Chiang Mai is home to many beautiful temples. During our stay there, hubs and I aimed to visit as many temples in Chiang Mai Old City as possible. Out of all the temples we wanted to visit in Chiang Mai, we decided to make a unique arrangement to visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Come with me as I bring you on the journey up to the stunning temple and the unique experience we had along the way~! (´• ω •`)ノ

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Why a Sunrise Tour to Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai?

Hubs and I were looking around for what to do in Chiang Mai on our first visit to this beautiful city. And I chanced upon this website that has a unique sunrise tour on Withlocals. What is unique about the tour is not the sunrise element but the fact that the tour guide is an ex-monk, Kit. Hubs and I find this idea really unique since insights from an ex-monk would be a great way to elevate our experience at the temple. (´• ω •`)

A screenshot taken from the Withlocals website of the Sunrise Tour to Doi Suthep with Kit
Screenshot taken from Withlocals website

The only thing that was holding us back was actually the fact that THIS IS a sunrise tour. That means that we would have to wake up very early as the tour starts at 5 AM. (×_×)⌒☆ Considering we wanted to do something unique while in this lovely city, we decided to book the tour with Kit. (*¯︶¯*)

Starting Our Ascend to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Kit arrived bright and early to pick us up at our condominium at The Astra Condo. Having to wake up so early and with no caffeine in our bodies yet, was a struggle for us. Haha! Thankfully, Kit was a joy to be around. Once we got into his car, he kept us entertained throughout the whole journey by sharing with us things about Chiang Mai and Doi Suthep.

Coinciding Our Doi Suthep Tour with the Annual Chiang Mai University Trek

What was meant to be a peaceful trip up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep turned into a rush against time to get to the temple? Apparently, our tour turned out to be the day that Chiang Mai University (CMU) was doing its annual trek to Doi Suthep.

According to Kit, this is an annual event that has stopped during the past few years due to COVID-19. And this year (2022) they have finally resumed this tradition and it happened to fall on the day of our tour. How lucky were we?! Haha! Not so lucky, actually. The trek up to Doi Suthep is an annual event that takes place to welcome first-year students to the university. I saw on CMU’s LinkedIn page and it seems like this time, the event is held to welcome the second and third-year students as well. I guess those are the ones who did not get to participate due to the two years of the pandemic. Besides welcoming the students, current students, professors, staff and alumni would also be there. So all in all, we would be expecting 20,000 – 30,000 people walking up to the temple! Σ(°ロ°)

A screenshot taken from Chiang Mai University's LinkedIn website about the Annual Freshmen trek to Doi Suthep
Screenshot taken from Chiang Mai University’s LinkedIn

As mentioned, it was meant to be a peaceful trip to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. The whole tour was supposed to be a peaceful and serene one. But since we were expecting A LOT of people, it became a race against time as Kit tried to get us to the temple as fast as possible to avoid the mega crowd. The fact that we would be seeing tens of thousands of people at the temple woke us up from our sleepy state immediately. Haha!

A Viewpoint at Doi Suthep with a View of Chiang Mai

We arrived at a viewpoint where we had a view of Chiang Mai while Kit shared with us the history of this beautiful city. It was cool to catch a view of the whole of Chiang Mai from the top. And to add to the festivity of the CMU trek, there were stall owners preparing food beside the road, adding some smoke during our visit to the viewpoint. Haha! After this quick stopover, it was time to continue our ascend to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.

A view of Chiang Mai from a viewpoint at Doi Suthep

As our car was moving up to the temple, we started to see more people walking on the side of the road. Kit’s initial idea was to bring us to another temple before heading up to Doi Suthep for the sunrise. But seeing more and more people on the road, Kit decided to bring us to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep first. So off we go~! ☆ミ(o*・ω・)ノ

Exploring Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Once we got to the temple, we spotted a significant number of people from CMU already at the temple entrance. But this did not bother me at that moment as it was time to climb the 309 steps up to the temple. Note that we did not have any breakfast before this tour. And to add to that, hubs and I had just recovered from COVID-19. So ascending the 309 steps was a killer for me while Kit swiftly disappeared from our sight up the stairs. Haha!

