Temples in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai was built towards the end of the 13th century as the capital of the Lan Na kingdom, which it remained for close to 500 years. This period yielded many Buddhist temples which are a popular draw card for tourists who come to soak up the religious culture of the area, and view the magnificent architecture.

 

Temples in Chiang Mai - akyra Manor Chiang Mai Hotel

 

Chiang Mai Temples (Wats)

 

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Overlooking the city from its perch on the regal Doi Suthep Mountain is the What Phra That Doi Suthep. This Buddhist temple is a sacred site to many Thai people. It attracts large numbers of Thai and foreign visitors as well as Buddhist pilgrims who come to view the holy Buddhist relics.

The centrepiece of this temple is the exquisite golden chedi, or pagoda. Visitors can reach this by climbing a set of stairs lined with seven-headed Naga. Buddhists believe that these Naga, or serpents fend off evil spirits and offer protection. They are an important emblem of the Buddhist religion, and their value can be seen in the detail of each statue.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep houses many items that are symbolic of the Theravada Buddhists. From the White Elephant shrine to the architecture of the impressive chedi and the murals inside the Wat, you can learn a huge amount about the lives and beliefs of this religion and its followers.

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Wat Chedi Luang

The word “luang” means “large” in Thailand’s northern dialect, aptly describing this Wat that has the largest chedi in Chiang Mai. Construction of the initial 98m high chedi was completed in 1481, but an earthquake in 1545 destroyed the upper 30m section.

The chedi was restored in the early 1990s. The base was embellished with elephant statues, and the naga staircases on each side of the chedi were also restored. The height of the structure was never reinstated and today it stands at just over 50m high.

The Wat also houses the city pillar of Chiang Mai which is believed by many to be at the epicentre of Chiang Mai. It’s housed in a shrine as is common with city pillars in Thailand, and dwarfed by three dipterocarp trees which are believed to assist the city pillar in protecting the city.

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Wat Phra Singh

This Buddhist temple was built in the 14th century and is housed within the walls of the old city. Its main feature is the assembly hall, Viharn Lai Kam. Inside the hall you’ll find murals depicting life in Thailand as it was hundreds of years ago.

You can also view Phra Singh, the Lion Buddha, which is one of the most respected Buddhas in the North. This statue is paraded through the main streets of Chiang Mai each year at Songkran which is the Thai New Year.

The larger yet less elaborate assembly hall, Viharn Luang, is where you can find a 15th century Buddha made from gold and copper. During renovations in the 1920s, this building was built on the site of the original viharn.

The library, Haw Trai, is also worth seeing and is built in classic Lanna style. Regarded as one of the most beautiful temple libraries in the country, it contains various Buddhist scriptures, and is heavily guarded by a combination of lions and mythical water creatures.

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Wat Chiang Man

Wat Chiang Man is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai, with construction having started in the last few years of the 13th century. The temple houses two halls. The largest of these contains Chiang Mai’s oldest Buddha, a standing Buddha holds an alms bowl.

The smaller hall houses two Buddhas of great significance due to their perceived protective powers. The Crystal Buddha is just 10cm tall and is carved out of clear quartz crystal. It’s believed to have protective and healing powers. The second statue is a standing Buddha believed to bring rain for growing rice crops. This Buddha is worshipped every April before Songkran.

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Wat Sri Suphan

Another must-see temple in Chiang Mai is Wat Sri Suphan, or the Silver Temple. This refurbished temple is covered in silver, with detailed carvings depicting Buddhism legends and history. In its original form, the temple wasn’t as silver-clad as it is today, although repairs to the building were done in silver. The interior carries on with the silver theme, but incorporates mirrors and bright colours in its decoration.

Centuries ago, this was the main temple for the silversmith village. Today, many silversmiths remain in the area. Visitors can view these artists at work in the temple grounds, and even order custom-made pieces from them.

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Wat Suan Dok

This temple is located outside the old city wall, on the site of a former flower garden. It comprises many buildings of historical importance. The golden chedi is the main pagoda and is said to be where the Buddha’s relics are enshrined. There are ramps on all four sides which lead up to the terrace, and are lined in true Lanna style with traditional sea-creature and serpents.

An open-air assembly hall houses two Buddha images facing in opposite directions. One sits in a meditative position facing east, while the other stands behind it facing west. Other Buddha images surround these two, and one smaller image is placed in front of the sitting Buddha.

In the grounds of the temple you’ll find whitewashed mausoleums containing the ashes of members of the Royal Family of Chiang Mai.

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Wat Umong

Wat Umong is the only forest temple in Chiang Mai and is located in a forested area at the foothills of the Suthep Mountains. It’s famous for the meditation tunnels that gave the Wat its name as Umong is the Thai word for tunnel. Sadly due to the large number of tourists visiting this Wat, the temples are rarely used for meditation any more.

The tunnels lie under a large unpainted chedi built in the traditional Lanna style. The complex also houses a working monastery and it’s not uncommon to find monks wandering the scenic grounds and circling the chedi in prayer.

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Wat Phra That Doi Kham

Otherwise known as the Golden Temple, Wat Phra That Doi Kham is located on the Doi Kham Hill that lies to the south-west of Chiang Mai. The temple is popular with Thais who come from all over the area to see the large gold-decorated, sitting Buddha image. The image is an impressive 17m tall, and so prominent that visitors can see it from the bottom of the hill.

