Quest for the golden chedi

Eight years ago, on my first visit, I saw an aerial photo of a golden chedi on a hilltop near a river, surrounded by lush fields and more mountains. I immediately knew I wanted to go there but I had no idea where to look, or what the name of the temple was. I am a very simple person: I am captivated by images and atmosphere, a building or scenery can amaze me if I feel a connection to it, but I switch off if I find a place lacking character even if it has centuries of history and fame.

(As it turned out, my chedi had both.)

But then, I forgot about the golden chedi for years. I had so many things on my mind. I usually follow roads, not maps, and enjoy the surprises I find – including many golden chedis on hilltops. Sometimes I wondered where the golden chedi I remembered from the photo could be, sometimes I even looked for it, but I did not start a desperate search. That would have been too easy, it wasn’t the point. I enjoyed that it was out there somewhere and I may find it one day.

Eventually, I found the temple by chance, the way I remembered it from the photo. Or, at least I think this is the one….

Wat Phrathat Doi Noi is about 43 kms from Chiang Mai. It is one of the oldest temples in northern Thailand, its construction attributed to Queen Chamathewi (658 A.D). There are only a few houses nearby, not a village – it was very quiet and deserted on both of my visits. I had expected more visitors for such a distinguished temple.

There are a couple of hundred steps leading up to the chedi, flanked by a Naga staircase very similar to Doi Suthep temple, but even longer. But thankfully there is also a road leading up to the top. The stairs were colonised by temple dogs, which I try to avoid if I can, so I was especially happy not to have to climb stairs. When I came down, there were some novice monks chatting right next to the Naga, who let me take their picture (after hiding their cans of coca-cola) and then helped me chase the dogs away from my motorcycle.

(This picture was taken on Makha Bucha day, in February.)

In the rainy season, the air is usually clear and fresh around Chiang Mai – from the chedi, you can see mountains all around, in Lampang to the east, Doi Inthanon itself to the west. It felt like I could take off and fly away, with so much open space and strong winds. I didn’t realise how much I had been missing the winds, there is hardly ever any in the city.

(Doi Inthanon behind the mist)

In the hot season, everything is shrouded in smoke and it is not a pretty sight, maybe even more miserable than from ground level to see all the pollution. It is amazing how much extra space and air just a little elevation gives you – perspective over mountains and the river and the valleys. It is in fact just a doi noi – a small hill that makes a lot of difference.

Sometimes that’s all we need in life too in order to have a better overview.

Wat Phrathat Doi Noi is on the highway to Chomthong (west of the Ping river – one of my useful-looking maps marks it on the other bank!) It is about 1.5 kms off the highway itself, but because of the trees lining the road, you cannot really see it. This highway must be the most boring route I know of in the area and I really don’t like taking it if there is another option. You can also get to the temple by following the Ping river from Chiang Mai – but you need to be able to read Thai to find out what to do when the road leaves the riverside (or carry a GPS). There is now a brand new bridge about 1.5 km north from the temple across the Ping river, which takes you to Lamphun province. It is under construction on Google Earth so the maps don’t show it yet.

(Gateway to the clouds of smoke – in February)

The “quest” for the golden chedi lasted a few years. Yes, I gasped when I eventually saw the chedi on the hill. It was a delight to look down on the valleys and take it all in. But the road there was just as important as the destination. Now, it is one surprise less waiting for me out there.

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