At the beginning of the 309 steps up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and another photo taken during the climb up
L: Photo taken after our temple tour | R: The climb up…

I was amazed by Kit’s energy while I was trying so hard to catch my breath every 10 steps. (*/ω\) I had to stop so many times along the way. Hub was handling it so much better than me. I know my stamina was crap but I didn’t know I was so crap. (´-ω-`) Once we got to the temple, it was time for Kit to bring us around the temple. Similar to many temples in Chiang Mai, you would have to take off your shoes before entering the main hall. Here at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, you would have to take off your shoes before entering the main area.

Brief History of Wat Phra Doi Suthep

Kit was a real storyteller as he told us the meaning of the Buddha statues around the temple. I am, unfortunately, not a talented storyteller to give you a full history. So I can only give you a brief history of the temple and let you find out more in future. ( ´ ω ` )

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a Buddhist temple on Doi Suthep mountain in Chiang Mai. It is one of the most significant religious sites in Thailand as it is known for its beautiful architecture and rich history. The temple was founded in 1383 by King Kue Naone, the ruler of the Lanna Kingdom. The temple was built to house a relic of Buddha’s shoulder bone, which was brought to Lanna from Sukhothai, another kingdom in Thailand. Kit’s story was definitely much better than the way I put it. Haha!

Listening to the Mesmerising Chants of the Monks

After sharing the history of the temple and about Buddha, Kit also brought us into a hall where we could sit to listen to the monks doing their daily chants. There were some young monks sitting right in front of us and it was interesting to see them fidgeting around while the seniors were chanting away. Kids are kids so I think that is kind of expected. That is also probably one of the reasons for sending kids to the temple, where besides learning about Buddhism, they also learnt about discipline and morals.

The Chedi at the middle of the temple grounds and inside a hall where monks are doing their morning chants

Enjoying the Sunrise at Doi Suthep over Chiang Mai

After we finished touring the interior, it was time for us to go to the spot to watch the sunrise! I assume usually the spot for sunrise at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is rather peaceful. But on the day we were there, there were SO MANY people. Luckily hubs and I managed to grab a good spot so that we could have a good view of the rising sun. We saw the lovely clouds over the city of Chiang Mai as the sun slowly rose through the horizon to greet us with a good morning. It was a beautiful and amazing experience, albeit with a lot of people around us. LOL. (´・ᴗ・ ` )

A photo of us with the sunrise as the background and a direct view of the sunrise over the horizon

Experiencing the Morning Rituals of the Buddhist Monks

After watching the sunrise, we went back to the temple’s main area as Kit shared with us the story of Buddha through the drawings on the temple walls. Honestly, without Kit, I don’t think hubs and I would even notice the significance behind the drawings on the wall. After a bit more sharing, it was time for us to head out of the temple to observe the morning rituals of the Buddhist monks.

A mural in the temple and yet another view of the Chedi

The whole ritual was really peaceful as we listened to their chants and blessings. Once that was done, it was time for alms offering, the moment when we offered food to the monks. Anyone who wanted to take part in this ritual would stand in a row and offer food to the monks when they walked past. When Kit brought us up to the temple, he also brought along packets of food with him. He passed them to us so that we could offer them to the monks during this period. It was really one of the most special moments of this tour, something that we have heard before but never done before. I think everyone should at least try this once in their life. ( ´ ▽ ` )

The morning rituals being done outside the main area of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and the monks doing their chants and blessing before the alms offering

While at the temple, we also saw a lot of foreigners in their monk outfits. According to Kit, it is rather common to see foreigners come to the temple to experience monastic life. There are some famous foreigners who have come to Thailand in the past to experience monastic life and from then on, learn about the teachings and began spreading Buddhism internationally.

