A visitor to Chiang Mai is undoubtedly spoiled for choice of things to do and sights to see. The area is alive with culture and tradition, with a history that extends for centuries, so there is a notable discovery around every corner and an exciting find down every alley.
While exploring the religious side of Chiang Mai might not be everyone’s cup of tea, there’s no denying the vital role that religion plays here, both in the region’s history and its traditions and culture. This is best seen and easiest to understand when viewing the hundreds of temples scattered throughout the area.
One such temple that is often overlooked by tourists but well worth a visit is Wat Suan Dok, located less than 3km south of the Aleenta Retreat Chiang Mai.
A Short History
Translated, Wat Suan Dok means “flower garden temple”, which refers to its location. The temple site on Suthep Road was previously a Royal flower garden, and in parts, you can still see some remains of the ruins of the walls that surrounded the ancient settlement. However, it’s just as easy to miss these as small and insignificant ones.
The temple was initially named Wat Bupparam Dok Mai and was built in the latter half of the 14th century by King Kue Na, the ruler of the Lanna Kingdom at the time. It was intended as a place for the revered monk Sumana Thera from the Sukhothai Kingdom to shelter from the difficult rainy seasons in Northern Thailand.
After having a vision, Legend tells us that Sumana Thera discovered a Buddha relic destined to be housed in Chiang Mai. He travelled to the settlement, where he remained for two rainy seasons throughout construction for the final resting place of the relic, Wat Buppharam Dok Mai, subsequently called Wat Suan Dok. When it came time to move the relic to this newly built temple, it had inexplicably split into two pieces. The larger piece of the relic was housed in the intended spot at Wat Buppharam Dok Mai, while the other was transported on a white elephant to Doi Suthep. Once at the top of the mountain, the elephant gave three loud trumpets and promptly died. Wat Phra Doi Suthep was built on this spot and housed the second, smaller piece of the relic.
The Temple Buildings
Once you step through the gates, the temple complex sprawls before you containing many notable buildings worth seeing. The most eye-catching of these is the main chedi or pagoda. This gilded, bell-shaped structure stands 48 metres high and is said to have contained the legendary Buddha relic. Its construction is typically Sri Lankan style, and its size makes it visible from quite a distance.
The main chedi sits in a field of white chedis, which, although smaller, are no less important as they contain the ashes of several Chiang Mai Royal Family members. There are more than 100 of these smaller chedis, and their whitewashed nature emphasises the position of the much larger, golden structure as the centrepiece and focal point.
The prayer hall, or wiharn, is one of the first buildings you’ll encounter when entering Wat Suan Dok. Not only is this wiharn quite a bit larger than those at other temple compounds, but it’s also open on all four sides, which is unusual for buildings of this type. Inside are several Buddha statues: one is seated in a meditative pose, while another Buddha stands with a straw bundle. These main statues are strategically placed to look out in opposite directions and are surrounded by several smaller Buddha images in various poses.
The temple’s ubosot, or ordination hall, is one of the newer structures built in the 1930s. This traditional Buddhist building is where ordination ceremonies and similar rituals occur. The interior of the ubosot is extravagantly decorated with walls covered in murals telling stories of the Buddha’s previous lives. Towards the back of the hall is a 5-metre tall, golden Buddha statue in a seated pose that dates back to the early 16th century. Plenty of gold gilding gives the building an air of importance and entices you into the warm and welcoming interior.
Monks and Meditation at Wat Suan Dok
Wat Suan Dok is a very interactive temple where visitors are encouraged to learn more about the Buddhist religion by chatting with the monks. These monk chats take place on certain days of the week at specified times and are ideal for anyone interested in discovering more about Buddhism, Thai customs and the culture of the people. Organised by the Chiang Mai campus of the Maha Chulalongkorn Rajavidyalaya University located in the temple complex, these chats also allow the monks to improve their English.
The temple offers meditation retreats from one to four days. You can learn about basic meditation techniques and the many benefits of incorporating meditation into your meditation routine on these retreats. Many of the classes are in English, making these retreats popular with visitors to the area.
Wat Suan Dok FAQs:
What are the opening hours of Wat Suan Dok?
Wat Suan Dok is open every day from 6:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Is there an entrance fee to visit Wat Suan Dok?
There is a small entrance fee to visit the temple. The price is usually around 50 to 100 baht per person.
What should I wear when visiting Wat Suan Dok?
As with all Buddhist temples in Thailand, visitors should dress modestly when visiting Wat Suan Dok. This means covering your shoulders and knees. Removing your shoes before entering the main prayer hall is also customary.
Can I take photos inside Wat Suan Dok?
Visitors are generally allowed to take photos inside the temple. However, it is essential to be respectful and not disturb those praying or meditating.
Is it possible to stay overnight at Wat Suan Dok?
Wat Suan Dok has a meditation centre that offers overnight stays for those interested in studying Buddhist teachings and practising meditation.
Are there any nearby attractions in the area?
Wat Suan Dok is located in a popular area of Chiang Mai, home to many other temples and cultural attractions. Some popular nearby attractions include Wat Phra Singh, the Chiang Mai Zoo, and the Night Bazaar.
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189 Soi Ban Mai Lang Mo 18,
Suthep, Muang Chiang Mai District,
Chiang Mai 50200
T: +66 (0)52 090 333