Doi means mountain in the northern Thai dialect (see our earlier geographical names post), so Doi Suthep of course means Suthep Mountain. Doi Suthep’s most famous feature is its temple, Wat Doi Suthep, and is part of Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. Finally, Suthep is the name of the western district of Chiang Mai city abutting said mountain and home to CMU, Chiang Mai Zoo and the fashionable Nimmanhemin Road area.
We’ll come to Suthep district in our Chiang Mai area by area posts, and the national park is a wide subject, so for this post we’ll stick to the mountain itself. At around 1,600m in height, and being within walking distance of downtown, Suthep certainly towers over the city and though we would like to say it’s clearly visible from wherever you are in Chiang Mai you’d better read our last post first!
Also usually clearly visible — even at night as it’s lit up — is the temple just below the summit: Wat Doi Suthep or to give it its full name, Wat Phra Boromathat Doi Suthep Worawihan. Now if you hear people repeating the local saying that, “You haven’t visited Chiang Mai unless you’ve visited Doi Suthep,” they really mean unless you’ve gone up the mountain and had your photo taken in the temple with a view of the city in the background.
The temple is thought to date from the 14th century and is considered one of the most sacred sites in the region. It’s certainly both an elaborate affair and spectacularly situated, as well as being hugely popular with local tourists.
From Chiang Mai Zoo at the foot of the mountain and at the end of Huay Kaew Road, a good road winds its way up Doi Suthep for 15 kilometres before reaching the car park and cafe area at the temple entrance. From here there’s either 309 steps or a 30 baht tram fare to negotiate before you reach the temple proper. The road gets very steep so if you’re going up there on a motorbike please take care!
On the way up Doi Suthep the road passes through dry dipterocarp, mixed deciduous and montane forest, emerging into pine once you reach Doi Pui, so it covers a wide range of flora and fauna and is particularly reputed for bird-life. There are also numerous viewpoints and several waterfalls, some more spectacular than others and all more picturesque during the rainy season. We’ve already posted a couple of waterfall hikes on Doi Suthep which you can find here.
Note if you enter the national park headquarters or visit any of the more popular falls you will have to pay the 200 baht park entry fee — if you just go to the temple you won’t. The national park HQ buildings, botanical gardens and royal palace are all located above Wat Doi Suthep as the road continues to wind its way up to Doi Pui. It’s all very scenic but again, take care here if you’re on a motorbike — the road gets even steeper and even experienced riders may have problems. Most guesthouses and travel agents can organise inexpensive tours to Doi Suthep and Doi Pui.
How to get there
Doi Suthep can be reached by motorbike (it's a steep climb so do take care) or hired songthaew from Chiang Mai. A private songthaew will be pricey but shared songthaews depart from in front of Chiang Mai University on Nimmanhemin Road and cost 300 baht per person, dropping passengers for an hour each at Wat Doi Suthep, Phuping Palace and Doi Pui before taking them back to CMU. Alternatively, any guesthouse can organise group tours with English-speaking guides, but be prepared to pay significantly more for these.
By Mark Ord.
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