Having Some Local Coffee while Watching the Final Trek

After offering our alms, it was time for us to leave the temple and enjoy a cup of coffee. Kit brought us to a local cafe that is located along the entrance of the temple. According to what I read on CMU’s website, each faculty would have their own ornamental object that would be used to pay respect to the Buddha image in the temple. So by the time we came out, there were a lot of people from CMU gathering at the temple entrance, waiting for the final group of students holding the object to reach the finish line. We took the time to enjoy our coffee while watching everyone cheering the students to cross the finish line to the temple entrance. \(^ヮ^)/

A group of students bringing their faculty's ornamental object that would be used to pay respect to the Buddha image in the temple and a photo of our cup of coffee at a local cafe outside the temple

It might seem like the event has caused an inconvenience to our tour but we actually loved the fact that we got to witness it. I am someone who never likes to attend school events such as orientation camps. Even when I was in my first year of university, I only attended the orientation day only ‘cos it was mandatory. Haha! (´・ᴗ・ ` ) But it was also that day that I got to know my university buddy, who until today, is still one of my best buddies in life. (´ ω `♡)

I am sure some of the students might dread this annual trek. But I am very sure precious bonds were formed on that day. And these bonds are going to last them through years of their university life and maybe beyond. Besides the current students, we also saw how much fun the alumni were having while they gathered to have their photos taken in the temple. It was such a joyous and fun day for everyone there. ( ´ ω ` )

Enjoying the Peace at Wat Pha Lat

As mentioned, we were supposed to go to Wat Pha Lat before visiting Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. However, due to the CMU trek, this became the last stop for us before heading back to our condominium. So after watching the final part of the trek, it was time for us to descend and visit the temple.

The journey down was not easy as there were now a lot of students ascending towards the finishing line. There were also a lot of students sitting by the roadside waiting for the final group of students to reach the temple. So it took us a while to get out of the parking zone as they had to ensure the road was cleared before cars could move in both directions. But once we started moving, traffic was generally okay on the way down. I can’t say the same for those going up! (´-ω-`( _ _ )

Once we got to Wat Pha Lat, it was a totally different vibe as compared to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. It had less grandeur and felt more zen. I also had to attribute the great difference to the CMU trek but it felt so good to be at Wat Pha Lat. As Kit was bringing us around the temple compounds, we saw some people doing meditation. There were also some sitting by the stream that ran down the temple. If you are visiting Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, it is A MUST to also drop by this beautiful temple.

Buddha statues at Wat Pha Lat and one of the buildings where we had our photos taken together there

Overall Experience of Our Sunrise Tour to Doi Suthep

We totally enjoyed our sunrise tour with Kit to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and Wat Pha Lat. It was probably the highlight of our trip to Chiang Mai as well. Even though I did not mention a lot of things with regard to what Kit shared with us, he shared A LOT throughout the whole tour. He was very knowledgeable and as I mentioned, a great storyteller. He was also very ready to answer any questions that we have, from Buddhism to his life, both as a monk as well as what he is currently doing. Kit speaks amazing English so it was a total joy to converse with him throughout the whole tour. There was never a single moment that we felt bored.

Back view of Kit and our photo taken with the Chedi at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

If you are coming to Chiang Mai and want to visit Doi Suthep, I highly recommend taking up Kit’s tour. You would be able to have more insights into life as a monk and every other aspect of Buddhism. Kit would be there to share with you any burning questions that you have. I am sure you would enjoy the tour as much as we did. (*˘︶˘*).。.:*♡

Information about Wat Phra Doi Suthep & Wat Pha La

You can find out more about the Sunrise Tour with Kit on Withlocals

WAT PHRA DOI SUTHEP

⏰ Opening Hours: 6 AM – 8 PM

WAT PHA LAT

⏰ Opening Hours: 6 AM – 6 PM

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Feeling hungry and in need of some great food options? No worries, I’ve got you covered with my handpicked list of restaurants in Chiang Mai Old City, and there are even some convenient GrabFood choices! Plus, with countless temples to explore, I’ve also narrowed down some must-visit temples in Chiang Mai for you to enjoy! Alternatively, you can also explore some more Chiang Mai-related articles that could catch your eye. ( *ˊᵕˋ* )⸝


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