Wat Suan Dok, built in late 14th century, houses several structures of historical significance. Among them include the principal pagoda that enshrines the Buddha’s relics, a garden of whitewashed mausoleums housing the ashes of late Chiang Mai rulers and a large open-air wiharn (assembly hall). The temple is found outside the old city wall, about 1km east of Suan Dok Gate on Suthep Road. Built by a King of Chiang Mai on the grounds of his pleasure garden, this temple was originally intended to serve as a retreat for a revered monk from Sukothai
From the main street, the mausoleum garden containing whitewashed pagodas fashioned in exquisite Lanna style is clearly visible. These mausoleums belong to past rulers and important nobles of Chiang Mai, starting with King Kawila (r.1802-1813) to Princess Kokaew Prakaykavil (1934-2005). Next to the mausoleum garden is the golden principal pagoda, built in Lankan style and set on a raised whitewashed square base. On each of the four sides, there’s an opening which allows access to the pagoda. Inside, it houses the Buddha’s relics brought over from another temple in Sukhothai. The assembly hall – an open-air pavilion with low, sweeping roofs and wrap-around terraces – lies next to the principal pagoda. Its large, open-sided structure is considered unique, as the assembly halls are almost always closed structures. Inside the assembly hall, the two main Buddha images, one in a sitting meditation posture and the other standing, face the opposite directions. A smaller Buddha image, set right in front of the sitting Buddha, is in similar style. The principal Buddha image is housed inside the ordination hall. Sitting at 4.7 metres tall, it is cast in the ancient Chiang Saen style
Wat Suan Dok is a wonderful place for photography and has spectacular vistas of Doi Suthep at sunset. The temple also figures heavily in the legend of Doi Suthep’s founding. A Buddha relic was to be housed in its principal pagoda when it broke in two. The other half was placed on the back of a white elephant, which climbed Doi Suthep and then died. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep was founded on the site of the elephant’s demise.