If there is one temple everyone tells you to go to in Chiang Mai it is the one located on Doi Suthep, the mountain just on the edge of the city. After a winding, uphill ride to the base of the temple, you’re still not quite there yet. Pass the many stalls offering you an assortment of trinkets to purchase and make your way to the 309 stairs (or take the tram for a small fee).
This temple attracts foreign tourists, local Thais, as well as monks and other Thai nationals from other cities. One of the pieces that you will see once you enter the pagoda is a statue of a white elephant. The albino elephant is rare and is historically held in high regard by Thai people. It is said that a monk once had a vision telling him to go to a certain spot to find a relic. What he found there was a bone. Some even say that this was the shoulder bone of Buddha.
The monk took the bone to a northern city in Thailand, where it apparently broke in two. One piece of this bone was put on the back of a white elephant by a king and the elephant was sent off. The story goes that this white elephant climbed up Doi Suthep where he let out three trumpets before dying. The king took this as a sign and thus, built what is now Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
When I visited, there was a monk and a shaman who were sitting in a temple and blessing the string bracelets (Sai Sin bracelet) that many travelers to Thailand come to know. These string bracelets are blessed by monks in Thai ceremonies and those who wear them are brought good luck – in travels, in their endeavors, health, success, and even wealth when blessed over a pile of money. They tell you not to cut these bracelets and either untie them or allow them to fall off, for cutting them diminishes all the luck they are meant to bring.
This is also the temple where I was taught by a visiting monk how to pray.
As you walk around the temple, you will notice a few areas where you can sit, relax, and take in the beautiful views of Chiang Mai that can be seen from both sides of the pagoda. Whether you are in Chiang Mai for a day or a week, this temple is one of the most beautiful in the area.