Time required: Half a day
Cost: Free (depending on your honesty)
Required: A ride, decent clothing
I’ve been living in the shadow of Doi Suthep, the biggest mountain in the range to the West of Chiang Mai city, for the last 8 months. Two weeks ago was the first time that I decided to make an attempt at driving Doi Suthep: shameful, I know. This is just one example of how downright lazy I have been since arriving in Chiang Mai, which incidentally goes hand in hand with absolute misery.
It was a bloody glorious day, as most days are between late November and March in Chiang Mai. The sun was shining and there were no clouds in the sky. Initially, we intended to climb Doi Suthep, but we took far too long to leave the house and eat lunch, so that was ruled out pretty sharpish, driving Doi Suthep seemed the easier and more efficient option.
We left the city at about 2pm, and headed to route 1004. This is the main road that goes up into the mountains, the entrance to which is North of the city. It’s an absolutely awesome road, with lots of big curvy corners, so if you are not a confident biker, take it slow or get a songteaw. Be aware that you will most likely meet big tour buses, which are a bloody nightmare to get stuck behind, and even more of a nightmare to try and overtake.
The road will take you winding up through the jungle, and you will feel the air clear and might even feel the chill in the shade. Half way up the mountain you will pass a viewpoint, advertising itself as a ‘secnic point’. Yes, I mean secnic, that is not a typo. It’s worth stopping here to have a look out at the city, watch the planes take off from the airport, and if you are lucky, meet the man who will draw your portrait in charcoal for 30 baht, taking 3 minutes, whilst singing British rock songs to you, and he does kids for free. Behold the masterpiece below – in reality we were pulling very different faces, but he decided to make us all look exceptionally serious.
Once you’ve had your fill of secnic, continue up the road, and you will eventually come to a very busy point, with stalls and songteaws, and mopeds parked everywhere; this is where you will want to park. Head to the right and climb the shorter stairs with less people, and check out the massive gong. If you head past the gong you will come to the main temple stairs. They’re pretty hard to miss, as the bannisters are huge, golden dragons. There are women around the base of the stairs selling flowers, bells, and so on, for you to take up to the temple to leave us an offering, or to get blessed. The stairs seem really long, but the gentle workout is actually quite refreshing after the moped ride. You may even be lucky enough to see the man who stands there blowing down a plastic whistle, who barks and growls at you if you make eye contact.
OK, so here’s the tricky bit: at the top of the stairs you will see a sign which quite clearly stats ‘foreigners this way, to buy ticket’. Ha, haha, ha, no. This is one of the most infuriating things about Thailand, the ‘Farang Tax’, or having to pay more on everything that you buy, because you are white. Now I can understand local loyalty and so on, but it is incredibly irritating when you are living here and this happens to you. Every time I see something like this the red mist descends, and my boyfriend is even worse. So the sign asks you to go to the right and buy a ticket for entry to the temple. However, if you feel as annoyed as we are, and have perhaps already given a donation to the temple, then it’s very easy to walk around the sign and go straight into the temple grounds, as there are not actually any guards or ticket men. Inside, you can take off your shoes, which is a very pleasant feeling as the paving stones will be deliciously warm. We didn’t actually go into the temple, as I was dressed like a hoe bag (no surprise there, then), but we did walk all the way around the temple, taking in the beautiful architecture, and getting another aerial view of Chiang Mai. You can buy tiles to write and send off a prayer, blessing, or positive thoughts, as well as being able to buy a series of Thai snacks around the temple grounds, such as the little doughnut-like balls, which I believe are stuffed with a variety of beans.
After you have descended the stairs, it is worth turning right and heading back to your bike via the wooden huts that house a variety of stalls selling handmade goods and food.
All in all it was a fun afternoon, made better by the company, and is worth doing if you have an afternoon and you’re into temples. As I say, we did not enter the temple but there were signs for a meditation room, and there is probably a lot more to see on the inside.