It’s hard to look up at the slick stairs of Wat Doi Suthep, it’s raining so hard. I blink back the water and squint my eyes up, up, up, trying not to get distracted by the gorgeously tiled dragon at the base of the stairs.
It’s a long way to the top.
“Ready?” I ask, turning to Marie and Adele, two of my former volunteers from Elephant Nature Park who have agreed to take this mini adventure from Chiang Mai this dreary afternoon in the heart of Thailand’s rainy season.
They nod their heads, and then we are off. Pounding the slippery stairs, ponchos pulled over our heads, cameras secured safely underneath, as we run up the red tiled stairs to the holy ground above.
About 300 or so stairs later (yes, we counted), the three of us arrive to the top of the hill and the grounds of Doi Suthep.
The temple, built in the late 1300s, is situated high above Chiang Mai. Legend has it, the spot was chosen by a white elephant who trumpeted three times before dying at the site. Even against the gray sky, the golds and reds pop brightly, their warm hues helping to add a little sunshine despite the lack of the real thing.
We remove our shoes and begin the exploration of the temple. For about 30 minutes we navigate the inside of the temple, eyeing the ornate paintings and golden statues.
We even find ourselves being mesmerized by the tiling of the temple … a hypnotizing pattern of flowers.
Then, we enter into some of the rooms of prayer, where orange-robed monks sit and bless visitors, tying little strings around their wrists similar to what I received earlier when I was blessed by a shaman. Silently stepping into the room, we sit, mermaid style, staring at shrines in front of us … including two tusks surrounding a statue.
Marie notices it first and immediately exits the room and heads back onto the tiled main area. Then, Adele and I follow suit.
“Once I saw that …” she begins, her voice trailing off. We know what she’s talking about. For a country which reveres the elephant, to see the tusks placed into the gold statue … and after a the week we had experienced, the heartbreak … none of us wanted to see those reminders.
On that note, we opt to walk the grounds. On our walk, we admire the colorful shrines scattered throughout …
… along with the pops of flowers and gardens that, even on this rainy day, add a serene beauty to the atmosphere.
… and of course, the bells.
Then, it’s time to head back to the city, to eat street food, make impromptu clothing purchases and sip on the local suds.
Getting there: From Chiang Mai, hire a songthaew (red cab). Expect to pay about 30 baht per person to get up the mountain. Our driver was great (as he should have been since we were totally ripped off) and stopped us at a lookout point near the top of the mountain.
On a clear day, I am pretty sure that view is spectacular of the city below. Once there, you can either climb the stairs or pay to take a tram to the top. Depending on how you get to the top, it will cost you at least 30 baht.
Reminder: Be respectful of the Thai culture. Clothing should be modest. Shoes must come off at the temple, so bring a pair of socks if walking barefoot isn’t your thing.