Doi Suthep: Exploring Chiang Mai’s Spiritual Side

Doi Suthep: Exploring Chiang Mai's Spiritual Side
Doi Suthep: Exploring Chiang Mai's Spiritual Side
Doi Suthep: Exploring Chiang Mai's Spiritual Side

They say that if you only see one temple in Thailand, Doi Suthep is the one to see. Set on a mountain plateau overlooking the city of Chiang Mai, this site is steeped in history and religious significance. It’s also visually stunning. Granted, if you’re in Chiang Mai, odds are good that you stumbled upon at least 3 temples on your morning bottled-water run to the Family Mart. Believe me though, this is a temple that lives up to the hype, scenically, spiritually, and even pop-culturally (the opening to Rambo 3 was filmed on the temple steps).

A 40 Baht songtaew from the city centre takes you up the winding mountain road where Doi Suthep lies 1676 metres above Chiang Mai. The last dozen or so must be trekked on foot, up the 306-step staircase with carved dragon handrails and cool forests on either side. Of course, lazy sightseers can always opt for the 20baht cable car. While the base of the steps is swimming with chatty local vendors peddling paintings, carvings, fruit and Fanta, the temple itself is big enough to allow even the largest crowd of tourists some breathing space.

The history of the temple is a tale of monks, kings, elephants and relics. According to legend, a 14th century monk from Sukhothai found a relic from Buddha, and the Lanna King Keu Naone offered to enshrine the piece. The relic was placed on the back of a white elephant, a sacred symbol. He carried the relic up the mountain, stopped on the site where the temple stands today, and died. The temple was constructed in 1383, with a statue honouring the white elephant inside the front gate.

Your ticket (30 Baht) allows free roam of the temple grounds, though tour guides are plentiful and very helpful. Amidst Buddhist statues, jackfruit trees, and rows of metal bells (rung constantly by curious children, despite the signs warning visitors not to push the bells), the outer area is cool and spaceous, with plenty of gilded doors and ornamental carving to admire.

The bookshop and cafes allow visitors a chance to rest their feet (and cameras). It’s also a chance to take in the views of the evergreen hills and exotic birds which make up the 260 square kilometres of Doi Suthep National Park. On the other side of the entrance gate, a lookout point offers an impressive view of sprawling Chiang Mai and the distant Ping river.

The middle of the temple is the more sacred cloister area, and visitors can remove their shoes and admire the golden Lanna-style Chedi, standing 79 feet high and housing the famous relic of Buddha. Ornametal umbrellas and Buddha statues, all gold, stand around the chedi. The surrounding walls are painted with murals depicting the life of Buddha. If you have the fortune of witnessing this sight on a clear sunny day, it’s easy to get lost in a trance with this shining gold scene. This area is considered to be one of the holiest in Thailand, and makes the trip up the mountain well worthwhile.

Those in search of a spiritual stay in Chiang Mai can book into Doi Suthep’s International Buddhism Centre and stay in the temple itself, finding meditative peace in the natural and spiritual beauty in the temple and its surroundings. The website provides further information at http://www.fivethousandyears.org/

Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.

Wakeboarding in Thailand

Wakeboarding in Thailand
Wakeboarding in Thailand
Wakeboarding in Thailand
Wakeboarding in Thailand

“Daa…” Splash! My friend loses control of his wakeboard and plunges headfirst into the lake. But seconds later he is up, huge smile on his face. “This is awesome,” he beams, giving me the thumbs up sign.”

It’s a sultry Saturday morning and I’m sitting in the sunshine beside a sparkling clear blue lake fringed by palm trees and the red sloping roves of temples, which glitter and shine as the dun hits them. Hard to believe that this is just outside Bangkok, but the truth is that a short taxi ride away from the busy capital, this peaceful haven is just waiting to be discovered.

The great thing is, even on a Saturday the beautiful Taco Lake is far from crowded. In the middle of the day there are only around two dozen people, including a couple of families who have brought picnics and cheer and laugh as dad plays on the lake.

Wakeboarding is a surface water sport where people ride a wakeboard over the water, towed behind a motorboat or a cable on a circuit. Wakeboarding uses a combination of waterskiing, snowboarding and surfing techniques and emerged in the 1980s.

The sport is largely recognised to have been invented by Canadian Paul Fraser, who developed the concept and design with the help of his brother Murray. But it was in the mid 1990s, when wakeboarding was added as a competitive sport in the X Games II, that it became really popular. The interest in the sport was so intense that it prompted the World Skiboard Association to redefine itself as the World Wakeboard Association.

Although it looks tricky, wakeboarding is quite easy to get into and very addictive. The boards are buoyant and the core is usually made from foam or honeycomb mixed with resin and coated with fibreglass. There are metal screws inserted, which attach bindings and fins. There are lots of different fin styles and shapes. Generally, the closer the fins are to the center of the wakeboard the better the board releases from the wake.

Riding the wakeboard is quite simple, in theory at least. The rider performs jumps by hitting the wake and launching into the air or by hitting a special ramp known as a kicker. There is often a rail bar – known as a slider – which the rider can balance along in the same manner as a skateboarder.

As with any extreme sport, there are a whole host of wakeboarding manoeuvres waiting to be mastered. Here are some of the most popular tricks to try:

Raley: this is where you hit the wake and swing your body backwards, up overhead, parallel to the water. Then

swing your board and body back down and land on the other side of the wake.

Fakie/Switch: Ride the board with your weak foot forward.

Butter Slide: The rider approaches the wake and snaps the board sideways to slide on top of the wake.

Surface 360: Spin the board 360 degrees while riding the surface of the water.

If all that seems a bit too much like hard work, you can try kneeboarding instead. Kneeboarding originated in Southern California in the mid 1960s. As with wakeboarding, the participants are towed on a board behind a motorboat or cable.
 
However, kneeboarding is somewhat easier than wakeboarding as the rider sits on their heels on the board, secured to the deck with an adjustable strap over the thighs. This means that there is no need to balance, which can be a problem for wakeboarders. Although easier to master, kneeboarding is still a lot of fun and there are a lot of tricks to learn and perform.

After three hours of messing about on the lake, everyone is tired but happy, nursing their aching muscles. So we head back to Khaosan Road to drink a few beers and eat pad thai on the street.

Information:

Taco Lake is located about a 30 minute journey from Bangkok in Samut Prakarn Province. To get there, follow the KM 13 Bangna-Trad Road for 150 meters and look for signs for the Intensity Pro shop. You can also phone +66 1855 5295 for more information.

The lake is open daily from 10 a.m. tickets cost just 300 baht for two hours. A standard board is provided for free, or you can pay 100 baht to hire a special board for the entire day. Lifejackets are also provided free of charge and there are plenty of facilities such as changing rooms, benches and a restaurant.
 
About the author:

Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!