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10 In Hiking + The Outdoors/ Religion + Spirituality/ Thailand/ Travel

Doi Suthep + Huay Kaew Waterfall

When visiting Chiang Mai, it’s easy to enjoy the old town life so much that you can forget to get out and explore a little more. Doi Suthep is one of the most famous sites in Chiang Mai and well worth the visit. Doi Suthep sits just outside of town and, this small mountain is adorned with a gorgeous temple at the top. As if the view and temple weren’t enough there is also the natural beauty of Huay Kaew Waterfall.

A Little Information About Wat Phra That Doi Suthep:

Although the temple is actually called Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, if you just say Doi Suthep anywhere in town, they’ll take you where you want to go. There are several versions of the history of this temple. What is known, though, is that this temple got its start when the stupa was built in the 14th century with many expansions being built since then. Legend has it that the remains contained in the Golden Stupa are the Buddha’s shoulder bone. This bone was found when a monk had a dream where he was told to go find a relic. Then, he found this shoulder bone, believed to be the Buddha’s. At some point in history, the bone broke into two pieces. The smaller is enshrined somewhere else, but the larger piece was brought to the top of Doi Suthep on the back of a White Elephant.

Getting to Doi Suthep:

Left: Naga figure at the base // Right: Looking down from near the top of the staircase

You can take a motor bike, a private taxi, hike the monk’s trail or one of the red taxis up to the top. Once at the top of the windy, mountain road you have to face the infamous naga staircase. You have to climb up just over 300 steps. There are vendors selling snacks and drinks at the bottom. After making the climb, you purchase your ticket at the top. Tickets are only 30 baht per/person (currently this is just under $1).

 

Left: Prayer flags wrapped around trees lining the way up // Right: Matt and I making our way up the stairs

Four Things That Set Doi Suthep Apart:

The location is the most unique part about this temple. You have to make the journey up the mountain, then trek up the 300+ steps to reach this beautiful temple. In addition to just the journey to get here, the view from the top is absolutely stunning.

Left: People circling the stupa // Right: the golden stupa

The golden stupa. Yes, all the temples here have stupas, or chedis as they’re called in Thailand, but not all of them are golden like this one, nor do they contain a piece of the Buddha’s shoulder bone. Plus, there is a ritual with this stupa where people walk around it with blessings to create merit. It’s really beautiful.

Seriously, look at all of these amazing details.

All of the amazing different buildings and sculptures throughout the beautiful grounds.

Just two of the amazing buildings in the complex.

Huay Kaew

You can explore the National Park that surrounds it. Yes, you read that right. Doi Suthep National Park not only contains this amazing temple but also caves and waterfalls. Which brings me to….

Huay Kaew Waterfall

This beautiful waterfall is absolutely stunning and falls several meters starting just down the road from Doi Suthep and ending down by the zoo.

 

Left: Monk Crossing the Monk Trail // Right: View of Chiang Mai from the Top of the Falls

On our way down from Doi Suthep we stopped at the top of the falls. This is actually a crossing point on the Monks Trail, which is actually very cool because we got to see a monk cross it. (This was actually a bit terrifying because you could see all the way down and I would have hated to see someone slip there.) However, just up from that is a small pool that you could cool off in.

 

The best way to get a view, though is taking the really short, free trail down to the base of the falls. Huay Kaew is one of the more spectacular falls that I saw in Thailand. It’s gorgeous. We went just after sunrise to see it in the best lighting. Because of this the dew hadn’t dried yet, so I have to give you my warning – the stones on the trail are very, very slick. If you don’t believe me check out my post about breaking my arm in Thailand.

Yeah, that awkwardly positioned arm was fractured in this photo.

Just remember that Huay Kaew is actually a wet-weather fall meaning that flow can be extremely low to completely dry during dry season. Luckily, we were in Chiang Mai near the end of rainy season so we got to see this gorgeous flow.

Doi Suthep is by no means off the beaten path. However, I hope this post showed the beauty of the temple and the National Park around it and its importance to the culture + region. Heading to Chiang Mai?

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    Nathalie Salcedo
    December 3, 2017 at 11:32 pm

    this is just right on time! will be heading to Chiang Mai as well, doing and drafting for my itinerary for now.
    Were the temples free of charge to enter? Or was their a specific tour as well in and around Chiang Mai? Thank you so much!

  • Reply
    Jose Harvey
    December 4, 2017 at 9:26 am

    Doi Suthep looks amazing! I am headed to Chang Mai at the end of 2018 and definitely keeping this in mind. What a fascinating history! I always find this attachment to body parts kind of strange but hey, to each their own. Your photos are pretty awesome too!

  • Reply
    Kerri
    December 4, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    Doi Suthep – wow! I would definitely be climbing the monks stairs before the 300 steps to the top. I remember climbing 2435 steps to get to the top of a mountain in Indonesia so 300 steps would be fine for us to do. I absolutely love getting up high wherever we go as it is the best place to give me perspective. Looks like it’s exactly the thing up here, such a wonderful view. Interesting legend about the Buddha’s shoulder bone too.

  • Reply
    Jen Joslin
    December 5, 2017 at 5:27 am

    This is a great guide for visiting Doi Suthep! We have been up the mountain to the temple a few years back, but didn’t now about all of the waterfalls there. Huay Kaew definitely looks worth visiting. We’ll definitely be back to Chiang Mai, so next time! So sorry to hear about your arm!

  • Reply
    Ami Bhat
    December 5, 2017 at 7:54 am

    This is a lovely place to explore for heritage lovers like me. Enjoyed reading that legend about the bone of Buddha. I really wish I could figure that out – but then a mystery would not longer be a mystery, would it? 😉

  • Reply
    Sara Broers (@TravelWithSara)
    December 5, 2017 at 7:54 pm

    When I think of Chiang Mai I think of beautiful architecture, I don’t think of waterfalls and nature. Thanks for introducing me to this amazing new to me destination.

  • Reply
    Cat
    December 5, 2017 at 10:54 pm

    Doi Suthep is shining in gold! I have never seen any temple like that before! I might need to put on sunglasses in order to look at it!

  • Reply
    Jennifer @ Made all the Difference
    December 5, 2017 at 11:29 pm

    I love how the locals just know when the tourist says Doi Suthep and they point you in the right direction. It reminds me of Colombia at one of the bus stations. People just kept pointing before I even asked for directions. They knew why I was there and knew were to send me.

    I feel like temples one has to work to get to makes everything so much more rewarding. The craftsmanship on Doi Suthep is amazing.

  • Reply
    AllGudThings
    December 6, 2017 at 12:14 am

    I have been to Thailand and Chiang Mai is still pending. The Doi Suthep temple looks beautiful like all other Thailand temples but having Buddhas shoulder bone makes it distinct from others. Huay Khaew waterfall too looks huge as well as offbeat. Gonna check these out when we make a next visit to Thailand.

  • Reply
    abcdefghizzy
    December 7, 2017 at 7:37 am

    A visit to Doi Suthep is one of the most vivid memories from when I lived in Thailand nine years ago. My host family took me there and I remember being most entranced by the Naga staircase than the actual view itself. The monk’s trail at the Huay Kaew waterfall is incredible! Even though monks are mostly ordinary men, its still fascinating to see them go about their everyday lives.

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