If you visit Chiang Mai, you visit Doi Suthep. This famous mountain temple receives hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors every day. But did you know that despite its popularity, it’s pretty easy to be alone there as well? There’s so much to see, so come with us as we take you to the top of the mountain!
The way up
5:00 AM, the alarm goes off. 5:15, it goes off again. 6:30…
“Oh no, we’re going to be late!” We quickly put on our clothes and hop on our motorbike.
Empty roads. Green traffic lights. A lonely dog crosses the street. The dawn is upon us.
What a massive difference from the daytime, when the roads generally are congested with pick-up trucks, motorbikes, and red songthaews, all waiting in the blazing sun.
We pass the first hill and are no longer alone. To my surprise, we overtake large groups of runners and mountain bikers, braving the climb up. Their outfits and the musculature of their calves tell me they do this often. Respect.
We twist and wind our way ever higher up the mountain, until we reach the 309-step staircase to the ‘Wat Phra That Doi Suthep’, or simply ‘Doi Suthep’.
Sunrise from the Doi Suthep
Walking the steps, we notice the first stalls opening and produce being displayed. A barbecue is lit, and a group of dogs keeps a close eye on it. Hurriedly, as daylight started creeping in, we climbed our way up the steps and eventually reached the kiosk. It was still closed.
We walk over to the viewpoint and there it was: the sun. This is what we came for: a red and orange sky, birds nose-diving through the air and a group of monks overlooking the city as it awakes from its slumber.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
The temple ‘Wat Phra That Doi Suthep’ is Chiang Mai’s most famous temple, and also the most sacred temple in northern Thailand. It’s also known as simply ‘Doi Suthep’, after the 1,676-meter high mountain on which it stands. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep lies at the height of about 1,060 meters and boasts a stunning view of Chiang Mai.
But it’s not just the views that are beautiful. The temple complex also has a separate inner part, with a large, gold-colored chedi in the middle. Next to the chedi is an ‘umbrella’ which symbolizes the city’s independence from Myanmar and its association with Thailand.
Altars have been built with large Buddha statues on the inside. The walls surrounding the complex are decorated with gorgeous mural paintings that tell the story of the Buddha and his followers.
Visitors come from all over Thailand to offer lotus flowers, incense, and candles. Every day, at 6:00 PM, monks come together to pray and chant, which is a wonderful experience.
Doi Suthep’s other sights
But there’s more!
What many tourists don’t know is that there much more to Doi Suthep than just it’s temple.
At the foot of Doi Suthep, on the way to the temple, you will pass the ‘Huay Kaew Waterfall’, a small but beautiful waterfall in the middle of nature. Locals like to visit the waterfall on weekends to enjoy a family picnic. It’s worth stopping here to enjoy the surroundings. Entrance is free.
After visiting the temple, continue up the mountain. Eventually, you’ll reach the ‘Bhubing Palace’, a country residence which belongs to the royal family. A beautiful rose garden has been planted around the residence. So if you like flowers and plants, we highly recommend taking a walk here.
When the royal family does not reside there, the estate is open daily for visitors from 8:30 AM to 11:30 AM and from 1:00 PM to 3:30 AM. Admission is 50 baht for adults and 10 baht for children. As it’s a royal estate, you’re not allowed to enter with shorts or bare shoulders; this applies to both men and women. I wasn’t even allowed to enter wearing leggings, so make sure you dress modestly.
After the rose garden, you can continue on a tiny little road, which winds further up to the ‘Doi Pui Viewpoint’ (free entrance). At the viewpoint itself, there usually isn’t that much to see, as you’ll be above the clouds. Much to the delight of Thai tourists, who like to take selfies with the gray fog.
But fear not, because on the way there you will be able to catch some glimpses, and above you can see the ‘Wat Phra That Doi Suthep’.
Finally, the road continues to the ‘Hmong Village’, also known as the ‘Doi Pui Mong Hill Tribe Village’. The village has lost its authenticity because of its large market and the large numbers of tourists it attracts. Personally, we wouldn’t recommend the village; unless you really love markets or big crowds, of course.
Good to know
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is not only the most sacred but also the most visited temple of Chiang Mai. It can get quite busy. If you want to avoid the crowds, you can visit the temple at sunrise, as we did. Preferably, come a little earlier still, to notice the color differences.
The sunset cannot be seen from the temple complex, but it’s still a good time to visit Doi Suthep. It is quiet, and you see the evening fall over Chiang Mai, with all its sparkling lights. Magic!
The complex is open day and night, meaning you can also visit the temple in the evening and enjoy the darkness and the city lights. We heard it’s also very quiet around that time. Please note that the inside, with the chedi, does close in the evening.
You can reach the temple via a long staircase with 309 steps. If you’re unable to make the climb, there are also a cable car that takes visitors to and from the top for 20 baht.
Doi Suthep’s temple is a sacred place, so adjust your clothes accordingly. Women must cover their shoulders and wear a skirt or pants below the knee. You’re not allowed to enter the inner part with shoes on. So bring shoes you can quickly take on and off. You can rent sarongs at the entrance for a small fee.
Opening hours and entrance
The kiosk of the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is open daily from 6:30 AM to 6:30 PM. The complex surrounding it is open all day. The entrance fee is 50 baht per person.
Address: Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Road Tambon Su Thep, Chiang Mai Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50200
Doi Suthep: How to get there
All songthaews go to the temple on the Doi Suthep. These shared taxis run around Chiang Mai and can be recognized by their red color. You pay around 100 baht per person for a single ride, and it only leaves when there are ten people on board. The journey up takes about 30-45 minutes.
If you want to leave immediately, it’s best to arrange private transport for 500 to 600 baht, which will include the return trip. The driver will drop you off at the stairs to the temple and will wait there for your return (one to two hours). Pay the driver only when you are back in the city.
If you want to see more than just the temple, it will be necessary to rent a private songthaew. Count on paying 800 to 1,000 baht in total for the abovementioned tour.
It is also possible to go by motorbike. You have to be an experienced rider, however, as the roads are windy and busy with traffic. Don’t go when it rains because of slipperiness. Motorbikes can be rented anywhere in the city for around 300 baht per day.