Wat Suan Dok traces its history back to 1371 when a pious monk known as Sumana Thera was invited to Chiang Mai by King Ku Na. Wat Suan Dok is forever linked with Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple on Suthep mountain due to the fact that when Sumana Thera came to Chiang Mai he brought a relic said to be the shoulder bone of the Buddha. According to legend, the bone either broke into two pieces or magically copied itself. One piece was sent up Suthep mountain on the back of a white elephant who died and a temple housing the relic was built on the spot and became Doi Suthep. The other piece was enshrined in Wat Suan Dok when the King Ku Na granted Sumana Thera the royal flower garden as a place to build a temple.
The main Viharn is unusually large for a temple in Thailand. It was constructed in the 1930’s. The Viharn contains 2 large Buddha images, one is seated, while the Buddha image directly behind it facing the other direction is large standing Buddha. The Viharn is also a curiosity because unlike other temples throughout Thailand, its walls are completely open on the sides.
The large golden bell shaped chedi next to the main Viharn is said to contain the sacred Buddha relic brought by Sumana Thera. It is built in the Sri Lankan style. Next to the large Chedi is a beautiful assortment of brilliant white Chedi’s that were built to contain the ashes of the Chiang Mai royal family placed there by princess Daratsmi in 1909.
Inside the smaller Viharn is a large 4.7 meter seated Buddha image cast in bronze in 1504 by King Muang Kaew. The walls are decorated with murals depicting scenes from the Jakata which are stories about the previous lives of the Buddha.
Wat Suan Dok is the home of the northern campus of the Maha Chulalongkorn Buddhist University. Throughout the day and especially in the afternoon it is a very common sight to see young monks coming and going to and from, and around the temple. Due to it serving as a Buddhist university they also hold discussions on Buddhism with foreigners and anyone curious enough to stop in for a chat. The informal chats are held Mondays Wednesdays and Fridays from 5-7pm. You may also apply to join a meditation retreat if you ask, that is outside of town. Being a large temple complex, there are also a number of small coffee shops and restaurants located within the temple walls. Towards the back of the temple is (in this author’s opinion) an excellent vegetarian Thai restaurant named Pun Pun, they have menus in 5 languages and are open for lunch, they serve a wide variety of dishes that one is unlikely to see anywhere else at very reasonable prices.
The Temple is open from 6am-5pm, and there is no admission fee to the main complex, however, there may be a small entry fee to the main Viharn of 20-40 baht. Donations are very much appreciated. As with any Buddhist Temple, it is expected that you dress respectfully and keep your voice low so as not to disturb those who are praying or meditating.