Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a jewel in Chiang Mai’s crown

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

If you’re ever in Chiang Mai and can only choose one temple to visit, choose Wat Phra That on Doi Suthep. Doi Suthep is the mountain West of Chiang Mai, the smaller of the two in that area. The other being Doi Pui and together make up the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. Although I haven’t been to every single temple in Chiang Mai, I have been to several and what makes Wat Phra That so special? It’s reportedly the temple that has a Buddha Relic, a piece of his shoulder, if I heard correctly. Now I didn’t get to see the Relic but this wat, to me, has a tranquil/serene “feel” to it, more so than any of the other temples I’ve been to in the Chiang Mai region. I truly lack the words to describe that feeling. No, it’s not like a life changing OMG Hallelujah kinda feeling…it’s more like a peaceful at ease feeling. I imagine “resting in peace” would feel like this. I’m not particularly religious but I do believe in certain principles from different religions. Yes, I’m a “confused child” haha.

Back to the Doi Suthep and one of Chiang Mai’s crown jewels, Wat Phra That. I’ll just do what the locals do and refer to the area as Doi Suthep. So how can one get to Doi Suthep? There are a number of ways both public and private. If you choose the private way, have a read of my post “Did I get scammed in Chiang Mai” for my recounting on private hire fiasco/scam that was run on me whilst going to a different “must see” Chiang Mai crown jewel. The most convenient way is to take a red songthaew to Doi Suthep. It can be as easy as flagging one down anywhere around the old city. A songthaew is a pickup truck with the back converted to bench seating. They operate like a public bus/shared taxi but with negotiable fare. The way to get a ride is you flag one down (like flagging a taxi) or they will honk at you, in which case just wave back if you want them to stop. Before you hop in, you have to negotiate your fare. The price will depend on where you’re going, how many passengers already in the songthaew and probably the way you look. So the better dressed you are, the less they will be willing to drop the prices. The number of people already on board will help decrease the price as well and/or if there’s no one already on board, you can pay a bit more and the driver will not pick up anyone along the way to your destination. Trips within the old city are $30-$40 TBH (as told to me by the hotel staff and $30 TBH is written on all the red songthaews (I can’t read Thai so don’t know what the context is) but as soon as you get outside the walled city they will start at $100 TBH (at least that’s always been the starting point whenever I asked). There are also different marked songthaews, the markings will indicate which attraction they are going to, so you can look out for those as those may have people in them already going to the same place making it cheaper for you to tag along (or at least you won’t be “forced” to pay the full single rider fare). If you prefer to hire out a songthaew (have it all to yourself) you can probably negotiate a price for him/her to wait for you and give you a ride back. If not, there are a lot of songthaews waiting up there to give passengers rides back into town. The only drawback is that they will not leave until the songthaew is full with 8 passengers so if you’re first on, there may be a wait. For me, I was lucky, I was the 8th. As I was about to pay the driver, 1/2 the other passengers started to negotiate a lower fare but to no avail so ya that’s something to consider too. Just to give you an idea, hiring out a songthaew cost me $350 TBH, I needed to get there as fast as possible but coming back only cost $80 TBH. The other public way are guided tours. Your hotel lobby will have info and be able to help you out, or you can find tour agent kiosks everywhere, seriously you can’t walk a block without seeing one. These are convenient if have minimal time and need a guide to show you around and/or rush you plus you won’t have to worry about haggling prices everywhere, where to go to the ticket booth etc. The private vehicles are in the form of metered taxis although you have to specifically book one from somewhere as they are nowhere to to be found on the streets. The only time I saw any were at the airport and twice in town dropping guests at a hotel. I’m pretty sure they will be the most expensive private car option with Grab taxi being the second most expensive. The least expensive is the non grab, private hires which the hotel can arrange for you and the tuk tuk’s (they look like motorized rickshaws) which you can flag on the street. Note: if you get motion sickness then take some motion sickness pills if you plan on taking the songthaew or tuk tuk. Also try to get on a newer model vehicle or at least one that doesn’t look beat up as that will affect the bumpiness of your ride as well as the amount of exhaust (if any) you’ll be subjected to.

