A great little excursion outside of Chiang Mai is to visit the Temple of the Four Buddha Footprints. The Thai name of this temple is Wat Phra-Phuttha-baat Sii Roi วัดพระพุทธบาทสี่รอย. This temple is remarkable for its four giant, overlapping Buddha footprints carved in stone. But it’s also great for its location, far up among lonely wooded hills. This makes it an excellent destination for a day-trip by motorbike outside the city.
To get there, by car or motorbike, drive north out of Chaing Mai from the Chang Phueak gate on the main highway heading to Mae Rim. A few kilometers past Mae Rim will be the turning point. Look out for a yellow sign with an image of a Buddha footprint as in the photo above. The rest of the way is marked by similar signs, so it’s hard to get lost from there. It will be another 30 kilometers or so winding up through fields and wooded hills. In total, if you come by motorbike, it will probably take over an hour from the time you leave the city. There is some great scenery along the way. But be cautious, as some of the turns are quite sharp and the hills are steep in places—Definitely not for someone riding a motorbike for the first time.
According to the local legend of the temple, all four of the previous Buddhas who have set foot on this Earth each visited this spot. The first, Buddha Kakusandha, left a 6 meter long footprint in stone. Many thousands of years later, the second Buddha, Konāgamana, came and left his own 4.5 meter footprint inside the footprint left by his predecessor. Many years later, the third Buddha, Kassapa, came and left his own 3.5 meter footprint on top of the other two. Finally, around 2,600 years ago, the historical Buddha Gotama supposedly came and left a 2 meter long footprint within the footprints left by the three previous Buddhas. (Most scholars would argue that the historical Buddha never traveled beyond the confines of Nepal and Northern India, but don’t let that spoil a good legend…)
Now the story continues that the four holy footprints lay hidden among the trees and hills of Northern Thailand for a couple thousand years. Then, one day a heavenly being took the form of an eagle and flew down to a nearby village. There, the eagle snatched up a chicken from one of the villagers and flew off, up the mountain to the spot of the footprint. When some villagers chased the eagle to get their chicken back, they discovered the footprints and later had a temple built on this spot.
When you arrive at the temple, you should buy a set of offerings before taking your shoes off and walking up the Naga staircase. It should be 20 baht for the offering set which includes some flowers, incense, candles, and sheets of gold leaf. You can light the incense and candles and leave them in the burners just below the small building housing the Buddha footprints. Usually, these offering sets only include one sheet of gold foil, but at this temple you are given four sheets of gold. This is so you can apply one sheet of gold to each of the four footprints. Each footprint is impressed deeper within the larger ones, though, so you would have to have very long arms to actually be able to reach the fourth one. I think most Thai people just try to toss the third and fourth pieces of gold foil down onto the footprints and hope that they stick.
Not so many foreign tourists know about this temple, but it is quite popular with Thais, and you may see a lot of visitors. When we came in Feb. 2013 they had begun building a large gate at the entrance to the temple grounds. There is another very interesting building at this temple which is about 100 meters or so behind the Buddha footprint hall. It is an ordination hall built in a cross-shape. This hall is golden colored and filled with nice Buddhist artwork in every nook and cranny. Another interesting feature is the group of giant sized Naga serpents that weave their way around the perimeter of the ordination hall.
If you happen to like bamboo, then you’ll really enjoy the drive up to the temple. There is a lot of bamboo growing along the way, of many different varieties. There is even some really nice looking golden bamboo growing on the temple grounds.