The Mysteries of Doi Suthep Revealed
As digital nomads living and working in Chiang Mai, we love exploring its many hidden gems. On Saturday afternoon we put on our hiking boots and set off in search of an unknown temple.
Doi Suthep Temple stands on top of a mountain overlooking Bangkok and requires an effortful journey through steep trails; its magnificent views more than make up for this effort, however.
The San Ku Temple
San Ku is an atmospheric temple hidden away in Doi Pui’s dense forest far beyond the tourist hubs of Wat Doi Suthep and Bhubing Palace, making for an eerily ghost-like visit. On my visit, thick morning fog created an even more haunted experience, creating an eerie scene that adds another layer of mystery and mysticism.
Contrasting with Wat Doi Suthep’s golden chedi, San Ku’s ruined stupa features no visible Buddha image but instead features an attractive viharn base and single, detached principal stupa – something found throughout Hariphunchai and Lanna Kingdom temples.
Though much of the main stupa has become overgrown with vegetation, its once grand foundation can still be easily seen. Both entrances are marked by small lion statues similar to those found at Chinese temples; additional levels remain of its foundation as well.
San Ku is a temple on Doi Suthep that requires a 20-minute hike up an ancient pilgrimage trail. While some parts are steep and offer spectacular viewpoints, overall this experience will prove rewarding with breathtaking views across Doi Pui and Chiang Mai from its peak.
Though the main stupa at San Ku is not visible from the road, there is a large enough clearing to park full-size cars and follow signs to the shrine surrounded by face towers topped with smiling sculptures representing Doi Suthep peaks at various heights; only 37 of its original 59 towers remain today and has long perplexed scholars and academics. Admission costs to San Ku are small to cover maintenance costs – for safety, we suggest taking water on your journey!
The Shoulder Bone Relic
According to legend, the Shoulder Bone Relic – believed to be part of Buddha’s shoulder bone – once held magical powers that allowed it to glow brightly or even duplicate itself. Sumanathera found this incredible artifact when he followed his dreams to Pang Cha and dug up its shoulder bone, later placed at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep for worshipping purposes. Hearing about its discovery, King Lanna of Lanna Kingdom requested Sumanathera bring it north Thailand for him. As soon as he tried, however, the relic broke into two pieces and one piece was placed into a temple at Suandok while another piece was put onto a white elephant and released into the jungle; when this elephant reached Doi Suthep it trumpeted three times before dropping dead; taking this as an omen that there should be temple constructed there.
Temple is now one of the most visited spots by both domestic and international tourists alike and considered holy ground. Its iconic golden chedi and surrounding temple buildings create an unforgettable sight – especially during sunrise or sunset!
Temple shrines feature intricately-carved and statued sandstone carvings and statues depicting everything from the white elephant that inspired its construction, to various Buddhist deities and gods. Additionally, there are multiple viharns as well as large sets of rakhang (temple bells) for devotees to touch in order to bring good luck.
Doi Suthep National Park boasts many shrines and breathtaking vistas, along with hilltribe villages still living the way they did thousands of years ago. One such village is Buay Kaew, located a short drive away from its entrance.
Doi Suthep’s natural beauty is its main drawcard; mountains atop Doi Suthep boast lush, verdant forests of deciduous trees at lower elevations and tropical evergreens above 1,000 meters, home to an array of bird and mammal species; this makes Doi Suthep an unparalleled site to visit for visitors seeking adventure. Doi Suthep provides visitors with plenty of activities for enjoyment throughout its natural ecosystem.
The History of Doi Suthep
Doi Suthep has long been an integral part of Thai culture. Home to one of Thailand’s most revered temples and a major tourist attraction, Doi Suthep was made accessible for visitors thanks to Khruba Srivichai who dedicated his life to making Doi Suthep accessible. But that wasn’t always the case – in 1935 only one road leading up to Doi Suthep had even been built!
Srivichai was born in Lamphun and became famous through his restoration and modernization efforts at various temples and public works throughout northern Thailand. Perhaps his most noteworthy contribution is the road that now connects Doi Suthep – it was Srivichai who conceptualized, led construction efforts and motivated workers so quickly to complete this monumental undertaking – today its existence stands as testament to his hard work and devotion.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple in Chiang Mai holds an iconic position in Thai culture and holds dear the Relic said to be part of Buddha’s shoulder bone, according to legend. According to this tale, this relic was given to Lanna King Kuena by Sri Lankan monk Sumanathera on his visit in 1368 from Sri Lanka; when Kuena saw its location when walking up Doi Suthep mountain it trumpeted three times and died, signalling Kuena that this should be where their temple should be built en enshrine half in Wat Suan Dok; according to legend, when visiting monk Sumanathera from Sri Lanka monk Sumanathera brought it. Kuena found out about its current location when the rare white elephant trumpeted three times before dying signalling him that this spot should become his new temple’s construction site!
Visitors who climb the famous Naga staircase and arrive at a temple will discover several smaller golden bells hanging from its tiers – these bells represent romantic traditions in Thailand and can help visitors express their affection for someone special back home. Buy a tiny heart and add the name of someone special – your spouse, girlfriend/boyfriend etc – on it to create an intimate moment that costs only 100 baht. Doi Suthep National Park boasts more than just its sacred temple; there’s also the captivating Bhueng Palace where members of the Royal Family take vacations and host foreign dignitaries. Additionally, you’ll discover a small hill tribe village where people lead different lives from most Thai populations and explore more about their unique cultures.
The Legends of Doi Suthep
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is widely recognised as both the most iconic temple in Chiang Mai and northern Thailand, distinguished by its iconic golden chedi.
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep Temple was believed to have been established by Lanna king Kuena in 1368 after receiving from Sri Lanka a shoulder bone relic of Buddha which split apart upon reaching him and was presented at Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep as one of its halves.
When the relic was first brought to Kuena it was given special protection by an elephant that was allowed to choose where it would go; once on top of Doi Suthep it trumpeted three times before dying signalling this as its new home for worship.
Temple complexes can be reached via a steep flight of 300 steps surrounded by green trees and protected by 16th-century Naga (snake) figures. While funicular rides up the mountain may offer convenience, climbing stairs alone offers greater gratification as a feeling of accomplishment than simply taking an elevator up a mountainside.
Once at the bottom of the stairs you will arrive at a large parking lot. To reach the actual temple you must climb another set of steps that is lined by small shrines before meeting monks on raised platforms who offer their blessings and accept donations.
The path leading up to Doi Suthep is clearly marked with orange cloth tied around many trees, not as trail markers but instead to show their sacred status and avoid bad karma from cutting down any of these orange bands. They usually form a cluster on one side of the road for this reason. When Doi Suthep was initially established it was an extremely challenging trek and many died on their journey up or down its slopes.