Stairs leading up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep adorned on either side with giant King of Nagas’

Local tribes girls on the stairs leading up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep adorned on either side with giant King of Nagas’

Local tribes girls on the stairs leading up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep adorned on either side with giant King of Nagas’

Local tribes girls on the stairs leading up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep adorned on either side with giant King of Nagas’

Stairs leading up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep adorned on either side with giant King of Nagas’

Stairs leading up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep adorned on either side with giant King of Nagas’

Now that transport is sorted out and you’re at the drop off point of Doi Suthep, there’s two routes you can take up to the temple but first, there are shops/markets by the road side you may want to check out. If not, make your way to either the steps with the big archway (the left most stair case as you’re facing the mountain) if you’re looking to walk up to the Wat. If walking up stairs is not your cup of tea, take the path on the right where you can see ticket booths. That’s where you can buy tickets to ride the gondola up. I didn’t take the gondola so I can’t comment on the fees nor the ride. Taking the stairs isn’t that bad. you go up a short flight of stairs and it opens up to a plaza of sorts with statues to see and more shops and restaurants. From this plaza you can see the flight of stairs leading up to the Wat, kind of steep but not scary steep. If you see adorable little kids dressed in (I’m guessing) traditional attire of their culture, it’s ok to take photos but be prepared to offer a donation. They won’t be shy in asking for it. Although I had sniped a few shots of them from afar, pretty much without them knowing, as they were busy posing for other photo’s, I still walked by and gave them each a tip. I couldn’t help but feel sad, I didn’t notice their parents around and they were just hanging out, walking around the stairs. When you reach the top of the stairs you’ll be at the entrance to the temple area (not the temple grounds itself) and you’ll have to detour to the right because that is where the ticket office is and a snacks shop in case you need to buy a drink. Entrance fee is $30 TBH. Having taken care of the entrance fee you can enter the premises of where the actual temple is, you can see the stairs into the Wat in the photo below. The premises is quite big with lots to see and you can walk around with your shoes on but if you want to enter the Wat grounds, you have to take off your shoes at the designated area about a hop, skip and a jump away from the Wat’s entrance. No big deal, it’s relatively clean, as in free from debris as you can kinda see in the photo below. There’s more than enough room for shoes on the racks but there’s shoe lockers behind the benches too, just don’t forget where you put your shoes.

Pavilion area provides shade and benches for rest and removal of shoes.

SO MUCH GOLD!!! Was my first reaction as stepped through the entrance into the wat. I don’t know if it was gold leaf, gold paint, gold plated or what but boy was it impressive. Pretty much in the center of the temple grounds is the gold stupa with the prayer path around it. There are flowers you can buy and hold as you walk and pray on this path and then offer them to an altar of your choice. This prayer path is in between the stupa and a stone fence that has opening at the corners for entering and exiting the prayer path. On top of this fence, on two of the sides, are various statues and religious relics. Lining the walls to the temple complex are altars, prayer halls, statues and other religious artifacts. There are monks walking around doing various duties as well from what I saw when I was there such as “monk chats,” blessing ceremonies, sweeping of the grounds, putting up decorations etc. Along the walls that define the Wat grounds are open air but sheltered corridors with religious statues and artifacts and enough space for visitors to pray in front of. These corridors are sometimes broken up by rooms housing religious statue(s) with all the prayer amenities like kneeling mats, incense pots etc. There is also a larger prayer hall which more detailed and ornate and is where the monk chats/blessing were held. If you want the on location tourist shot, look for the golden tree/umbrella statue. This is the designated spot where an “in house photographer” will take the “tourist shot” that all the marketing shots were taken. The spot features a golden umbrella (or maybe it’s a bamboo tree), under which you’ll stand with the golden stupa in the background and hopefully a blue sky with a fluffy cloud or two. There will be assistants walking around that area trying to drum up business. If you don’t want to engage their services you can just wait until the umbrella is vacant and go get your shot. Although I planned to photograph everything, I kinda forgot to or maybe just too “taken in” by beauty, splendor, calmness and serenity of this place I really don’t have the words so here’s a few shots:

