Orchids of Thailand – Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

This post is about the first few days I spent in Thailand, in diary format. Enjoy! 🙂

Saturday 12th March

I arrived in Chiang Mai safely, if a little behind schedule – 45 minutes late. I was greeted by Peter’s girlfriend, Ping, as Peter himself wasn’t very well. I also met one of the other tour members, Phil, who also arrived on a late flight – we were the last ones to arrive.

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View of Chiang Mai from the Duangtawan Hotel

We got a taxi to the Duangtawan Hotel and met Peter briefly who explained about the activities which would be happening tomorrow – a visit to a temple and orchid farm. I face planted the bed as soon as I entered my room – jet lagged after a long journey!

Sunday 13th March

Weather: Sunny, 39 °C

Our first day got off to a casual start, as Peter explained he always makes the first few days more relaxed as everyone is usually tired from travelling. Once we are more accustomed to the weather and time difference the more serious treks into the jungle begin.

For the first week as there are so many of us – 40 in total – Peter is splitting us into groups, so the people from the Singapore botanical orchid society are in one group and we, individuals from all over the world, are in the second group. We all do the same activities in the day, just separately.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

The morning was spent at the most popular temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep; it is Chiang Mai’s most important and visible landmark. A local guide, Ning, showed us round and told us about the history of the temple then left us for an hour to explore on our own.

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Me in Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

The monastery was established in 1383 by King Keu Naone to enshrine a piece of bone, said to be from the shoulder of the historical Buddha. The bone shard was brought to Lanna by a wandering monk from Sukhothai and it broke into two pieces at the base of the mountain, with one piece being enshrined at Wat Suan Dok.

The second fragment was mounted onto a sacred white elephant who wandered the jungle until it died, in the process selecting the spot where the monastery was later founded.

The 306 step staircase is flanked by mosaic serpents; the climb is intended to help devotees accrue Buddhist merit, but less energetic pilgrims can take a funicular-style lift! The terrace at the top of the steps displays a statue of the white elephant that carried the Buddha relic to its current resting place.

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One of the pagodas

The temple had an impressive ornate golden pagoda which contained holy Buddha relics, it was a very striking piece of architecture; it was literally gleaming in the bright sunlight.

It felt very strange being able to take photos in a sacred place of worship with people praying, Ning said it was absolutely fine and expected from tourists to do so. Even though I knew it was ok it still felt wrong using my camera!

There are supposedly glorious views of the city of Chiang Mai from the temple compound but the view was hidden underneath a haze of forest fire smoke. It’s a good excuse to return again!

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Buddhas inside the temple

I enjoyed looking round my first Thai temple yet I got just as excited by the Ficus trees which were covered in jackfruits as I did looking round the temple! The fruits of Artocarpus heterophylla were bigger than my head, it was an obligatory selfie moment!

I also saw a cannonball tree, Couroupita guianensis, which was displaying its distinctive large round fruits. Things really hotted up when we spotted Dendrobium capillipes flowering on another tree in the temple compound as well as D. polyanthum and D. lindleyi on other trees by the staircase leading up to the temple.

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Jackfruits!

They were high up in the trees but a German member was well prepared and had binoculars with him – it was sensational seeing my first orchids on the trip, even though they weren’t technically in the wild!