• Samantha Linnett

Sunrise Tour of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Updated: Sep 11, 2019

It’s 4:15am and the alarm on my phone starts to go off. I roll over, exasperated, to swipe it away, then roll to lay on my back. What were we thinking? Why would we think a 5am pickup time for a sunrise temple tour in Chiang Mai was a good idea?

Reluctantly, I got out of bed to make myself human. We wandered downstairs just in time for pickup, the amazing hotel staff at Akyra Manor with our coffee in hand waiting for us. We climbed into the van with our way-too-awake-for-this-hour tour guide, and off we were up the mountain.

It didn’t take long once we were at the base of the temple to really wake up. Being at the top of a mountain as the morning light is just starting to shine through is maybe the most peaceful experience one can get, and soon I wasn’t so unhappy to be awake anymore.

A dog on the 309 steps up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Tiger, one of the dogs who lives at the temple! He followed us around for the whole tour because he likes our guide, who occasionally gives him treats when he visits.

Our guide got our tickets for entrance into the temple, and, with our faithful doggo companion Tiger, up the 309 stairs we went. The quiet that encased Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is indescribable. We were some of the only people there so early.

Then, as we took off our shoes and approached the gateway to go inside, we could hear a noise, slowly rising the closer we got. The monks of the temple were doing their morning prayers and chanting, the sound of which was nothing short of magical. We knelt there in front of the Buddha, just inside the prayer room, for a few minutes, just listening. I could have stayed longer, but it was time to see the rest of this beautiful temple.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is nearly 640 years old. Sitting at the top of the Doi Suthep mountain, the temple is more than grand. It overlooks the city of Chiang Mai and is completely covered in gold and gemstones and, of course, beautiful Buddhas. All of this made its way up the mountain on the backs of elephants.

Legend says that the temple was built to hold a piece of bone from the Buddha’s shoulder. One of those bones was mounted on a sacred white elephant - which is, indeed, not white, but is considered to be a perfect elephant in all ways - who climbed Doi Suthep and stopped near the peak. “After trumpeting three times, the elephant laid down and gently passed away in the jungle. The place where he lay is now the site of where Doi Suthep’s temple was founded.”

A golden Buddha at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai, Thailand
A golden Buddha at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

After touring around the temple, we participated in the morning ritual of donating food to the monks, and later gave a contribution to the temple (all included in the tour price) and received a blessing from one of the monks in the form of holy water and a white wrist tie. An important note is that most Buddhist monks in Thailand follow a tradition where they cannot touch women. If you are female, the monk will lay the wrist tie in your hand rather than tie it to your wrist. You can have a friend, or like us, your guide, help you with this later.

Words generally cannot describe the effect this temple had on me. It was so stunningly beautiful, and so stunningly peaceful. I couldn’t have been happier than to have gotten to experience it so early, before the day’s crowds arrived. It very well may have been my favorite part of my trip to Thailand.

Sunrise over Chiang Mai, viewed from Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Sunrise over Chiang Mai, viewed from Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

To complete the tour, we visited another temple partway down the mountain where the elephant path (the one the elephants used to carry up all the materials to build the temple) passes through, grabbed breakfast at a local noodle shop, and visited one last temple in the city of Chiang Mai. Our tour guide was amazing the entire time. Energetic and a former Buddhist monk himself, we learned so much about not only Buddhism, but the history of Thailand and the city of Chiang Mai as well.

In case you can’t tell: I CAN’T RECOMMEND THIS TOUR ENOUGH! If you’re interested in getting to experience it yourself, you can book at the link here!

P.S. This is not an affiliate post! I don’t receive anything for promoting this tour; I just loved it this much!

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