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

Inside the Wat Phra That temple grounds on Doi Suthep

When you’re done inside the Wat, have a look around the grounds. There’s a huge hall, gift shop (the usual items that you’d find in a temple’s gift shop are cheaper here than in any other place that I’ve been to), caf√© type eatery, prayer bells, prayer halls, large statues, defunct museum (well that’s what it looked like to me) and a very ornate pavilion that over looks the valley. If you walk to the railing you will see the city of Chiang Mai and the airport, it’s quite a view if the weather is clear. I visited in early May and got ok weather, a bit too smoggy for detailed images but still a spectacular view. There were not many people so I was able to set up my tripod for some panoramic shots however I did get interrupted by a tourist who came right up next to me to shoot her panoramic shots, so I took some candid profile shots of her instead of landscape shots for a minute or so, lol. There also a very beautiful, colorful and well landscaped flower garden. It wasn’t until I was looking through the photos back at the hotel that I realized the flowers were fake.

Walking around Doi Suthep just outside Wat Phra That

Walking around Doi Suthep just outside Wat Phra That

Walking around Doi Suthep just outside Wat Phra That

Walking around Doi Suthep just outside Wat Phra That

Walking around Doi Suthep just outside Wat Phra That

Walking around Doi Suthep just outside Wat Phra That

I spent 3 hours at Doi Suthep not including travel time but could have easily spent hours more. I didn’t visit any of the markets or explore any of the areas not part of the temple grounds. I was there around dusk and the sunset sets behind the mountain but with the smog/haze/clouds it wasn’t that ‘wow’ Perhaps sunrise would be better as it would rise over the city when you’re viewing from the pavilion.

Consider following me for updates to find not only my other travel bloopers, blunders and shenanigans but also photography related news/reviews and the occasional contest entry.

All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, ūüėÉ please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

Comments & Critiques are always welcome, as are upvotes and resteems.

Thanks for viewing and best wishes!

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What’s so great about the Tha Phae Gate?

Traffic in front of Tha Phae Gate’s plaza at night.

Chiang Mai’s Old City is on UNESCO’s list for consideration as a Heritage City and the Tha Phae Gate is the main gate into Chiang Mai’s old city located on it’s Eastern wall. The old city is shaped in a roughly 1.6 km by 1.6 km square area that used to be surrounded by a wall and moat with a gate at each section of the wall. With exception of the southern wall which has 2 gates. Tip: the ‘h’ is silent in the Thai language, this landmark is pronounced Ta Pay gate. That should help when you’re trying to let the driver know where you want to go/get to. Many will eventually understand if you pronounce the ‘h’ though.

A defunct stone elephant fountain at the edge of the moat.

So what’s there to do here? At first glance, nothing much. The first impulse is to get a selfie right in front of the gate and right in front of the metal plaque embedded in the wall. With all the mention of the Tha Phae Gate in anything related to Chiang Mai, when you’re actually standing in front of it, it’s pretty underwhelming, in my opinion. The walls on either side of the opening are rebuilt using red clay bricks (which looks too new) and has been said to not have been rebuilt according to historic records. The walls also end where the moat begins which may be an indication that the gate is not exactly in it’s original location. The wooden door and wooden door frame is mostly faded gray and water stained, making it look older than the wall. A hose runs up the door frame and across the gate’s opening to spray mist on people as they pass through the gate, not to worry it’s only on the really hot days and is quite refreshing. The stairs leading up to wall (from within the old city) are blocked at the top so you can’t get on top of the wall, too bad, but safety first. So just what is it about this place? I urge you to fight off the initial urge to snap the usual selfie’s and continue on your way, especially if you like to people watch or take candid photos. You’ll get lots of ‘usual’ shots like:

Female tourists interacting with pigeons.

