Temple at Doi Suthep
Perched overlooking the city sat a guilded cloud kingdom...
I've been pretty busy exploring outside of Chiang Mai city and into some of the surrounding Doi, or mountains. Packing my day full of activity has helped me get on a real sleep schedule (for the past week I've been falling asleep around 4pm and waking up at 6am!).
One of the first excursions I made is to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a temple atop the mountain Doi Suthep overlooking the city. It's so close to the city center and shines so brightly that you can very easily see it from wherever you are in the city, and especially from our rooftop pool. It's one of the biggest tourist attractions because of the beautiful temple and views of the city, and it's an extremely sacred place for Buddhists and Thai people especially.
The easiest way to get there is by red bus, which are all over the city, which you pick up from outside the old city gate. They'll also honk at you on the street (a lot) as their way of asking you if you'd like to hop on and go up there. It's about a 40-minute trip up a windy mountain road that might make you a little carsick if you're like me and don't like sitting sideways. At the top, we ran into a dead stop of traffic as cars and buses tried to get to the drop-off point. We knew how crowded it gets here so I planned to go on a rainy day hoping it would deter some tourists but there's no way around it- expect dense crowds.
The bus drops you off at the base of a giant staircase, flanked by long green dragons that run along each side and culminate in the fantastic multi-headed dragon sculpture at the base. Since we were at the top of a mountain, I was a little more winded than usual by the time I reached the top! The grounds circle the sacred temple and are home to many large bells and smaller temples where monks sit in perfectly still worship, bless you with holy water and a prayer, or make bracelets for children. Sometimes you can see down to the city but we were high in the misty mountains and it was almost like being in a cloud kingdom.
At the center, you enter up more stairs into the central courtyard that houses the golden mount. Inside every temple, there are strict rules of conduct. Everyone must take their shoes off, cover shoulders and knees, refrain from public displays of affection, and try to be as quiet as possible especially during prayer. You must always keep your head lower than a monk or an image of Buddha, and since the feet are considered the lowest and dirtiest part of the body, you kneel whenever you enter a temple. Women are not permitted to touch monks as to not tempt them.
Visitors were lighting candles, engaged in prayer, and leaving white and yellow carnations as tributes. Such a sacred place with such calm worshiping monks sort of mismatched with the overwhelming noise and constant picture-taking from thousands of tourists. If you're looking for a place to get centered and learn about Buddhist traditions, this is not the place for you. Think of it more as a beautifully decorated and ornate monument.
On our way back down, all the red buses were full, so we grabbed onto the back of one and held on for a very fun ride down the mountain. I thought I wouldn't like how unstable it seems but it was actually very sturdy, exhilarating, and refreshing for those who get motion sickness!