Doi Suthep is the cloud-shrouded mountain that dominates the western edge of the city, and Wat Phra is the holy Buddhist temple located at the peak of Doi Suthep. We visited the Wat Phra on a partly rainy morning before we left on our flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, and we were touched and amazed by the history and beauty of the North's most sacred site.
To get to the temple, you take the steep but modern paved road up the Doi Suthep mountain. ("Doi" means mountain in Thai). We were spoiled and our driver Somporn drove us there, but there were many buses and motorbikes heading up the hill.
The gateway to the temple is a steep and impressive 300 step stairway that takes 10 minutes to ascend. There is also some sort of electrical tram that takes the less fit travelers to the top. Travelers have to remember that this is an active and living temple for Buddhists, and you have to dress appropriately. So keep in mind there are no shorts, tank tops, and short skirts allowed! You also have to remove your shoes, and walk around barefoot in the inner sanctum of the temple area, which I found to be a comfortable and unobtrusive way to visit the temple. Barefoot is the only way to go at Thai temples.
When the rain cleared and the sun came out, we were thrilled at the most incredible view of the gleaming golden Chedi (tower) that dominates the inner sanctuary. It seemed to glow against the clear blue sky. Worshippers placed offerings of flowers, candles, gold foil, and incense in front of the Chedi and Buddha images, and they pray to Buddha. The most impressive views of Chiang Mai are also found here. Walking around the temple, we took in the ornate and gilded spires and peaks of temple buildings, growling dragon fixtures, precious Buddha statues, and observed the worshippers and monks.
We left the temple with an appreciation of the religious customs of Thailand, and how Thai people and monks worship. After descending the 300 steps, we stopped by one of the dozen stalls and shops to get a snack. Some hawkers bugged us to buy some artwork. I bought some freshly fried sweet, sticky bananas for the ride to the airport, and I was feeling a bit sad to be leaving Chiang Mai.