Discover one of Thailand's most sacred and extravagant temples during a visit to Wat Phra Thad Doi Suthep. The temple dating back to 1383 houses a holy relic of Buddha, murals, shrines, pagodas, even one of the world's largest gongs. And, yes, you can give it a whack. First, you'll have to arrive at the temple that is perched at the top of a monumental staircase bordered by statues of seven-headed Naga serpents. If you'd rather not take the 300-step staircase built by King Ku Na, there's the modern-day option of the funicular. A golden spire will greet you as you ascend toward the temple that remains a working Buddhist monastery.
Wander inside the enclave that surrounds the spire and admire the murals, shrines and a copy of the Emerald Buddha (the original is in Bangkok). Check out the White Elephant Shrine just outside the enclave to learn the legend behind the temple's founding. Monks, an elephant and a shoulder bone that glowed, disappeared and moved are just a few of the characters behind this temple's factual or fictional founding. We'll also head up to the temple's viewing terrace to relish in the panoramic views of Chiang Mai and the surrounding countryside. Before returning to Chiang Mai, we'll get to know the locals and how they live on our final stop: a Meo hill tribe village.
Pick up from hotels in Chiang Mai.