So I had just arrived in Chiang Mai the night before, and because my flight was delayed so much I got in pretty late and hit the hay and soon as I had unpacked. I was staying at the Lantern House Backpackers so please see my blog post about that!
The hostel manager gave me a valuable tip for the next morning.. If I asked a red car (Chiang Mai’s answer to a taxi) or a tuktuk driver to take me to the temple they’d charge me about 1,500 Baht… But if I took the red car/tuktuk to Chiang Mai zoo and then got on the bus (another red car!) to the temple the entire journey would only cost about 300 baht!
So I woke up at about 4am and set off around 4:45 to get to the temples… What I didn’t know was this is the day of the Northern Thailand marathon and runners were going past me and roads were closed..making it hard to find a red car! Obviously no one speaks English and no shops/offices are open at this time so I just kept walking until I eventually I found a tuk tuk and began my journey!
Finally being dropped off at Chiang Mai zoo bus stop it was still dark… And it was just me sat there and one guy who I think manages the bus stop. The red car only goes if there is a minimum if 8-10 people- and for 20 minutes now I’ve been sat here on my own!
Eventually It was clear if someone else didn’t come on in the next minute, I would miss the monks Alms giving ceremony and would’ve lost 4 hours sleep for absolutely no reason. The only issue- is how do I explain this to the non English speaking guy who is sat here- currently washing his shoes out of boredom?
After my attempt at gesturing what I mean (praying and worshipping actions going on- this guy is probably holding back his laughter) the bus stop guy seems to understand i’m getting impatient. To be honest, I think he knew why I was there so early from the start, he just enjoyed my circus act!
He called over one of the drivers (who had been sleeping in the red car opposite me for 20mins!) and for 20 baht more than the usual price I got a private car to get me to the temple on time.
Upon arrival it became clear that not many tourists or local wake up early enough to watch this ceremony! I thought id have to snake through crowds to get a good spot- but aside from me and 1 local the place was deserted!
So I followed this local and found a ‘train’ to take me to the top of the mountain where the temple was! The sun was beginning to rise and I found the most perfect little view point.
Of course this is my first Thai temple, I want to make sure i’m respectful of their traditions and go around the place of worship in the proper way. So I copied the local man- until I put my head down for prayer and when I opened my eyes he had disappeared!
I went back to the main area and started to see a lot more people, so I followed them around.. Watched the sunrise and then I saw the monks coming and accepting food offerings that were being handed out by a young boy.
Ladies- its important to know that you should not touch a monk and they will probably interact with you less than with a man. Be respectful and cover your shoulders and legs- a temple is really not the place for a skimpy outfit!
Gentlemen- please also cover your shoulders and wear long shirts. If you don’t follow these guidelines you may not be allowed to enter.. Or you will be asked to hire a sarong etc.
I would recommend seeing the monks ceremony with a guide- unfortunately no one was able to explain the rituals to me and tell me where to be when. It was still a great experience to watch- but if you’re committed enough to wake up early you might as well join a tour so you can understand it more fully!
I spent the next hour or so walking around the grounds, taking in the breathtaking sights. Watching the locals with their rituals and then copying them… There is something so serene and so zen about these temples.
Also- as the Doi Suthep is a big tourist attraction, arriving that early meant I beat the crowds- took some great snaps and enjoyed the tranquility of a Thai temple for the throngs of crowds arrived!
Dont leave Chiang Mai without getting here! As the temple is at the top of the mountain, instead of taking the funicular back down I opted for the stairs. Lots of kids dressed up for you in traditional Hill Tribe clothing- if you take a photo you are required to pay!
There are stalls selling souvenirs, clothes etc but its cheaper to buy at the night market. See my post about the Sunday night market for more info!
Hope you enjoyed this post- please do comment or send in any questions- ill be happy to help!