Wat Sri Suphan, the Stunning (but Sexist) Silver Temple

Looking for things to do in Chiang Mai? Admire the impressive metalwork — though women aren’t welcome inside.

The pressed silver artistry of Wat Sri Suphan made it one of our favorite temples to explore in Chiang Mai

It’s no surprise that Wally and I are a couple of magpies, drawn to the embellished and vibrant artistry of Thai temples. The province has a mind-boggling amount of temples and you’ll never hear either of us admit that we’re suffering from temple fatigue. Each structure has its own fantastical narrative, with artistic details dependent upon the date of its construction and in the case of Wat Sri Suphan, its reinvention.

A cool water motif surrounds the temple. Duke tries to reach enlightenment like the Buddha — without a naga umbrella

Located amongst the narrow winding lanes of Thanon Wualai, south of Chiang Mai’s Old City, is the unconventional and impressive Wat Sri Suphan, also known as the Silver Temple. According to an inscription on the temple grounds, it was originally erected in 1501 by King Mueang Kaeo, the 11th ruler of the Mengrai dynasty. The ubosot shrine was consecrated in 1509 and contains holy relics of the Buddha.

Women are not allowed inside due to the belief that they would deteriorate the holy relics — “or otherwise the lady herself,” as a sign out front reads.

The neighborhood was resettled during the 16th century by Shan refugees renowned for their silverwork who migrated from Kentung, a small village in Eastern Myanmar.

A Buddha with bat-like ears, evidence of the influence of Laotian art, seated outside the ubosot entrance

In December 1941, the resident monks were forced to evacuate when the temple compound was commandeered by Japanese soldiers, who used it as a military base throughout World War II.

A shrine to the elephant-headed deity Ganesh with his mouse buddies Kroncha offering him his favorite treat, modak, a dumpling filled with freshly grated coconut and palm sugar

As Wally and I approached the ubosot, we saw a shrine to the elephant-headed Hindu deity Ganesh seated beneath a silver parasol. Referred to as Phra Pikanet by the Thai and known as the remover of obstacles, it’s fairly common for Thai Buddhists to make an offering to the deity when seeking fortune and success. A pair of Kroncha (the mouse that Ganesh rides around on), one silver and one gold, stand at his feet offering him his favorite sweet, modak, a steamed dumpling filled with freshly grated coconut and palm sugar.

The Silver Temple is truly a work of art — it’s a shame women aren’t allowed in

Wat Sri Suphan, like many temples under royal patronage, has been consecrated and renovated numerous times. But perhaps what makes it truly unique is the magnificent silver-colored bot constructed in 2004 under the direction of the abbot Phra Kru Phithatsuthikhun. The former base and original eight boundary markers, or bai sema, which designate the sacred perimeter of the ordination hall, were retained, along with the meticulous skill and handiwork of local silversmiths. The result is the shimmering ordination hall sheathed in intricately detailed three-dimensional repoussé work made using zinc alloy and aluminum panels with pure silver being reserved for the interior sanctuary.

A rare instance of gold on the Silver Temple’s façade draws attention to the Buddha in a teaching moment

The Wonder Walls of Sri Suphan

The main ordination hall is an elegant work of art, with panels and doors covered with intricately textured designs. The exterior includes the national emblem of Thailand, Phra Khrut Pha (Garuda as the vehicle of Narai or Vishnu), four lotuses indicating the four noble truths, Sankhapala, the Naga king, ASEAN countries, famous world cities, the king’s stories from the Jataka life of Buddha and the 12 Thai zodiac signs.

The temple is a dichotomy of pressed silver and turquouise tile

The Naga Prince: a depiction of the tales of the Buddha’s rebirth

The intricacy of the repoussé silverwork on the temple is truly stunning

Because this is an active ordination hall, women are not allowed to enter due to the Lanna belief that their prescence may deteriorate the holy relics buried within — “or otherwise the lady herself,” as a sign out front reads.

The Buddha image in the ubosot, the main ordination hall with an angry naga fan

The murals within the ubosot display the influence of Hindu, Mahayana and Theravada Buddhist elements. The primary Buddha image, Phra Jed Tue, is believed to be at least 500 years old. Behind the shrine is a chedi spire built in traditional Lanna style.

The viharn, or prayer hall, at Sri Suphan

Sri Suphan Viharn

The viharn prayer hall was built around 200 years ago during the reign of Chao Kawiroros Suriyawong, the sixth prince of Chiang Mai.

A glimpse inside the viharn. Good news: Women are allowed in here

Its main entrance is guarded by naga and dwarapala, fearsome snakes and giants, while its side entrance is guarded by singh lions and newt-like creatures called moms.

Inside, the walls illustrate stories of the Buddha.

A monk demonstrates the richly expressive repoussé technique

Panels in progress can be seen in the workshop off to one side

The temple also has a sala pavilion with an onsite workshop, where this complex centuries-old heritage art is practiced by local craftsmen who apprentice under an experienced master silversmith to preserve this valuable tradition. You can watch villagers and monks working together on the beautiful designs that cover the ubosot. Embossed sheet metal is punched and hammered from the inside to produce a relief decoration. It’s first coated in oil and then worked facedown on a bed of resin. It was cool seeing these artisans in action.

The viharn prayer hall also sports some amazing artwork, like this beastie

If you’re in town on a Saturday evening, pair a visit to the temple with the nearby Saturday Walking Street Market, as we did. –Duke

Adorning the entrance to the ubosot are a pair of kinnari, half-human, half-bird beings who protect devotees

Wat Sri Suphan
100 Wua Lai Road
Tambon Hai Ya
Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai
Chang Wat
Chiang Mai 50100 Thailand

What’s the Best Chiang Mai Street Food?

Head to Chiang Mai University on Suthep Road for a culinary adventure.

The street food found on Suthep Road by Chiang Mai University is no frills — but tasty

We were in search of what we had heard was the best street food in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

After the sun set, Wally and I flagged down a tuk-tuk and headed east of the out of the Old City to the back gate of Chiang Mai University on Suthep Road. At night the street transforms into a massive cluster of open-air kitchens, lined with food stalls as far as the eye can see. When we arrived around 8 p.m., it was buzzing with students, some arriving by moped, others on foot.

Street food is very affordable, so you can try a sampling at various stalls, and it’s not the end of the world if you buy something you don’t like.

Local dishes galore along Suthep Road

Don’t Be Afraid of Street Food

We have found street food to be the perfect embodiment of authentic local culture. The flavors are more pronounced — a far cry from bland Westernized pad Thai and spring rolls.

