense you can light, flowers you can leave, etc. Please pay attention to the nearby donation boxes. They are all self-serve, but are to be taken in exchange of a donation. Some foreigners miss the memo. If it seems “free”, it’s donation-based. That being said, the donations asked are usually small and it adds to the experience to participate so don’t be shy!