We visited Wat Doi Suthep in April, during Songkran, the Thai New Year and Water Festival. To reach the temple, we took a gondola up the mountain, after our bus ride. Upon arriving at the temple, we took off our shoes in respect for tradition. The temple was full of worshippers, including saffron robed monks. After the entrance, we walked by a large gong. Thai Buddhist tradition states that if you hit the gong and pray, the gods in heaven will hear your prayer. I prayed for a safe and entertaining journey, and my prayers came true.
Of all the Thai temples, for me, Wat Doi Suthep seemed the most spiritual and authentic. Maybe it was the altitude, but I felt that I was walking through the threshold to heaven.
At the temple, we sat in front of a large Buddha, and had our fortunes told by shaking a container full of Joss sticks (I Ching) until one fell out. We then asked our guide to read it for us. Fortune telling is an important part of Eastern religions and should be respected. I am happy to say that my somewhat negative prediction did not come true.
Wat Doi Suthep can be called a golden Pagoda. It is one of the most photographed temples in Thailand. For me, this temple was far more beautiful than the Palace in Bangkok, because it was less ornate and in a much more beautiful area.
Outside of the temple, we visited an outside market. There is a great jade factory there, so don’t miss it. The prices may seem to be higher, but the quality of the stones is also better than what you normally find in the states.
After leaving the temple, we boarded a traditional pick-up truck style bus and headed up a dirt road to a hill tribe village. These buses are literally small pick up trucks with benches on the sides, and the only air conditioning is natural, hot air. Boy, I wish the truck had better shock absorbers!
Along the way to the town, we drove through small streams and saw quite a few small forest fires. By the time that we arrived, we were covered in dust, hot, and miserable. Fortunately, someone thought ahead, and we had ice cold drinks waiting for us.
The tribes people were dressed in traditional clothing, and living in traditional homes. These people were very open with their hospitality and one of the families invited us into their home. The small home was built out of wood and had a dirt floor. All of their possessions hung on the walls. A large fire pit used for cooking graced the center of the room. After spending my entire life in the comfort of the United States, it was a shock to see that people still lived this way.
Pigs joyfully ran through the streets and the children played throughout the town. The women set up a group of tables and sold their handcrafted items. This tribe was noted for their embroidery and cloth work. While I felt like an invader to this tribe’s privacy, I am glad that I had the experience.
Hill tribes and temples – that is what makes up Chiang Mai.