Wally and Duke enjoyed their delicious — and dirt cheap — meal on Suthep Road

If you’ve never visited one of these types of markets, know that it’s perfectly normal to be overwhelmed. There’s an incredible variety to choose from: grilled skewers, larb, noodles and curries, all made to order. Each stand offers more food than one person could hope to enjoy. What’s great is that they’re all very affordable, so you can try a sampling at various stalls, and it’s not the end of the world if you buy something you don’t like.

So many people are afraid of street food, but it has often been our favorite meals while traveling

Wally and I walked past a few stands, stopping to watch the cooks prepare their specialties. We bought some grilled chicken skewers to munch on before settling on our main course.

At one end of the street, we found a vendor we liked. Many of the tables were packed (which we took to be a good sign), but we didn’t have a problem finding a seat. We sat on plastic chairs and ordered from the menu. Most have English menus with descriptions of the food, so you can either point to or say what you want to eat quite easily, without worrying about a language barrier.

Pad prik gaeng with long beans and rice from a stall along the street in Chiang Mai, Thailand

None of the stalls served booze, so while we waited for our food, Wally made a quick run to a 7-Eleven across the street to pick up a couple of beers. (He says it was worth risking his life in the insane traffic.) We drank them as we each feasted on spicy pad prik gaeng with long beans served with rice, all for the equivalent of a couple of bucks — a delicious one-plate meal. Anthony Bourdain would be proud. –Duke

Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai’s White Temple

One artist’s vision of purity — with plenty of pop icons thrown in as well. Where else can you see Hello Kitty, superheroes, Disney villains and Harry Potter engaged in an epic battle?

The White Temple is the most popular attraction in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Though he was born in Thailand, Chalermchai Kositpipat is not a typical Thai artist — as you can see from his masterpiece, the White Temple. Trained as a painter at Silpakorn University in Bangkok, he began working on his ambitious, non-traditional self-funded masterpiece, Wat Rong Khun, in 1997.

Duke at Wat Rong Khun. He tried not to be too upset that you can’t take any pictures inside the temple —you’ll just have to see that kooky pop culture-infused mural for yourself!

We hired a driver, the highly recommended Tommy (you can reach him at for 4,000 baht. Our day trip to Chiang Rai included the Blue Temple, the Black House Museum and a crazy Alice in Wonderland excursion through one of our favorite temples in Northern Thailand.

Wally made a new friend at the White Temple, where the pristine glory of the buildings pair strangely with pop culture references

Delicate details embellish the exuberant structure of the White Temple like lavishly piped icing on a wedding cake. The overall effect is spectacular.

If you’re staying in Chiang Mai, the White Temple is located further afield — about two and a half hours to the north.

Wat Rong Khun isn’t an actual temple — it’s more of an elaborate art installation

The White Temple isn’t complete, though Kositpipat says that when it’s finished, it will consist of nine separate buildings. The artist assumes that construction will continue well beyond his death.

The temple sustained earthquake damage on May 5, 2014, and at the time, Kositpipat declared that it would be closed indefinitely. It's perhaps not surprising that he was merely grandstanding, as his vision is considered controversial — it’s a vast departure from traditional Thai Buddhist temple art.

The White Temple is the singular vision of the once-controversial artist, Kostipipat

Over time, Kositpipat’s work has become more accepted, with the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej among his clients. The unusual artist has been quoted as saying, “Only death can stop my dream but cannot stop my project,” which he believes will give him immortal life.

If you have hopes of getting a clear shot of the main hall and reflection pond, you may want to consider spending the night in Chiang Rai. We left Chiang Mai around 8:30 a.m. on a weekday, arriving at the same time as a fleet of tourist buses. Keep in mind that the White Temple closes every day between noon and 2 p.m. for lunch. Luckily, there’s a food court right on the premises. We had a decent lunch at a restaurant in the back corner.

The temple complex was crowded around midday

Monument to Impermanence

The main building is resplendent in white, plucked from a fairy tale but rooted in Buddhist mythology. It represents the purity of dharma, the Buddhist way of life. Delicate details embellish the exuberant structure like lavishly piped icing on a wedding cake. The color comes alive with the contrast of blue-gray shadows and small pieces of inlaid mirror that reflect sunlight. The overall effect is spectacular.

As we headed to the temple entrance, Wally and I passed a sinister sea of arms before crossing the bridge of the Cycle of Rebirth. It’s a disturbing glimpse of what awaits those who allow material desires to rule their lives.

You’re not going to want to fall into this moat!

You’re not going to want to fall into this moat!

The complex allows the viewer to become a voyeur. Much of the temple is dedicated to depicting samsara, the transformative Buddhist cycle of birth and death, due to delusion and fixation on the self.

As Depeche Mode sang, “The grabbing hands grab all they can.”

Hidden within the main hall, Kositpipat has dreamed up elaborate and unconventional murals, a bit of a trip down the rabbit hole, upending traditional Buddhist iconography and drawing upon elements from Western popular culture. Flames and the face of a giant demon whose mouth makes the doorway are paired with Hello Kitty, Elvis, Harry Potter, a few Pokémon, including Pikachu, Spider-Man, Iron Man, a Transformer, Neo from The Matrix, Superman, the killer puppet from Saw, Captain Jack Sparrow from The Pirates of the Caribbean and a crotch-grabbing Michael Jackson.

Reflected within the demon’s eyes are the twin towers of the former World Trade Center with the likeness of George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden. When asked about this mural, Kositpipat said, “I want everyone to know that our world is being destroyed by those who craved to build weapons that kill, thereby ruining the environment because nothing is ever enough.”

Photography is permitted throughout the grounds but not within the walls of the White Temple. Images of the mural can be purchased inside the gift shop.

The bathrooms at Wat Rong Khun are housed in this glorious golden building

Cool sculptures are found throughout the complex, like this one in front of the restrooms

The restrooms are located in an ornate pavilion known as the Golden Temple. Kostipipat chose this color scheme with the implied message to call attention to our materialistic tendencies and worldly desires.

Sign for the bathrooms at the White Temple

We purchased a heart-shaped silver bodhi leaf for 30฿ at one of the temple kiosks and hung it on one of the ornamental wish trees. I sure hope they don't routinely remove these like the locks on the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris, France.

