One of the first things we noticed when we arrived a year ago was something way up on the top of one of the mountains surrounding Chiang Mai. At night, the mountain of Doi Suthep is cloaked in total darkness except for this one spot which glows brightly. During the day, depending on the angle of the sun, a brilliant flash of gold can be seen there. We soon learned that what we were seeing was one of the most famous and revered Buddhist temples (wats) in all of Thailand: Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep.
Recently, we drove up the very winding road to the top of the mountain which, at 5,500 feet, offers wonderful views of Chiang Mai city, the Ping River, and beyond. The temple has given rise to the little village of Doi Pui Maeo where the chief industry is selling food, clothing, and souvenirs to the faithful as well as sightseers from around the world.
The original temple was built in the mid-1300s and has been enlarged over the years. Until the 1930s when the road was built, pilgrims had to hike up a small trail to get to the temple. Imagine how they felt when, upon the hours-long trek up the mountain, they discovered that they had to climb a 309-step staircase to get to the temple!
The temple complex itself is beautiful with bells, pagodas, shrines, and statues arrayed over a large ceramic-tiled plaza. Another dozen or so steps takes you up to a raised and walled courtyard area which, for Buddhists, is the most sacred area of the wat and one of the holiest sites in Thailand and where the smell of incense burning and the sound of monks chanting is ubiquitous.
We timed our visit to coincide with sunset so that we could enjoy the spectacular views both by daylight and at night. It was a great time spent together as a family on a perfect, clear and cool day!