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History of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in 60 Seconds

Picture of Kelly Iverson
Updated: 20 June 2017
As far as hilltop temples go, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is certainly the most stunning one in the Land of Smiles. This shimmering gold structure is a must-see sight for all those who visit Thailand’s northern capital of Chiang Mai. Here’s, a history of the temple in 60 seconds.

Found in the west of Chiang Mai, this temple, situated on the mountain of Doi Suthep, came to be in 1383 during the reign of King Keu Naone. There are a handful of legends and stories regarding it’s beginning, but the most well-known of them all is called the Legend of the White Elephant, which states the temple was built to hold a piece of bone from the Buddha’s shoulder.

According to the legend, the shoulder bone was originally found by a monk, who took it to the Lanna Kingdom where it broke into two pieces. One was placed in a temple called Wat Suan Dok, and the other piece attached to a white elephant – Thailand’s national animal.

With the bone on its back, the elephant was allowed to roam as it pleased and made its way into the Thai jungle before arriving at the mountain of Doi Suthep. Upon arriving, the elephant trumpeted a total of three times before dying.

After two days of silent contemplation as to what to do about the elephant corpse, it was decided that a temple was to be built in commemoration. The corpse is said to have pointed its trunk towards the iconic mount that, to this day, gives this majestic temple its awe-inspiring backdrop. The temple is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and there is a ฿30 (US$0.88) entrance fee.