Away from the main attraction, you’ll find quieter spots, like this natural grove

Behind the main part of the complex are some new buildings — and some still being built

Behind the compound and across a parking lot we discovered a large onsite workshop, where we took a peek behind the scenes and watched the artisans at work. It was a fascinating glimpse into the work that goes into fabricating Kositpipat's magical forms before they get assembled onto a building.

You can explore Kostipipat’s studio warehouse if you’d like

Adjacent to the temple is a gallery with a number of the artist’s painted masterpieces. You can purchase high-quality reproductions, books, T-shirts and postcards in the well-curated gift shop.

Look for heads of famous characters, like Wolverine and Maleficent. Such touches show the artist’s merging of whimsy and the macabre

Kostipipat’s world introduces elements of irony and self reflection with the promise of the unusual, but the vision is entirely his, and it’s beautiful. –Duke

In the mural inside the temple, Hello Kitty, Elvis and Harry Potter battle the killer puppet from “Saw,” Captain Jack Sparrow and Michael Jackson.

Wat Rong Khun
Pa O Don Chai Road
Phan, Chiang Rai

Meet the Tree Spirits of Thai Folklore

The Thai spirits of Nang Ta-khian and the Nariphon lure men to their deaths or entice them to have sex — with drastic consequences.

These ribbons and dresses are offerings to the Thai tree spirit, Nang Ta-khian, who can help you win the lottery, heal, help with a pregnancy — or lead you to your death

As Wally and I were following the trail that led to Mae Ya Waterfall, part of Doi Inthanon National Park, we stumbled upon a clearing with picnic tables and an impressive tree with lengths of colorful satin cloth tied around its trunk — complete with a small altar. I knew of the traditional belief of phi, or spirits, that inhabit trees, but was trying to process what the addition of vibrant jewel-toned silk women’s dresses was all about.

Nang Ta-khian sings mournful songs to beckon wandering men. Those who get too close are drawn into her powerful embrace, eventually subsumed by her branches.

Tree-hugging Wally is part of a long-standing worldwide tradition of worshiping trees

Tree Worship Around the World

Tree worship exists in many cultures and is often associated with fertility, longevity and rebirth. It’s not surprising, given that their roots reach down into the underworld while their branches extend to the skies. Many mythologies, from Greco-Roman to Celtic and Druid, stated that the gods themselves took the form of trees. In Buddhism, the bodhi tree is a sacred symbol for having provided shelter to the Buddha while he attained enlightenment.

Where Buddhism and Animism Meet

When the Thai adopted Buddhism as their national religion, they folded their ancient animistic beliefs (that every natural object, such as mountains, trees and animals, has a soul) into their practice of Buddhism.

I later learned that the brightly colored dresses and ribbons are part of a sanctuary shrine to Phi Nang Ta-khian, an ancient female spirit named for the takian tree. Found near rivers or streams, she can anthropomorphize, shifting her tree form into that of a slender, long-haired, beautiful young woman wearing a traditional pha tung, or long wraparound skirt.


The Sacred Takian Tree and the Legend of Nang Ta-khian

Takian trees are considered sacred and are rarely felled for lumber, since her spirit will become furious and curse whoever uses the wood. The only ones holy enough to cut down a takian are monks, and they must hold a ceremony requesting Nang Ta-khian’s permission first. She is considered a mostly benevolent spirit but can become malevolent, releasing a dreadful shriek that fills the air when proper homage is not paid to her.

In certain versions of the story, Nang Ta-khian is said to sing mournful songs to beckon wandering men. Those who get too close can be drawn into her powerful embrace, eventually subsumed by her limbs.

Devotees of Nang Ta-khian place traditional Thai silk dresses at the foot of the takian tree as an offering. Like the famous ghost Mae Nak, the spirit can be asked to protect those who are pregnant, provide safe passage to travelers and reveal winning lottery numbers for material gain. (Thais are obsessed with their lotteries.) Nang Ta-khian is also known to heal, and the resin from the takian tree is a popular medicinal styptic used to stanch bleeding and as an ointment for wounds. A takian growing near the bank of a river with its roots protruding above ground is to be avoided, for the spirit of that tree is a fierce one. Whoever relieves himself near the base of such a tree will suffer from ulcers.

The nareepol tree’s fruit turns into hot 16-year-old girls who tempt hermits to have sex with them

The Nareepol Tree’s Strange, Sexual Fruit

Equally intriguing was a discovery we made one evening while at the Anusam Night Market. I noticed a pair of tiny gray male and female figurines for sale. Of course I wanted to purchase them simply because they looked old and exotic, but was discouraged by Wally. (They were quite expensive — the vendor was asking 2,500 baht, or about  $75.) As I was researching Nang Ta-khian, I stumbled upon an interesting folk tale about these powerful talismans.

According to the Vessantara Jataka, the god Indra was afraid that his consort, Lady Phusati, would be attacked by lustful ruesi, forest-dwelling hermits. So he created a grove of nareepol trees bearing fruit in the shape of identical beautiful maidens in Phusati’s likeness known as nariphon to distract them.

If a man plucks a nariphon and has sex with her, he will become sterile. And if he had any magical abilities, those would also be lost to him. The nariphon are born as 16-year-old girls (sans bones) and have a short life, dying after only seven days. They then wither and shrink into themselves and become fertility amulets like those we saw at the market. –Duke

If a man plucks a nariphon fruit maiden and has sex with her, he’ll become sterile.

6 Things to Do at Doi Inthanon

Take a day trip from Chiang Mai, Thailand to this national park to see the Vachiratharn Waterfall and King and Queen Pagodas.

No trip to Doi Inthanon National Park is complete without visiting the modern King and Queen Pagodas atop the mountain

Known as “the Roof of Thailand,” Doi Inthanon is the country’s highest peak at 8,415 feet above sea level. It’s also part of the Himalayan mountain range (the world’s largest), extending from Bhutan through Nepal and Myanmar to Northern Thailand. Situated  in the Chom Thong District of Chiang Mai Province, Doi Inthanon National Park includes majestic waterfalls, a diversity of forest plants and countless species of mammals and birds. The peak of the mountain is punctuated with modern twin pagodas.

The cooling spray of mist is an excellent way to cool off, and if you’re lucky you might catch a monk taking a selfie (#monkie?).

Plus it’s a mere 36 miles west of the tourist mecca of Chiang Mai via Highway 107. It’s not at the top of our day trip list (if you can only take one, head to Chiang Rai instead), but you can spend a fun day exploring this park.

