Wat Phra That Doi Supthep

White Elephant Legend

It is circa 1368 and a monk, named Sumanathera, has a dream. He dreams that he is to look for a Buddha relic. After searching for some time, he finds one, a bone, believed to be Buddha's shoulder bone. It is magical, it glows, it moves, it vanishes and it can duplicate itself. So he takes it to King Dharmmaraja of Sukothai. And low and behold, it does nothing! So the King lets the monk keep it.

Another King, King Nu Naone, in Lamphun, hears about the bone and is interested in having a look. With the Sukothai's King permission the monk takes it too him. And low and behold, it divides itself into two unequal parts. The first, smaller than the original, is enshined. The second, the same size of the original, is placed on the back of a white elephant, scared in Thailand, which is then released into the rainforest. The elephant climbs Doi (mount) Supthep, trumpets three times and dies. At the spot where the elephant dies, the King orders a temple to be built, Wat Phra That Doi Supthep.

Travelling to Wat Doi Supthep

Wat Doi Supthep is located on a heavily forested mount about 1000m in elevation above Chiang Mai. It is reached via a very twisty 15km road that slices through the rain forest. Normally visitors take a songthaw, a pickup van with horizontally aligned wooden planks in the back for seats. You can either get the public one or hire one privately. The advantage of private hire is you leave immediately, can sit in the front. The driver might take you to a nearby Hmong village or the King's summer residence, if he feels like it.

Motor transport takes you to the car park. From here the temple is reached either by walking up the 309 step naga lined stairs or by taking the funicular. Nagas are sacred water serpents that bridge the gap between heaven and earth. Being in a somewhat pilgrim frame of mind, and to save money, I use the stairs.

Naga staircase to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

"Only three hundred and nine steps to heaven!" The path to heaven is made even easier by a series of platforms located at intervals along the stair case. This coupled with rain forest shading makes the climb a pleasant stroll rather than an endurance test. If your really want to turn it into a mini-pilgrimage, you can always walk from Chiang Mai!

Arriving at the top of the staircase I am greeted by the white elephant shine, a statue of a white elephant facing westward. If I walk in the direction its faces I would circumlocate the outer section of the Wat is a clockwise direction. But I with most others walk in the opposite direction toward the main wihan located in the cloister. On the outer side is a statue of Brahmin.

Brahamin in the Main Wiharn

A doorway, next to the main wihan, leads through the cloister, into the inner court yard where the chedi is located. "Shoes Off!!" Every wat in Thailand requires footwear to be removed. The highly polished floor of the courtyard surrounding the chedi provides an additional reason for shoe removal. The floor is so highly polished, you can see your reflection.

The Court Yard

In the court yard the first thing to catch my eye is the 15m tall golden chedi. Surrounding the chedi is a square fence made from spear shaped posts representing chedi guards. At each corner is a golden parasol supported by stem representing bamboo. The parasol and the lotus flower are Buddhist symbols.

The Chedi

Outside the fence, devotees holding lotus bulbs between their palms pre-ambulate the chedi three times in a clockwise direction while saying prayers. Near the fence is a standing Buddha carrying an parasol and a staff in addition to the more common seated representations.

All around the courtyard, Thais who outnumber tourists, are performing various Buddhist rituals such as incense and candle burning.

The Main Buddha in the Small Wihan
The Bhote
Ringing Bells

From the Observation Deck

Leaving the courtyard I head quickly, perhaps too quickly, to the observation deck overlooking Chiang Mai. I am sure it would be a wonderful sight by night, perhaps rivalling the lights of Adelaide which can be seen from an observation spot near Mt Lofty in the Adelaide hills. But on this day, Chiang Mai's atmosphere is revealed to be hazy. It is only November, can't image how bad it must be in February and March when the burning season gets underway.

Haze over Chiang Mai