Visiting Chiang Mai’s Mountain Temple

a statue of a person in a gold robe

Pollution was one of the things that marked my time in Chiang Mai last February. The air was thick with smoke from forest and home fires and the famous temple on the hill was almost never visible.

a city with many buildings and trees

The Le Meridien Chiang Mai club lounge supposedly boasted a lovely view of the moutain but I only saw it once during my stay.  So though the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep was highly recommended, I wasn’t anxious to go and kept putting it off hoping the next day would be clearer. Finally on my last day I saw some reviews that said you could get great views even on high pollution days so I decided to do it.

Getting to the Temple

I waffled between taking one of the red truck taxis from downtown or taking a hotel car for the 40 minute drive to the top of the mountain.

The red trucks have two covered benches in the back which you share with as many people as the driver can pick. Reports said they’d run around 300-400 baht one way or 500-600 baht round trip depending on how well you bargained.

a group of red cars on a road

The hotel car was 1200 baht for an hour or two.

Normally I would go for the cheaper deal, but a few factors came into play.

-I had just landed a big project and was trying to cram in siteseeing with a close to full day’s work.

-The pollution was taking a big toll on my health and I tend to get carsick. 40 minutes each way in the back of an open truck on a curvy road seemed like a bad idea.

I went for the hotel car and when my driver returned within an hour to pick me up and I sank back into the clean cool air conditioned interior, I didn’t regret the extra cost at all!

Visiting the Temple

When you get dropped off in the front, you still have some stairs and a cable car to go.

a group of people standing on a street

I made my way past all the souvenir and incense sellers up the stairs to buy my ticket.

a hand holding a brochure

You have the option of taking the cable car for ~$1 or going up the super steep 300 step Naga Serpent Staircase.

a staircase with a metal railing and a statue of a dragon

Then it was a wait in line for one of the two cable cars.

a group of people standing in a room

A little tip, by the way, use the bathroom before you come because all the facilities are squat toilets.

a stairs leading to a building

But eventually my turn came and I was up the steep cable car and out by the temple.

a woman taking a selfie

Eagerly I made my way past some beautiful buildings and areas in search of the gorgeous view.

a garden with many flowers and trees

a row of bells on a railing

a window with a design on it


a woman standing next to a statue of a dragon

And was met with a wall of white cloud and smog. Oh well.

a group of people standing on a balcony

The temple complex which was built in the late 1300s is still quite beautiful with many ornate altars and statues.

a large gold pyramid shaped building

a tree with colorful ribbons and fruits

a group of people in a temple
Note: You’ll need to take your shoes off to enter the complex, so don’t wear anything fancy or that you’d be sad to lose.

a group of shoes on the ground

It took less than an hour for me to see all the sites and while I was waiting for my driver several of the souvenir sellers kept coming up to me. I kept politely declining with a smile and somehow developed a repore with them. One relentless lady approached me so often she started laughing too hard to speak. 🙂

I enjoyed the temple. But having visited all of Bangkok’s impressive temples, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep on a cloudy polluted day wasn’t as awe-inspiring as all the reviews had led me to believe.

Summary of Recommendations

  • If you’re in a group of 2 or more, take a hotel car to the mountain. It will be the same price or less and alot more comfortable than the red trucks!
  • If you’re in good shape and hate waiting in line, take the stairs up to the top.
  • Use the bathroom before you go unless you’re comfortable with squat toilets.
  • Wear cheap shoes, you’ll have to take them off and leave them outside unattended while you’re in the temple.
  • Go on a clear day. If there aren’t any and you’ve already seen the temples in Bangkok, it’s ok to skip.

More from this trip

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  1. I am going to Chiang Mai in a week’s time with two of my girls who are about to burst with excitement and here comes your disappointing post. Actually I am glad I saw that. At least I can think of other options too. I will also be staying at the same hotel so any tips/comments on that?

  2. I’m way behind on my trip report but will try to get more Chiang Mai posts up this week. Loved the Le Meridien, but definitely try to get on a club floor. It’s quieter and the views from the lounge are fantastic. Note that the pool doesn’t get much sun. The hotel spa is not cheap but had one of the best massages ever. Location is great–right by the night market and there’s a great cheap spa a block down the alley from the McDonald’s.

    And the temple is nice, just not worth a big effort if you’ve already seen Bangkok and/or it’s a cloudy day.

  3. Can you comment on the weather. I read somewhere that the water is cold now a days while giving bath to the elephants. Did you use any sweater of jacket?

  4. We went to Chiang Mai in July this year, there were scattered showers for the several days we were there so we decided not to go up the mountain to see the wat. I appreciate hearing your comment about not missing much if you’ve seen many of the temples in Bangkok (which we did). Due to the weather while in Chiang Mai, we decided to spend a day at the Chiang Mai zoo which was really interesting and different from the zoo’s we are used to in the USA, I’d recommend it. Also, we visited “Elephant Nature Park” which was an all day experience that was the highlight of our trip to Thailand – an amazing day spent learning about, feeding and bathing the elephants (they don’t allow riding at that sanctuary).

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