The spiritual heart of Doi Inthanon is King Inthawichayanon, the last ruler of Chiang Mai, whose passion project was the preservation of Thailand’s forests for future generations. When he passed away in November 1897, his ashes were interred within the park and the forest was renamed Doi Inthanon, a more manageable shortening of his name.

Here are 6 things to do on a trip to the park in a recommended order:

TLC be damned! Wally and Duke did go chasing waterfalls

1. Chase Waterfalls

The park has several magnificent waterfalls. One of them, Vachiratharn Waterfall, is located on the lower slopes of Doi Inthanon. What’s nice is that it's reached by a short, easy trail from a parking area, so you don’t have to hike to it.

Stop by the Vachiratharn Waterfall — no hiking necessary

Stop by the Vachiratharn Waterfall — no hiking necessary

There’s a wooden observation deck where you can view the power of the water plummeting over the edge of the granite escarpment into the pool below. The cooling spray of mist is an excellent way to cool off on a hot day, and if you’re lucky you might even catch a monk taking a selfie (#monkie?) like we did.

#monkie? It’s not every day you see a monk taking a selfie

The Royal Project is an ambitious plan to get hill tribe people to have a source of income other than opium

2. Admire the Royal Agricultural Station

The Royal Project was initiated in 1979 by King Bhumibol to fight poverty and encourage rural hill tribe farmers to cultivate sustainable crops other than opium. Vast swaths of land are covered in terraced steps where the Hmong and Karen hill tribe farmers grow fruits, vegetables and flowers. The Royal Project also serves as a model center to disseminate knowledge and promote innovation.

Grab lunch near the Royal Project garden

3. Take a (Lunch) Break

The Royal Project boasts a casual al fresco restaurant offering a variety of signature and traditional fare. Wally and I sat at a table on the covered terrace overlooking a copse of banana palm trees. A tour guide at a neighboring table helped us order two Beer Chang, and we didn’t complain when they came out in giant bottles — quite refreshing after a morning spent in the sun.

We ordered one hit, roasted duck medallions with coffee glaze, and one miss, Inthanon spicy fried rice with Thai-style sour pork sausage. Neither of us have ever had pig knuckles, but we imagined this might be what they taste like. We gnawed on the gristly bone stubs, though, and put bits of fried pork rinds into the spicy veggie sauce. It's amazing what you’ll do when you're hungry. But hey, who’s complaining, when the entire meal came to $12?

Keep an eye out for the black swan in the Royal Project pond

4. Stroll Through the Gardens

After lunch you can meander through the immaculate flower garden, which features a large pond with a pair of swans, one white and one black (much less harrowing than Natalie Portman’s off-the-rails performance as a tragic ballerina).

It started raining right as we got to the pagodas atop Doi Inthanon

5. Head for The Hills and See the Pagodas

The Royal Thai Air Force erected the modern tiered pagodas at the summit to commemorate the 60th birthdays of the late King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit. Because it was raining, we pretty much had the site to ourselves and were free to explore. Each pagoda has a flight of steps leading up to it and a covered escalator, which was not working on our visit but provided some shelter from the rain. Thankfully, we had remembered to bring umbrellas with us, though we still got soaked while exploring the gardens outside of the King Pagoda.

The Buddha inside the King Pagoda sits in a teaching position

King Pagoda

The octagonal bell-shaped ochre-and-gold-hued pagoda, named Phra Mahathat Naphamethanidon, stands 197 feet tall and is comprised of three distinct levels. These symbolize the main principles of Buddhism: karma, reincarnation and impermanence.

The multicolored stonework bas reliefs outside the King Pagoda tell the story of the Buddha

The multicolored stonework bas reliefs outside the King Pagoda tell the story of the Buddha

Inside is a Buddha image seated in the Vitarka Mudra position, symbolic of the Enlightened One teaching his disciples. The circle formed by the thumb and index finger of the left hand indicates the constant flow of energy — there is no beginning or end, only perfection.

Not sure if Buddhists believe in Hell — but this sure doesn’t look like a pleasant spot

Stone panels inside and outside of the pagoda depict important events from the life of the Buddha. The tilework reliefs encircling the King Pagoda have amazing depictions of mythical creatures, including the giant eagle Garuda fighting the snakelike Naga.

Hey, Garuda! Back off of Naga! The eagle god and giant snake are seen battling in this carving

Explore the quaint park with a pond behind the Queen Pagoda

Queen Pagoda

The 12-sided lavender pagoda, named Phra Mahathat Naphapholphumisiri, is crowned with a golden lotus bud and is 16 feet shorter than the king’s, indicating that the queen is 5 years younger (not sure how that math adds up).

The Buddha inside the Queen Pagoda stands in a posture of reflexion

Inside, the Buddha image stands in the Pang Ram Pueng posture, symbolic of reflection. If you have visited a wat or temple in Thailand, you may have noticed depictions of the Buddha standing, sitting or reclining. Some of these represent the days of the week, and the Pang Ram Pueng is known as the Friday Buddha. Devotees who were born on this day pay respect to this image, which incidentally marks the day Queen Sirikit was born.

There are so many crazy carvings to check out at these pagodas, including this one of a female being with frightening head

The tiled mosaics surrounding the pagoda illustrate stories relating to the lives of famous bhikkhunis, ordained female followers of the Buddha.

Three ladies go for a swim in this cool bas relief at the pagodas atop Doi Inthanon

Mae Ya Waterall is farther afield but worth visiting

6. Visit Mother Ya

Nestled amongst the spectacular backdrop of a lush, serene forest, Mae Ya Waterfall is located on the other side of the mountain, about seven miles from Chom Thong Village within Doi Inthanon National Park. The water flows from the Mae Ya River, cascading over a series of tiers as it plunges from an impressive 853-foot-high cliff. We arrived just before what we refer to as the magic hour, when sunlight casts a diffused golden hue, an hour or so before sunset.

Wally takes one of his famous jumping shots at the edge of the Mae Ya River

You’ll notice a tree wrapped with colorful ribbons with dresses in front of it. That’s a shrine to Phi Nang Ta-khian, a tree spirit. –Duke

Duke at Mae Ya Waterfall

บ้านหลวง ซอย2 Ban Luang
Chom Thong District
Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50160, Thailand

Why Elephant Trekking and Elephant Rides Are Evil

Before you participate in elephant tourism, learn about the barbaric abuse called phajaan, or “the crush.” Choose an elephant sanctuary instead.

