The Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of the most important temples of Northern Thailand. During the Buddhist holidays of Visakha Bucha day and Makha Bucha Day Thai people come to this temple in great numbers.
This temple is located on top of the Doi Suthep mountain, some 15 kilometers out of Chiang Mai. From the carpark there are two ways to reach the temple. The first is a 309 step pretty vertical climb up the mountain. The stairs are flanked by huge Nagacreatures. The Naga is an underwater creature from Buddhist mythology in the form of a large snake. If you don’t feel like climbing, there is a cable car to take you up in comfort.
If the weather is clear you will have some magnificent views of the the city of Chiang Mai, the airport and the Ping valley. The views and the peaceful atmosphere of the place alone is worth the visit.
The legend of the white elephant
There are several versions of the legend of how the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep was founded.
According to a popular version of the legend a monk from Sukhothai was in possession of a relic believed to be a shoulder bone of The Buddha. This relic was believed to have magical powers. The monk took the relic to King Kuena, ruler of the Lanna Kingdom.
When he arrived, the relic had split up in two pieces, one being of the original size, the other one smaller. The smaller part was enshrined in the Wat Suan Dok, a temple just outside the old city of Chiang Mai. The original relic was to be placed in a newly build temple.
To choose the location for the new temple, the relic was placed on the back of a sacred white elephant that was then set free to go where ever it wanted. The elephant climbed up Doi Suthep mountain and just before it arrived at the top, it trumpeted three times and died. This was taken as a sign that this was the place to build a temple to house the relic.
Then in 1368 the first chedi of the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep was build to keep the holy relic. Since then, the temple complex has grown considerably. At the top of the stairs is a statue of the white elephant that determined the location of the temple.