I, Katarzyna Rose Dubaniewicz (don’t laugh – it’s rude), would be going to Chiang Mai’s Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
The latter has obviously been around for much longer than I have, but, sitting there and not having thought on it before, it seemed like a rather fortuitous occasion. At least, that’s what I was telling myself, since it was rather hot outside and I was getting an unsightly sunburn on my neck. (Heat stroke is a real thing, folks.)
The locals have, thankfully, shortened all references to the temple to just ‘Doi Suthep’. And these were the two words that I was waiting to see on the passing red trucks.
Since the temple is a good 40 minutes’ drive out of Chiang Mai, a taxi for a single person would be rather expensive. These red trucks are the next best bet at 40 baht for a return trip. The only catch? You have to wait until there are enough fellow passengers to fill the truck.
|A vision! The awaited red truck finally arrives.|
This took about 30 minutes, and soon we were herded into the back of the truck. I looked at my fellow passengers: a middle-aged couple from Germany, a group of Chinese students and an elderly man.
What I love most about solo travel is that, truly, it is hardly ever very solo at all. You are bound to meet someone travelling the same path as you. Whether that’s for an hour, a day or longer, this is always completely unpredictable. And I certainly would never have predicted that I would be spending most of my afternoon with a 70-plus gentleman from Iraq.
S was lovely from the get-go, and, simply striking up a conversation to while away the duration of the drive, he told me about living in Iraq and about his family there.
Arriving at the foot of the hill on which the temple is set, we just naturally paired off. There is a whole community of food stalls and trinket sellers near this temple, and I fought off the urge to buy something to focus on the matter at hand: getting up the stairs.
And I’m not talking about any old stairs; you have to climb 309 steps to get to the temple. This is strenuous under any circumstances, and it was a particularly breeze-less afternoon that day.
Whilst climbing up and taking breaks for S, I noticed just how detailed this staircase is. With a hand-painted balustrade featuring a colourful serpent, this distracted me momentarily from my weary calf muscles.
|The view from the top.|
We paid the 30-baht entry fee at the ticket office at the top of the stairs, and I was forced to undergo an outfit change. Wrapped in pink shawls (at least in my case), we were allowed to enter the temple compound.
Like all good spots, Doi Suthep’s fame begins with a story. The temple was first established in 1383, and it’s all because of an elephant, or so that story goes. A visiting monk instructed King Keu Naone, the ruler at that time, to establish a temple that would house a great relic. The relic was mounted onto the back of a white elephant, and this elephant would be tasked with choosing the actual location of the new temple. And this is what it did, by climbing this hill and then dying at the very top (I don’t blame it – I felt like doing the same after climbing those stairs!).
After this mystical founding, the temple was built – and it is breathtakingly beautiful.
Stepping through an archway, we entered the sunlight-filled courtyard, which smelled strongly of burning incense and flowers.
There was activity all around me; people were saying prayers, others were submitting their offerings to the many Buddha figures, while others were involved in religious processions – the meaning of which I had absolutely no way of understanding. It may sound like a cliche, but I felt like I was in another world. Or rather, I felt like I was in a place that is filled with traditions and a way of life so very different from the one I am familiar with.
I loved it, as this is the real reason why I travel – to be shaken away from the familiar and routine – and I tried to soak up every second of that fleeting feeling of being somewhere completely new.
We wandered around the compound, looking at the various figures and relics. After a while, we, like many other people, chose to sit in the shade and take it all in from the sidelines.
|Me and S. S, I hope you are well wherever you may be.|
We spent some time here before moving on to the pathway circling the exterior of the temple. It’s here that you can look out below to Chiang Mai, although you may have to squint through the haze. You can also spot a replica of the famed elephant of our earlier tale.
|Chiang Mai, are you there? The haze-filled landscape from Doi Suthep’s viewpoint.|
With our lengthy visit coming to an end, we clambered down the stairs, which were mercifully less tiring on the way down, and boarded our trusty red steed back to Chiang Mai.
I shook S’s hand and said goodbye, and I was truly thankful that I had someone with whom I could share my Doi Suthep experience.
An unexpected new friend, beautiful sights and, yes, the union of two elements with atrociously long names? I think that my prediction, heat stroke-induced though it may have been, that this little visit would be fortuitous turned out to be unequivocally correct.