As fun as elephant treks sound, they perpetuate a brutal practice of animal abuse

As fun as elephant treks sound, they perpetuate a brutal practice of animal abuse

At first it seemed harmless, even charming. Big, lumbering elephants doing astounding tricks. I understand how tempting it is to want to ride an elephant or see an elephant show when you’re in a part of the world that offers such experiences, like Thailand and other countries in Asia.

But there’s good reason circuses in the United States have stopped having elephant acts. The process to get elephants to obey orders involves “breaking” them — and once you learn about this barbaric, heartbreaking practice, you’ll never want to be a part of elephant tourism again.

Baby elephants are taken from their mothers and kept in small pens, where they’re beaten and starved for several weeks.

Of the 45,000 or so Asian elephants left in the world, up to 4,000 are held captive in Thailand, according to PETA Asia.

Before you book a trip to an elephant park when you’re in Chiang Mai or a similar region, do some research. Find a spot like the Elephant Nature Park that rescues abused elephants instead of inflicting intense pain upon these noble creatures.

“Behind the exotic façade of elephant tourism is a world of merciless beatings, broken spirits, and lifelong deprivation,” attests PETA Asia. “Once revered, elephants in Thailand today are treated like slaves.”

This poor baby elephant is undergoing the torture known as “the crush,” or phajaan

This poor baby elephant is undergoing the torture known as “the crush,” or phajaan

To train an elephant, it must undergo a horrific process called “the crush,” or phajaan.

Baby elephants — some still nursing — are taken from their mothers and kept in small pens or have all four legs tied up, and are beaten and starved for several weeks. The level of suffering elephants undergo is “severe,” according to World Animal Protection, which released a report about elephant tourism in 2017.

Bullhooks, long metal poles with a hook at the tip, are used to stab the elephant’s head, slash its skin and pull its ears. At an elephant show, you might notice torn ears or scarred foreheads caused during the crush.


The crush is a hill tribe ritual.

The practice began in the hill tribes of India and Southeast Asia, according to Thailand Elephants. During the phajaan “ritual,” the tribe’s shaman tries to separate the spirit of an elephant from its body.

“In reality, however, the phajaan has nothing to do with the separation of spirit and everything to do with torturing an elephant until it is so fearful of its human captors that it will do anything to avoid being hurt again,” the site writes.

As we learned on the ride to the Elephant Nature Park, during the crush, elephants have to be monitored around the clock because they’ll try to kill themselves by stepping on their trunk. If that doesn’t break your heart, I’d check your chest cavity — it’s probably empty.


The living conditions are brutal.

Elephants by nature are intelligent animals who have complex social groups. But in captivity, more than three-quarters of elephants are chained when not used for entertainment purposes, according to the World Animal Protection report. They have very little interaction with other elephants, are fed poor diets, have no access to proper veterinary care and are often exposed to loud music and throngs of tourists — stressful situations that go against their nature.

Elephant painting also involves abuse 

Elephant painting also involves abuse 

Even elephant painting involves abuse.

I always thought this was cute — and what was the harm? They just give an elephant a brush and it creates a work of art.

Turns out to get the elephants to paint, the handlers, known as mahouts, hold the elephant's ear, hiding the fact that they’re stabbing a nail or sharpened fingernail into its skin.


The cruel treatment of elephants has tragic repercussions.

Elephants used for entertainment live shorter lives, have behavioral problems (for which they’re surely abused even more), are more likely to come down with chronic diseases and are less likely to reproduce, The Guardian reports.


Elephant tourism got started because of the decline of logging.

For centuries, elephants were used to haul teak logs, but realizing how depleted the forests were becoming, the Thai government completely banned commercial logging in 1989. Those in the logging industry were desperate to find a use for their elephants — and tourism became a lucrative alternative, according to EARS Asia.

Instead of patronizing an operation that offers elephant rides or tricks, go to a sanctuary like the Elephant Nature Park outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand, which rescues abused elephants

Instead of patronizing an operation that offers elephant rides or tricks, go to a sanctuary like the Elephant Nature Park outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand, which rescues abused elephants

Elephant tourism, sadly, is growing.

There’s a huge demand for elephant tourism — a 30% increase in recent years — but you really should resist. Give your money to a place that rescues elephants; don’t be a part of the problem.

Elephant tourism remains popular because it’s “a hidden form of cruelty,” Chiara Vitali, a wildlife expert at World Animal Protection, told The Guardian. The crush “will happen before any tourist sees an elephant, so they might see an animal that’s quite chilled out — but it had that beaten into it when it was an infant,” she explained.

“Venues that offer tourists a chance to watch elephants in genuine sanctuaries are beacons of hope that can encourage the urgently needed shift in the captive elephant tourism industry,” said Jan Schmidt-Burbach, global wildlife and veterinary advisor at World Animal Protection.

Now that you’ve learned about the horrors of training elephants, we hope you’ll never forget. –Wally

During the crush, elephants have to be monitored because they’ll try to kill themselves by stepping on their trunk. If that doesn’t break your heart, I’d check your chest cavity — it’s probably empty.

The Secret Jungle Temple of Wat Palad

Hike the Monk’s Trail and explore this little-known temple near a waterfall on Doi Suthep mountain outside Chiang Mai.

Perhaps Wat Palad has seen better days — and perhaps that’s part of its charm

The promise of a magical, less-trodden temple secreted amid the folds of dense tropical flora filled my head. I often search for places that are a bit off the beaten path, and after reading about Wat Palad, I knew it was a destination Wally and I wouldn't want to miss.

The sala at Wat Palad feels less wild than much of the rest of the complex

This naga staircase sits to one side of the waterfall

Blazing the Monk’s Trail

Our driver for hire, Tommy, drove us through the Chiang Mai University campus to the temple’s back entrance and carpark, which is located a short distance off a busy highway. The more adventurous can hike the well-worn stone footpath known as the Monk’s Trail, which leads to the temple, marked by trees with saffron cloth wrapped around their trunks.

The tranquil forest setting was something for the soul, the perfect place to wander and rediscover a simplicity that our everyday lives often lack.

Follow the saffron markers as you hike the Monk’s Trail

Wat Palad must have once been a magnificent 14th century temple. It originally functioned as a refuge for devotees undertaking the pilgrimage on foot up the mountainside to worship at Wat Doi Suthep and sustained growth through regular visitation and patronage. Not long after a road was built in 1935, the temple became a monastic residence focused as a meditative retreat. Buddhism uses meditation and isolation as a way to achieve enlightenment.

