This morning you’ll visit some of the most interesting temples found in town. Then travel high into the mountains, to Wat Doi Suthep, one of the most revered temples in all Thailand, with its famous 79′ tall golden chedi, covered entirely with engraved gold plate.
We start off with the trip up Doi Suthep mountain to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
This is northern Thailand’s holiest shrine — a large temple and monastery complex near the top of the mountain, far, far above the city.
It is a beautiful drive up on a narrow twisting road overhung with leafy green trees. Deep ravines snake away from the road. Waterfalls tumble down steep slopes. It is gorgeous. It is also supposed to be a good spot for bird watching and I’d love to do some hiking here. Not on this trip though.
We stop at a parking area where the steep, heavily wooded mountainside still rises above us. The wat is up there above us somewhere.
The main entrance to the wat is via a grand stairway with 304 steps (or maybe 290 or 309 – the guidebooks disagree and I did not count them). Chris ushers us to the funicular, promising we can leave via the stairway.
The funicular is weird – a glass box that glides up the mountainside at an odd angle. I find the experience claustrophobic, despite being able to look out through the glass walls and up inside the casing through which we are traveling. Ugh. I am very glad to be released onto a shady terrace.
We have been directed to wait here for Chris and the rest of the group, so Manny and I make use of the time by photographing some of the orchids growing along a nearby wall.
(I love the fact that there are orchids pretty much everywhere in Thailand.)
Eventually I realize that there are also lovely flowers in the highest branches of the tree that is towering overhead. I’m not sure what they are (They look like quince, but do some types of quince grow into such large trees?) and the name Chris gives them is totally unfamiliar. I do learn, however, that they are an auspicious flower, as something so lovely and delicate surely should be.
When everyone arrives on the terrace (she counts us a couple times to be sure), Chris moves us into the shade of a smaller tree near the temple wall. Here she explains the history of the temple (founded in this location when an elephant bearing a relic climbed up here, trumpeted, circled three times and died. . . ), Buddhist religious practices, and other information that I really should listen to.
But it is hard to just stand here and listen when there are so many things to see!
A few painted wooden figures sit in the tree just above our heads.
There is also a decorative little bell tower nearby.
Off to the side, worshipers gather around a small shrine.
The entrance to the temple’s second level is flanked by niches housing the Hindu god Ganesh.
We leave our shoes near this entrance and Chris leads us up the stairs and into the temple itself.
Once inside, the brilliance of the gold and red against the clear blue sky is almost overwhelming. The huge gold-plated chedi towers above us, gleaming in the bright sunlight. Elaborate carved and plated details glitter all around. People move about here too – tourists like us and worshipers mixed together – filling the small plazas and crowding the narrow walkways that twist between the maze of structures and statuary.
It is chaos, but a peaceful sort of chaos. The gentle tinkling of the hundreds of small bells hanging from the cloister’s eaves providing sweet background music.
It is simply otherworldly.
Chris lead us inside the main wihan, where we sit on the soft floor rug. The air is alive with the chanting of monks and the rattle of fortune sticks. Worshipers move in and out, leaving flowers, lighting candles, and offering prayers before the image of the Buddha.
We move over by the monk and Chris asks him for a blessing. He chants over us, a guttural, yet musical sound. As he chants, he repeatedly dips a bundle of reeds into water and then waves them over us, sprinkling us with holy water. When he is done, I feel that I have indeed been blessed.
Back outside, we thread our way through narrow walkways, always surrounded by the glitter of gold.
On the lower terrace again, Chris leads us to an area that – on a clear day – provides a scenic view over the city. Today the world below us is obscured from view.
We follow the terrace around the outside of a portion of the temple, passing temple bells, the bell tower I admired earlier, odd golden creatures (mom?), busy shrines, the monument to the white elephant that chose this site, and assorted Hindu figures until we reach the top of the naga staircase.
We follow the shady staircase down, turning back occasionally to admire the temple’s grand entrance.
At the bottom, we are greeted by the heads of the elaborate nagas that form the handrail for this lovely staircase.