I spent a lot of time around the Tha Phae Gate. Why? because I found it very interesting. At all times of the day there’s always something going on. I didn’t feel this way originally though. The first time I visited this gate was late in the afternoon, right after I checked into my hotel and found the dental clinic I needed to be at the next day. My trip to Chiang Mai was solely for my sudden need for dental treatment which you can read in my post entitled, “Dental Holiday in Chiang Mai. Wait what? SERIOUSLY?!?! and the hotel I chose to stay in was The Signature Hotel @Thapae you can check out my review of it here. Both of these places were within 100 meters of the Tha Phae Gate, in a straight line and on the same side of the street. There is even a 3 story Starbucks, a 24 hour, 2 story McDonald’s and a Burger King within 50 meters of the gate. Consider going up to the top floors for different angle shots, especially at night if you want to get some light trail imagery (like in the first pic above) or try a sunset shot from the upper floors.

The sun setting on Tha Phae Gate.  Chiang Mai, Thailand

If you don’t have much time for sightseeing, I suppose 20 minutes tops and you’ll be done getting the usual selfies in front of the open gate as well as in front of the plaque and a few pigeon shots. If you budget 45 min to an hour, you may be able to get some of the locals to help you get even more dynamic images. Here’s how, find the locals that are either holding a sack (full of bird food), stick, hat or ball or a combination of those items. They may even be taking pics of other tourists (with phones and usually low to the ground) already or just throwing down food to attract the pigeons to one spot. You’re not looking for the locals selling little plastic bags of bird food, unless what you want is to just feed the birds, have them land on you etc. Once you find the local “tourist photographer” (as opposed to the local photographer taking candid/street shots with DSLR’s) you can approach them, if they haven’t come and approached you already. For an increased chance of them approaching you, stand close to the wall and try take selfies with the pigeons. I’m always too busy shooting to see how much people were paying but it can’t be that much, lotsa people were doing it and I mean lots! Don’t forget to bargain. So here’s how it works. Once you’ve agreed on the price and paid the person, you hand over your phone. They will guide you to a spot, throw down some bird food, and give you some general movement tips. There are three ‘poses’ that I’ve noticed that they use every time. One is the normal standing shot, stand however you like, another is a walking parallel to the wall shot and the last is you twirling on the spot. The photographer with your phone is sitting or lying down on his side and when he’s ready says something to an accomplice who then scares the pigeons, either by stomping, clapping or tossing an item in the air to get the birds to fly up. As a photographer I’d have to say that’s pretty clever and bordering on professional, they’re just missing the more detailed posing and maybe some dramatic lighting. After each shot you’ll be able to check your phone and do a retake if you’re not satisfied. From a distance I think I got some good shots, so I’m sure they did too. I chose to shoot from a distance because I was uneasy with all those well fed, startled pigeons flying around. Yes, there are that many pigeons especially on weekends when I’ve seen enough pigeons for 4 of these “photoshoots” going on at the same time against the walls on either side of the gate (on the plaza side). Note: the lighting is better on the right side when you’re standing in the plaza facing the gate. Also if you plan on doing the “photoshoot” consider exaggerating your arm swings when walking/twirling. The purpose is to create lines and/or angles which should add “tension” to your photos, it’ll look much better and natural than just letting your arms hang down at your sides.

Female tourists interacting with pigeons.

Female tourists interacting with pigeons.

Female tourists interacting with pigeons.

Female tourists interacting with pigeons.

Warning for the ladies…if you’re wearing a light, loose dress and stand near the wall, if there’s even a slight wind, it’ll hit the wall and lift your dress/skirt. Even the mass of pigeons taking off from around your legs is enough to lift your skirt. Trust me on this, I’ve never been flashed so many times in my life! Not only that, there are A LOT of photographers around. Could be tourists snapping selfies with the pigeons around you or taking pictures of the pigeons on you or the locals just hanging around some selling bird food, some looking out for the cops. Then there’s local photogs getting their street/candid photography fix, or tourist photogs like me, people watching, sniping shots when something happens. On the off chance that you get there and no one is feeding the birds, it’s because the cops just went by and confiscated all the food. There’s signage around to let you know that you’re not supposed to feed the birds. Just stick around for a bit, the locals will come back with more food.

Local police confiscate a big bag of bird feed from the locals.

Local police confiscate bird feed from the locals.