Old statues are found throughout the grounds of Wat Palad

Old statues are found throughout the grounds of Wat Palad

Worshippers add squares of gold leaf to statues of the Buddha like this one at Wat Palad

Worshippers add squares of gold leaf to statues of the Buddha like this one at Wat Palad

A welcome reprieve from the more popular temples in Chiang Mai, Wat Palad has an overlooked and faded presence — nothing here is glaring or loud, there’s no central viharn, and best of all, there aren’t any crowds. The only sounds of life were our footfalls and the hum of cicadas as we took a path from the carpark. A pair of manussihas, mythological Burmese sphinxes, rested on their haunches at the temple’s entrance. I’m grateful they didn’t challenge us to a riddle before we entered.

These Burmese sphinxes, known as manussihas, guard the temple complex of Wat Palad

The jungle has reclaimed parts of Wat Palad — which makes it a fun change from most other temples in the Chiang Mai area

The temple name roughly translates as “Forest Monastery of the Sloping Rock,” named for the broad bluff the temple sits perched upon. The grounds are comprised of an impressive menagerie of statues and shrines that share an almost otherworldly relationship with the tropical jungle surrounding them. We passed a small cave with some very old-looking Buddha images within and made our way to an arched footbridge that dates back 100 years.

Jungle Temple for the Soul

A waterfall lies at the heart of the temple complex, but as it was the end of the dry season when we visited, the smooth surface of the riverbed lay exposed and the waterfall was reduced to a mere trickle.

When we visited, the waterfall at Wat Palad was almost entirely dried up

It’s believed that the white elephant of the local ruler, King Kuena, made its first stop here to rest near the waterfall while transporting the sacred relic of the Buddha’s shoulder up the slope of Doi Suthep. I took a moment to pause and imagine the mahout and elephant stopping here to get a drink of water before moving on.

The sun had already begun to peek through the canopy as a gentle breeze passed through the trees; a bead of sweat rolled down the bridge of my nose before I wiped it away with the back of my hand.

I could sense a new sort of calm. The tranquil forest setting was something for the soul, the perfect place to wander and rediscover a simplicity that our everyday lives often lack. When the time came to leave, I felt a tug and couldn’t help but wish to linger. –Duke

Wat Palad
Highway 1004
Tambon Su Thep
Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai
Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand

A Brief History of Chiang Mai

From its roots as the capital of the Lanna Kingdom to its incorporation into Siam.

Elephants have always played an important role in Chiang Mai’s history, used for transport and as beasts of burden in the teak trade

When Wally and I decided to make the city of Chiang Mai, Thailand our destination, I was eager to learn about its history and pondered what strange spell it would cast on me.

Nestled among the rolling green mountains of Northern Thailand, Nopburi Si Nakhon Ping Chiang Mai, since shortened to the much more manageable Chiang Mai, was founded by the King Mengrai in 1296. Its name translates as New Walled City. The city became the new capital, its site chosen because of the auspicious presence of herds of spotted deer, white mice and a giant fig tree.

The Three Kings Monument in Chiang Mai — that’s Mengrai in the middle

Mengrai had previously established the city of Chiang Rai and had also conquered Lamphun. Legend has it that King Mengrai, King Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai and King Ngam Muang of Phayao formed an alliance and built the new city of Chiang Mai together.

Mengrai’s short-lived previous capital, Wiang Kum Kham, situated about three miles south, was abandoned due to repeated flooding during the intense monsoon rains that caused the Ping River to overflow. The settlement, since buried beneath alluvial sediment, was unearthed in 1984.

Lanna women in traditional garb (hey, it gets hot there!)

Deeper Roots: The Birth of the Lanna Kingdom

The province became known as Lanna, which translates as A Million Rice Fields. At its height, the kingdom's territories spread over an area as far southwest as Tak, the Pai Valley in the west and as far north as Luang Prabang in Laos.

Mengrai reigned from Chiang Mai for 20 years, until his unexpected death in 1317 — according to legend, he was struck dead by a bolt of lightning. For the next two centuries, rulers were chosen from Mengrai’s supposedly divine lineage.

Wat Chedi Luang as it stands today. The building was completed during the reign of King Tilokoraj

There were some greatly distinguished kings of the Mangrai Dynasty, particularly the sixth ruler, King Kuena (1355-1385) and the ninth, King Tilokoraj (1441-1487), both of whom brought about cultural, social and artistic renaissances. They turned their interests to architecture, erecting many Buddhist temples and chedis that are now referred to as classic Lanna style. The mountain temple of Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep remains the spiritual symbol of Chiang Mai today.

An old map of Chiang Mai shows the square city center

Chiang Mai, Where Its Hip to Be Square

The fortified Old City, surrounded by a moat, is square in shape. The remnants of earthen walls with ramparts designed to protect and defend against Burmese invaders still stand, although many have been restored.

The Lanna Kingdom largely functioned autonomously, but became fragile as its principalities expanded, making Chiang Mai a pawn and allowing the Burmese to seize the city in 1556. Abandoned between 1776 and 1791, the former capital was recaptured by Prince Kawila, who began a ritual circumambulation of the city at Wat Buppharam (which has since established a connection to a certain Disney character) to reoccupy it after two centuries of Burmese rule.

Kawila mobilized the diverse segments of the population from all the nearby villages — many had since moved to Lamphun — to resettle in Chiang Mai. The prince led the reconstruction, restoration and renovation of many historic buildings, especially the revered older temples that had been built during the Mengrai Dynasty. He eventually took the throne and established the Chuea Chet Ton Dynasty, meaning the Dynasty of the Seven Lords.

The ancient ramparts that surround the Old City still stand (mostly)

As king, Kawila followed tradition, dressed in full Lanna regalia like all rulers of the Mengrai Dynasty had done in the past, and he entered the Old City through the auspicious northern gate, Pratu Chang Puak, the White Elephant Gate.

Becoming a Part of Siam — But Escaping Colonial Rule

Although Siam (the previous name for Thailand) was never colonized, it felt the pressure from the British, who won the Anglo-Burmese War, annexing Burma in its entirety between 1824-1852. The French, meanwhile, had colonized Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

In 1885, the Bowring Treaty was negotiated and signed, allowing liberal trade between the United Kingdom and Siam. The British were at this time heavily invested in the teak trade and established the Borneo Trading Company headquarters in Chiang Mai’s Wat Gate district, the foreigners’ enclave (where we stayed at the utterly charming Hotel des Artists Ping Silhouette).

A historic shot of a Chiang Mai market. There’s a lot less mud nowadays

A historic shot of a Chiang Mai market. There’s a lot less mud nowadays

The Lanna Kingdom’s political independence ended in the late 19th century with the arrival of the railroad, and it was eventually incorporated into Siam.

