We have flown north to the ancient cultural and religious center of Chiang Mai. Driving up the slopes of the Soi Duthrep mountain, we arrive at the Wat Phra That. The dramatic sacred snake staircase leading up to this famous mountaintop temple is unique in Thailand and instantly recognizable from photos in travel magazines and guidebooks.
Standing at the base of the naga staircase, scanning the long ascent to the top, the thought of climbing all 306 steps can be daunting. Consider this your Stair Master workout for today or just slip around to the right, take the funicula and glide upward for a small fee. I’ll tell you a little secret. The descent is actually much easier so let’s compromise. We’ll ride up in the tram and walk down after our visit.
The original chedi is at the heart of the temple complex. You will see visitors making offerings of flowers, candles and incense after they have walked around its base three times. Inside the prayer hall, worshippers kneel in slient prayer or meditation. You may also line up to receive a blessing from a Buddhist monk.
On a clear day, the summit terrace offers views of the city below as well as the surrounding forest cloaking the mountain. Due to rapid expansion in recent years, Chiang Mai is contending with growth issues such as construction, rush hour traffic and pollution. Some days there is an industrial haze hovering over the city. Unfortunately, on this particular day, remnant smoke from forest fires also hung inthe air, obscuring the view.
You will feel a slight drop in temperature at this elevation which is a welcome relief from the tropical heat in the south. The climate in the north is temperate and very comfortable. In fact, you might want to have a light wrap or sweater handy for the evening.
Next we head farther up the mountain to visit a Hmong village.