If that’s not interesting enough for you, there’s local ice cream sellers (coconut flavor), artists doing portraitures (I didn’t notice any caricature artists). Then there’s the odd trinket souvenir vendor walking around. Most of the vendor come out after sunset. I was fortunate enough to catch a tv commercial in the making complete with “fake family,” backdrops, shooting assistants and a model shooting water from a fire hose attached to the fire truck. I’ve also seen some kind of parade/procession start from the plaza and then proceed down the street. Most nights there is a musician or 10 sitting around playing tunes. If you’re lucky, like me, you might run into a protest. The one I saw was a cruelty to animals / don’t partake in the animal sanctuary attractions protest.

A family taking refuge under a big unbrella

A woman spraying water from a fire hose.

A tourists taking photos on the stairs going up the wall at the Tha Phae Gate.

Individuals wearing masks protest against animal cruelty.

To get the most out of your time, if you like taking photos and shopping, is on Sunday around dusk to try to catch the sunset a bit earlier if you’re into the tourists and pigeons schtick and later if you like light trails by traffic. You can sit upstairs in Starbucks or McDonald’s to get some traffic light trail shots. Other things to do at night would be wait for the hand crafted (mostly) vendors, toy sellers, ice cream vendor and occasional a snack vendor. If you’re here on a Sunday evening you’re already at the easiest starting point (from outside the old city) to the famous Sunday Night Market. Just walk on through the gate and you’re at one end of the main street of this market. Be careful though because the gate is actually part of an intersection although not many vehicles go through the gate, there are some once in a while. If you’re a morning person, you can also get a sunrise shot over the gate when you’re standing facing the gate from inside the old city.

A car driving through the Tha Phae Gate at night.

Nightly market at the Tha Phae Gate.

Local couple shop at the Sunday Night Market

Watching the sun rise over the Tha Phae Gate from within the old city of Chiang Mai.

Here’s a few more shots:

 

Sunset at Tha Phae Gate

A couple sneak a kiss while feeding pigeons.

A man decorates his motorcycle with colorful materials he finds on the street

Street artists selling his drawings in front of Tha Phae Gate in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Consider following me for updates to find not only my other travel bloopers, blunders and shenanigans but also photography related news/reviews and the occasional contest entry.

All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, ūüėÉ please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

Comments & Critiques are always welcome, as are upvotes and resteems.

Thanks for viewing and best wishes!

PS. If you want to check out my other ‘works’, you can find them here:

Portfolio
Blog
Fine Art

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Sony World Photography Awards

The Sony World Photography Awards is open for entries, are you in?!

The Sony World Photography Awards has four competitions:

  • Professional¬†–¬†Recognising outstanding bodies of work‚Äč (closes January 11,¬†2019 – 1300 GMT)
  • Open¬†– Rewarding the world‚Äôs best single images¬†‚Äč(closes¬†January 4,¬†2019 – 1300 GMT)
  • Youth¬†– Best single images by photographers aged 12-19 (closes January 4,¬†2019 – 1300 GMT)
  • Student¬†– For photography students worldwide (closes¬†November 30,¬†2018 – 1300 GMT)

Best of luck everyone!!!



Zeiss Photography Award

Hey everyone,

Here’s another big photo contest to consider. Good Luck! Zeiss Photography Award

“The ZEISS Photography Award “Seeing Beyond” is an international photography contest, launched in collaboration with ZEISS in 2016.¬†The contest offers professional photographers and ambitious amateurs the opportunity to showcase their talent to a distinguished jury and global audience.¬†The Award is jointly organized by ZEISS and the World Photography Organisation. Last year, a total of 87,593 images by 11,921 photographers from 146 countries and territories were submitted..”

https://www.worldphoto.org/zeiss-photography-award



Kodak Moments Exhibition

The Gurushots’ “Kodak Moments” exhibition will be held at the Usagi Art Gallery in New York. Opening night will be on Sept. 14, 2014.

Whilst I didn’t make the cut for the print exhibition, I did make it into the Digital Display section. Close but no cigar, hopefully next time.

Congrats to all the winners! https://gurushots.com/challenge/kodak-moments/winners/exhibit-digital

A squadron of T-50B fighter jets thundering downwards.