Exploring the city’s streets, Wally and I could feel its storied past resonate amongst the shops, cafés, crowds and timeworn temples. –Duke

Baan Dam, the Black House Museum of Chiang Rai

This Northern Thailand museum is the polar opposite of the White Temple. You certainly don’t get to see a penis shaped like an eagle there.

The dark, weathered exterior of Baan Dam’s Main Sanctuary Hall appears a bit sinister

Baan Dam, literally the Black House, is the macabre vision of one of Thailand’s most famous artists, Thawan Duchanee. In many ways, the museum acts as a dark reflection of Wat Rong Khun, commonly referred to as the White Temple, located on the other side of the city of Chiang Rai. Where the White Temple strives for pristine perfection, the Black House Museum revels in a melancholic primitivism.

The museum, including the Sanctuary of Rama, is the vision of one of Thailand’s most famous artists, Thawan Duchanee

Baan Dam is the yin to the White Temple’s yang. The Black House was conceived over a period of 36 years and functioned as Duchanee’s residence and studio. Though the White Temple feels much more like a traditional wat (Thai for temple), neither of these are actually religious structures; they’re both essentially museums.

Where the White Temple strives for pristine perfection, the Black House Museum revels in a melancholic primitivism.
You could imagine pagan rituals taking place in front of the Xieng Thong House

You could imagine pagan rituals taking place in front of the Xieng Thong House

Black List

The museum campus struck me immediately as foreboding — especially after the pureness of the White Temple. The Main Sanctuary Hall, off to the left, looks like a temple, but it’s made of wood and is stained black and dark brown. The more you look at it, the more something seems off. Its gables are steeper, and the barge boards look like they’re coated with dried blood. The tips are made of metal pointing upward like sword blades, giving the structure a menacing demeanor. The building literally looms above you.

The doors to the main building have intricate carvings of demons with animal-headed penises like the eagle seen here

As you enter the front doors, be sure to admire the elaborate carvings. One set features contorted demons with animal-headed penises — the eagle one certainly brings a whole new meaning to the word “pecker”!

A bizarre self-portrait with a string rising up to an image of the Buddha

Inside, the soaring exposed-beam ceiling rises above, and you’re greeted by two likenesses of the artist: an abstract obsidian black figure standing within a silver offering bowl with a string tied around his waist and a larger detailed white bust elevated upon a flurry of mythic beings. The string rises high above to a likeness of the Buddha, symbolizing the yearn for enlightenment.

Duke peeks out from the grouping of pillars in this one-of-a-kind museum

Where’s Wally? Having fun in the Main Sanctuary Hall, the largest gallery space 

Within the hall are a forest of elaborately carved wooden columns, screens, thrones and long wooden tables. Crocodile skins lay splayed open atop one of the tables, while another features a runner made from a monstrously large snake. It wouldn’t surprise me if I learned the Dothraki from Game of Thrones gather here.

Light wood arches balance out the overall darkness of the space

Light wood arches balance out the overall darkness of the space

A throne made of animal skins and horns

The chairs, some evoking thrones, are constructed of leather and animal horns. They don’t particularly appear comfortable, but as Aegon the Conqueror said in George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic, “A king should never sit easy.”

Supposedly, all the taxidermied animals at Baan Dam died of natural causes — which makes the place more spiritual and less sadistic, Atlas Obscura reports.

A painting of a bull by Duchanee

A painting of a bull by Duchanee

A couple of Duchanee’s large paintings hang in the middle of the hall, bright crimson canvases covered with black slashes and swoops in his signature style.

Escape the sun at the Rest House. There are skulls and horns galore at Baan Dam, giving the museum a primitive feel

Escape the sun at the Rest House. There are skulls and horns galore at Baan Dam, giving the museum a primitive feel

We exited through the back door. Most of the buildings on the grounds aren’t open to the public. But you can wander through an open-air gallery to the right that houses more bones, horns, skulls and animal skins, laid out in symmetrical rows, covering the tables and beams. Keep an eye out for the phallic sculptures sprinkled throughout.

Baan Dam’s exploration of the darkness lurking within humanity is somehow avant garde and primitive at the same time. It’s said to have the largest collection of animal remains made into furniture in the world. There’s a sense of death everywhere, the impermanence of life being a major Buddhist theme.

The white domes are modern takes on stupas (the reliquaries of Thai temples) and are covered with cool graffiti

A glimpse inside one of the stupas

The white domes off to the side are modern takes on chedis, or stupas, the spired monuments that house sacred relics that are found on every wat complex. These, though, seem like American Indian sweat lodges (Duke read a story they were designed for a hill tribe farting ritual), and they feature really cool street art graffiti on their exteriors.

This strange building called the Hornbill House was the artist’s home when he was on site

A big black submarine/sea creature-like building with round glass porthole windows, half sunken into the landscape, was said to be where Duchanee slept when on site. It wouldn’t surprise me if his ghost roamed the complex now.

Once we were finished exploring the museum, we bought ice cream at a little stand out front and some caffeinated beverages at the nearby coffeeshop before our driver Tommy took us to the crazy fun Wat Sang Kaew.

Thawan Duchanee, the man behind the Black House Museum

Portrait of the Artist: Thawan Duchanee

As mentioned, the man behind this dark museum is Thawan Duchanee. The local boy earned a Ph.D. in metaphysics and aesthetics from the Royal Academy of Visual Arts in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He first took up studies at Bangkok’s Poh Chang Academy of Arts before moving on to study under the Italian painter Corrado Feroci.

I’ve read that Duchanee was a student of Chalermchai Kositpipat, the man who created the White Temple, and that Kositpipat was a student of Duchanee. I’ve also read that both were freelance artists and never taught a day of their lives. Either way, they tend to get lumped together: One created a vision of Heaven, while the other created a version of Hell.

In 2001, Duchanee was officially lauded as a National Thai Artist, but his controversial style wasn’t always popular. “Some of his early work shocked a conservative Thai nation and accusations of disrespecting Buddhism resulted in some people physically attacking his paintings,” Thaizer reports.

Leading figures in Thai society, including the former prime minister Kukrit Pramoj, championed Duchanee’s work. This helped the artist score contracts to paint murals at a number of Thai embassies, and prominent Thai companies to commission work from him to display in their headquarters.

Duchanee combined various elements from traditional Burmese, Tibetan and local Lanna Thai art to create a singular style of his own.

