How Cheap Is Cheap?
Five USD is about 150 baht and this is quite a chunk. Here in Chiang Mai, this nice chunk of baht will buy you a meal for two, a visit to the zoo including Song Taeo bus fair or a nice pair of fancy sandals at one of the night markets. You could even receive a Thai massage for less than 150 baht in Chiang Mai. To give you some comparison, consider that Tiger Kingdom, which is one of the popular attractions, costs around 520 baht to spend 15 minutes with 2-5 month-old tiger cubs. Also consider that a tour to Doi Inthanon National Park to see the highest peak in Thailand costs around 500-800 baht.
The Best $5 You Will Ever Spend
Chiang Mai is the charming city of culture, the gem of northern Thailand, filled with over 300 Wats while also growing and becoming a hip, trendy and artsy town. Huay Kaew, a road considered as part of the new city, housing the largest mall in Chiang Mai, leads you to a location you should not miss. Only about 15 kilometers away from the city center is the famous historical and cultural site of Wat Prathat Doi Suthep.
Historically, every temple with the name Prathat indicates that the Wat houses the remains of Lord Buddha and therefore, has holy significance to Buddhists. A trip to Chiang Mai without a visit to Doi Suthep would be like going to Rome, Italy and missing the Vatican. If you asked a local in Chiang Mai about where to go, Doi Suthep is usually at the top of the list. The wonderful thing about visiting Doi Suthep is that along the way, you will pass Kud Suan Kaew Central Mall, Huay Kaew Arboretum (currently under renovation), Huay Kaew Fitness Park, the Chiang Mai Zoo and then enter into Doi Suthep-Pui National Park.
This lovely scenic and winding ride to the top of Doi Suthep provides you with additional attractions to come back to on a different day. Within this National Park and along Huay Kaew road, there are other outdoors attractions such as Huay Kaew Waterfall and Monthathan Waterfall.
The Low Down
After a nice scenic ride up the mountain, climbing over 300 steps within the Naga staircase before arriving to the Wat makes for a challenging and exciting adventure. Once atop, I promise the climb is worth every step. If climbing is not an option, no worries, for 20 baht (yee sip), you have the choice of taking the automatic cable car straight to the top. Climbing the steps was our preference in our effort to see Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep.
It is a bit cooler as you drive up to the mountain, but climbing 300 plus steps will likely make one sweat, at least a little. However, please remember that you are on religious grounds and as such, there are a few do’s and don’ts when visiting a temple, not just Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, but all Buddhist temples.
- Dress politely. Do not wear shorts. Ladies, please cover your shoulders and your boobs.
- Show proper respect in the temple and shrine area.
- Take off your shoes before entering the temple grounds and the Golden Chedi
- Keep your head lower than that of Buddha images, statues and honorable Monks
- Do Not touch Buddha images or statues
- Do not point with your feet
- Refrain from public displays of affection
- Keep clean
- Keep quiet
NOTE: Ladies, Don’t be utterly disrespectful with your attire like this woman. Yes, she was spotted at Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. Remember that it is not just in the upper level, walled area that you will encounter honorable Monks, Buddha statues and images, they are on the lower level as well.
One more thing about climbing stairs: On you way up you will see women coming to you to purchase flowers, candles, and incense which you can offer once you are within the temple walls. This is not required and entirely up to you, of course. Cost is very minimal, around 20 baht. Once you are within the temple walls and the Golden Chedi you can pay respect, be blessed by a monk, offer candle light, walk around the Chedi to pray and be sure to make a wish that perhaps one day you’ll return to Chiang Mai and visit Wat Prathat Doi Suthep once again.
After visiting inside the temple wall, the temple ground one level below is a great place to relax and enjoy Thai cultural dances and the sounds of traditional Thai musical instruments performed by young students. They appreciate donations for their performances. Walk around and enjoy the city view of Chiang Mai from atop. Hopefully, you will have a nice clear day for such view. Enjoy people watching. We brought some of our own snacks and water. We found a seat at one of the many seating areas available and had a mini-picnic. Going to Doi Suthep is a mini-spiritual retreat for us and quite relaxing.
Now You Can Do It
You can take a song taeo (red truck) from any part of the city. In fact, you will find many red trucks with Doi Suthep written on them. The song taeo is one of the common local modes of transportation in Chiang Mai. Depending on the driver, your departure point, and your haggling skills, you could pay up around 120 baht (Neung Loi Sum Sip) all the way to Doi Suthep. Just say Doi Suthep to any song taeo driver and the driver will know exactly where to take you.
The entrance fee for tourists is 30 baht (sum sip). The booth is located on the right at the top of the stairs. You won’t miss it! There is a large sign in English indicating that foreigners must pay.
Don’t forget that you can customize your own travel guide for Chiang Mai on NileGuide. After it is completed, be sure to save it as a PDF to have it handy during your journey. Definitely include Doi Suthep as part of your guide. See a sample guide I made for a short stay in Chiang Mai to get you started.