We spent five nights in Chiang Mai at the beginning of March, a city surrounded by mountains. The most famous of the mountains there is called Doi Suthep, which is located within Doi Suthep-Pui National Park on the Western edge of the city. There is a Thai saying that goes, “If you haven’t tasted Khao Soi or seen the view from Doi Suthep, you haven’t been to Chiang Mai,” We had already both tried Khao Soi (delicious!) so we decided to it was time to visit the mountain.
The temple is located at the top of the mountain and requires a 20 minute trip by songthaew, a kind of taxi-bus on the chassis of a pickup truck. At the bottom of the hill there was a taxi stand with a number of drivers waiting. We had two options: pay for the entire taxi, or wait until there were six other people going the same way to get a discount.
It was quiet that day (coronavirus was just starting to make an impact in Thailand) and we couldn’t wait for other people to arrive, so Kim tried very hard to negotiate the price of the taxi (prices are generally very negotiable here) but after trying for a long time the driver wouldn’t budge. It was a long way up the hill.
So we agreed to his price and after hopping in the back he made the drive up the winding mountain and through switchbacks until we reached the top of the temple. The temple is more than 600 years old and is considered one of the more sacred places for Thai people to visit. The theme of this temple is gold, and it shines everywhere!
Kim is not particularly religious, but anytime she visited a temple or monastery during our travel, she prayed for our safety just like local people do. Usually there is nothing in English for foreigners but in this case, there were sheets of paper available with the chant on it in Thai and English. Anyone doing the prayer would take off their shoes and go around three times around the inner square of the temple while saying the chant.
Once we were finished at the temple it was time to head back down. There are two ways to get back to the city. The most common way it to take a taxi down the hill (fast and easy). The other method is for more adventurous tourists. It involves taking the steep trail the monks take.
The Monk’s Trail is a trail that leads through the forest between the temple and another temple further down the mountain, as well as to the university at the bottom. It was a way for monks to reach the main temple from the smaller one and vice versa.
Since we were already at the top, we took the Monk’s Trail down. As we left the temple area and started walking down the winding road, a dog suddenly appeared and started to follow us.
To reach the trail we walked down the road for awhile, and the dog continued to follow. Finally we reached the trail and the dog still followed. Normally this trail has more people on it, but we only saw one man during the hour or so we spent going down the trail. He asked us if the dog was ours as it was sticking close to us.
At this point, he reminded us of…
As we walked down the mountain he sometimes went ahead, but always came back. Kim named the dog “Kop-kun-ka” which means “thank you” in Thai (earlier that day we practiced some simple Thai phrases and “thank you” was one we kept working on). I asked her why she named the dog Kop-kun-ka because I thought it was a strange name for a dog, but she said “because the dog guides us safely just like a personal guard dog.” She also jokingly added, “maybe Buddha sent the dog for us!”
He seemed to be watching for trouble, which was comforting. After going ahead, Kop-kun-ka stopped from time to time to check on us until we caught up with him. From what I’d seen online, some people had encountered snakes on the trail and others had seen aggressive dogs on it, so it was great to have our guardian with us.
We finally made it out to the road near the temple.
After Kop-kun-ka circled around the Buddha statue in the temple, Kim joked again, “ah, Kop-kun-ka was definitely a Buddha sent from above.”
We decided it was time to go. It was getting late in the day with the sun beginning to set and we didn’t want to continue the trail down to the university in the fading light. Although there were no tourists at this temple, there was a taxi conveniently parked there. But this meant it was time to say goodbye to our friend. We were sad we had nothing to give him for food, and Kim tried to give him our water but we didn’t have a bowl for him to drink from.
We asked the taxi driver to ask the temple monk whether the dog would be taken care of and he said yes. Street dogs are very common in Thailand, and it’s always a concern whether or not they are taken care of. We really hoped this doggy was taken care of after we left.
Kop-kun-ka stayed there continually and Kim started crying. She still worries about him now as there are few tourists because of the coronavirus situation, there are fires on the mountain in Chiang Mai recently, and the temples might be closed. And he was one of many who live on the mountain. Our biggest worry is: Who is feeding the dogs?