At the end of his life, he was bald up top and sported a long, flowing snow white beard — evoking the stereotype of the wise old man.

He died in 2014 at the age of 74. His unique legacy lives on at Baan Dam Museum. –Wally

The White Temple is a vision of Heaven, while the Black House Museum is a version of Hell.

Baandam Museum
414 Moo 13 Nanglae, Muang
Chiang Rai, 57100 Thailand

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Mountain Temple

Head to the mountains outside Chiang Mai, Thailand to explore a popular temple and get an aerial view of the city.

As with any Thai temple, there’s lots to explore on the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep grounds

The mountain temple of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is literally the stuff of legends.

Its location was predicated by a dream, a magical relic and the death of an auspicious pachyderm.

Buddha’s bone shard possesses magical properties: It can make itself invisible.

The story goes that a venerated monk named Sumana had a dream in which he was instructed to find a relic of the Gautama Buddha, whose teachings led to the founding of Buddhism. He discovered a fragment of bone from the Buddha’s shoulder among the tall grass at Ban Pang Cha in Chiang Mai Province.

The sheltered Prince Siddhartha Guatama discovers death in this mural at the temple. He went on to become the Buddha, and part of his magic shoulder bone is enshrined here

The bone shard possesses magical properties: It can make itself invisible, and at the temple of Wat Suan Dok, it miraculously split into two pieces. It was considered bad luck to enshrine both pieces at the same site, but no one knew where to put the other half. The problem was solved in an unusual manner: The larger half of the relic was placed on the back of a chang samkhan, a holy elephant, called “white” because these pinkish albino versions are thought to be especially pure.

The elephant was allowed to roam freely. It climbed to the top of Mount Doi Suthep, where it trumpeted three times before it knelt down and died.

King Kuena, the sixth ruler of the Lanna Kingdom, declared the spot a holy site, and work commenced in 1383 to erect a chedi, or domed tower, to hold the relic. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep was born.

Buddhas galore at Doi Suthep

Temple on the Mountain

The 14th century Buddhist temple and pilgrimage site, known locally as Wat Doi Suthep (and pronounced “Doy Soo-tep”) is located within Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, about 40 minutes outside of Chiang Mai. To reach the wat, Wally and I hired a driver from our hotel (Tommy, whom you can reach via email: As he drove us along, he told us about the paved road that winds its way up the mountainside. In 1935, the road was constructed entirely by the voluntary labor of the followers of Kruba Srivichai, known as the Buddhist Saint of Northern Thailand. The project gained such exposure that it attracted donations of 20 million baht and, even though the workers used mostly primitive tools, it was completed after only six months.

The lengthy staircase at Doi Suthep has railings that slither upwards in the shape of snakelike nagas

We heard there’s a funicular that will take you up to the temple if you don’t want to deal with these stairs

We heard there’s a funicular that will take you up to the temple if you don’t want to deal with these stairs

The wat is reached via a 306-step staircase flanked by an undulating naga balustrade. The ascent is intended to help devotees attain merit, the accumulation of good deeds in Buddhism.

If you want to take pictures of the kids in traditional hill tribe garb, be prepared to pay

Sometimes you can catch the hill tribe children “off duty,” playing games instead of begging money for photographs

As you climb the stairs, you’ll encounter small groups of young kids, mostly girls, in colorful hill tribe dress. To earn money from tourists, they will ask for a tip if they catch you taking photographs of them. I can’t imagine that it’s a fun way to live, but it was nice to catch a glimpse of them playing games and just being kids when they didn’t know they were being watched.

Entry to Wat Doi Suthep is 30 baht for foreigners and free for Thais. If you wish to take the funicular cable car instead of climbing the stairs, the ride is 20฿ round trip or 10฿ one way.

Offering candles for the various poses of the Buddha, representing the different days of the week

We visited early in the morning, before the throngs of tourists arrived, giving us the freedom to explore without large crowds.

This image of the Buddha at Wat Doi Supthep is covered in gold leaf

When Wally and I reached the top of the steps, we were greeted by two giant green yaksha guardians.

A statue of the white elephant with a golden ku, a reliquary for a Buddha image resembling a miniature chedi, on its back, stands immediately to the left. There’s a plaque telling the story of the temple behind it.

A shrine to Sudeva, the hermit who was living on the site at the time when the white elephant transported the famous relic, sits to the right. The leopard-print cloth draped around his body is symbolic of the animal skins traditionally worn by hermits in India and beyond.

A shrine to Sudeva the hermit wears a leopard-print cloth and has some rather realistic-looking hair

The sun’s intense heat washed over the tiled central courtyard as we entered the plaza containing the shimmering copper-gilded chedi. Fortunately, we were able to take shelter and meander amongst the shaded arcade, which is home to a variety of different Buddha images. The murals covering the walls behind them illustrate the founding of the wat.

The structure in the middle is called a chedi. This one is covered with thin sheets of copper and houses part of the Buddha’s shoulder bone. If you don’t see it, that’s because it can turn invisible

Because the chedi contains a sacred relic, there are separate lines for men and women. The base is enclosed by a railing to guide ritual circumambulation and, supposedly to maintain its sanctity, only men are allowed inside the innermost railing. (Thais have a warped idea that women are unclean. Read more about Thai Buddhism — the good and the bad — here.)

Out back, we paused to take in the view. Seen from Doi Suthep, the horizon becomes a vast hazy line of dense foliage stretching out far into the distance like an endless sea of green briefly interrupted by the surprisingly small city of Chiang Mai. 

Several souvenir shops are located to the left of the base of the stairs, many with similar items. Don’t be afraid to compare and be prepared to bargain. We saw a wooden monk puppet we really liked and asked the first seller how much it was. She told us 200 baht, or about $6.

We moved on, and every stall we stopped at quoted a higher and higher price — 400฿, 600฿, 900฿.

So we ended up going back to the first woman. In fact, she was so reasonable, we didn’t really even have to negotiate — and we ended up spending about a hundred bucks at her stall. She even threw in some stuff for free. Good karma.

A stall where worshippers can buy flowers for offerings from a Buddhist nun (they’re much less common than monks)

As we waited at the bottom of the stairs for Tommy to get the car, the shopkeeper came running over to us. She was waving around a stick — part of a larger monk puppet we purchased from her — that she had forgotten to give us. We smiled and thanked her, sure that her good deed earned her some merit at this sacred site. –Duke

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Road
Srivijaya Suthep Mueang Chiang Mai District
Chiang Mai, Thailand