Note: All of the information in this piece was researched and not personally experienced. I haven’t really been to Chiang Mai, but I have been to Thailand. This was a practice piece that I wrote to try my hand at travel writing.
Going to Thailand’s ancient city of Chiang Mai, I visited the holy grounds of Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. A colossal structure near the summit of Doi Suthep mountain, this temple towers over the city, easily standing out among the 700 Buddhist temples in the area. Drenched and lit with gold, I was sure that Midas would have envied this grand structure.
To get to the gold on the mountain top, you could climb the Naga staircase.
Serpentine railings that have green and gold scales and eight hissing snake heads slither along the 309 steps. Now that’s a lot of exercise! If you have achy-breaky bones however, there’s always the cable car. I had some doubts about my knees, but I couldn’t pass up on a challenge. Each step elevated me toward a beautiful view, so walking up the stairway was a pleasant experience.
When I was finally heaving and panting, there was small voice inside of me that mocked I told you so, but I still took the next step. At last I reached the top, and the prize was the wat—a breathtaking view that was rich in history, sanctity, and culture.
I entered the wat and was soon greeted by the statue of a white elephant. Legend has it that this animal chose the location of the temple. When a Ceylonese monk named Sumana brought a Buddhist relic to Chiang Mai, King Gen Na wanted to build a temple for it. In order to find a suitable area, the king ordered that the holy relic to be strapped on the back of a white elephant. The animal, a sacred creature for the Thais, was allowed to wander freely. It trudged up near the peak of Doi Suthep, encircled the place three times, and died. A golden pagoda was built on the spot where it died, the relic was placed inside the pagoda, and the wat was constructed around it.
Within the expansive wat are several red-tile roofed pavilions, and they are decorated with statues, bells, shrines, and paintings. Among the attractions are the Emerald Buddha, the statue of the Hindu god Ganesh, the Thao Mahaprom statue, and the Hermit Statue of Sudeva. There is also a museum, a souvenir shop, a snack area, and houses where monks live and study.
A few paces away from the monks’ area, you will see a row of small bells.
They say that if you ring those bells, you will be blessed with good luck. I rang them all, and as I walked away, I saw a coin lying on the ground. Lucky baht! The bells work!
Of course the greatest attraction is still the chedi. At a staggering height of 22 meters, this magnificent structure is covered with pure gold. Pilgrims from all over the world journey to see the golden chedi because it contains the relics of the blessed Buddha.
The infusion of culture, grandeur, and holiness marks Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep as one of the most celebrated holy sites of Thailand. I was truly humbled by its spiritual aura, intrigued by its intricate designs, and astounded by its beauty. It was all worth it—the long journey, the arduous climb, everything else—for an unforgettable sight and a great adventure that I’ll remember for years to come.
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