The temple’s chedi dates back to the year 687 and enshrines the Buddha’s sacred hair relic. The courtyard surrounding the chedi contains several smaller Buddha images, gongs, and statues of warriors, lions and serpents, all with religious significance.

You can access the temple either by climbing a flight of 300 stairs, or by catching a ride on the funicular. Walking up the stairs may be strenuous but will provide you with breath-taking views of the surrounding area.

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Wat Chet Yot

A short distance northeast of Chiang Mai is the Wat Chet Yot, or seven-spired temple. The design of the temple has Indian influences, built as it was as a replica of the Mahabodhi Temple in Northern India. The temple gets its name from seven spires that perch on top of the main chedi, a large rectangular building with no windows and a flat roof.

The temple compound is large with a number of other buildings and statues of historical value. You’ll see numerous Buddha images in varying poses, as well as chedi and other ruins scattered around the temple grounds. This temple is lesser-known and more popular with Thai residents. It is also a centre of pilgrimage for people born in the Year of the Snake.

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Wat Lok Moli

This is one of the oldest Wats in Chiang Mai, having been built sometime in the 14th century. It contains one of the area’s largest chedis, regally perched on a square base. The chedi is plain, displaying none of the stucco decoration so prominent at other Buddhist temples. It’s not without historical importance though as it contains the ashes of a few members of the Mangrai Dynasty. Although the chedi has undergone some restoration over the years, it is one of the only original structures in the complex.

Two impressive stone elephants stand guard at the gateway to the temple grounds. Inside the compound, you’ll find a large prayer hall, numerous Buddha images, statues and intricate mosaic designs. Wat Lok Moli is one of the only Buddhist Wats that doesn’t face in an easterly direction.

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Wat Buppharam

Wat Buppharam is located outside the old city wall. The initial structure was built in the late 15th century, and has renovated over the years with further buildings and structures added to the complex. As it stands now, the temple complex consists of an ordination hall or ubosot, two viharns, a dhamma hall and a white chedi with a golden spire.

The cross-shaped Dhamma hall is possibly one of the main features of Wat Buppharam and contains several not-to-be-missed murals. It’s also home to the largest teak Buddha image in Thailand, called Phra Buddha Narit.

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Wat Phan Tao

Wat Phan Tao lies next to the more famous Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai town. It’s often missed by tourists who visit the better-known adjacent temple, but it's definitely worth a visit. The beautiful ordination hall is constructed entirely out of teak wood, which in those days was an offering to the Buddha.

The entrance is overhung by a gilded pelmet containing carvings of mythological figures inlaid with coloured glass. Inside the hall, you’ll find a large golden Buddha which is the main Buddha images in this temple complex. You can also view the wooden throne that enshrines important Buddha images.

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Wat Pha Lat

This secluded jungle temple is one of the hidden gems of Chiang Mai. It lies in the lush mountains and was previously a resting place for monks making the arduous pilgrimage to the larger Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. A road was laid in 1935 and Wat Pha Lat is now a place of relaxation and meditation for monks.

The temple complex blends in with the beauty of the natural surroundings. There are steps all around leading you to the viharn, pagodas and other areas of interest. A series of caves built into the mountainside hold robes statues and other historical artefacts.

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Wat Chedi Liam

Loosely translated the name of this temple is Temple of the Square Pagoda, a reference to the square base of the chedi. The temple was built in the 13th century and this chedi is the only structure that dates back to that time.

The chedi is made up of five tiers, each one smaller than the last. Each tier has three niches on either side in which you’ll find a standing Buddha robed in yellow. There are 60 Buddha images in total around the five tiers. The niches are embellished with Naga serpents and flower motifs, very popular in Lanna-style temples.

The temple grounds also house a viharn and ordination hall, both more recent additions to the temple complex having been built in the early 20th century. The temple’s main Buddha image is in the ornately decorated viharn, while the ubosot or ordination hall is kept separate for prayer and ordination rituals.

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Wat Ket Karam

Wat Ket Karam lies close to the Ping River and houses the relics of the Buddha “Chedi Kade Kaew Chula Manee”, which is lucky for those born in the year of the dog. According to legend, if you were born in the year of the dog and you pay your respects to these relics, you will be successful and happy for the rest of your life.

The temple complex used to be a commercial district, primarily due to the proximity of the river, but became a more residential area towards the end of the 19th century. Among the buildings in the area is a museum with artefacts from those commercial days.

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Wat Pa Dara Phirom

Visitors interested in Buddhist culture will love Wat Pa Dara Phirom. This temple is located in the Mae Rim district, less than an hour from Chiang Mai. The temple complex is a working monastery with Buddhist monks roaming the grounds. Some of the complex is inaccessible to visitors for this reason.

The principal Buddha image is a sitting Buddha in a meditative pose and fashioned in Sukhothai style. There are a number of Buddha images, sculptures, waxworks and other historical works of art in the main temple and various outlying buildings. The gardens are tranquil and as the temple is less busy than other better-known ones, you can take your time and enjoy the beauty in peace.

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Wat Ku Tao

Formerly known as Wat Veru Vanaram, this Buddhist temple was built in the early 17th century during Burma’s reign of the area. One of the noteworthy architectural structures in the compound is the chedi which resembles five monks’ bowls, or gourds, stacked on top of each other in descending size. Each gourd is a separate floor in which a Buddha image is enshrined.

The Burmese arts are strongly represented in the general architecture and decorations. Visitors to the temple in late March will be treated to fun and entertainment at Poi Sang Long, an ordination festival in Burmese-style.

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Wat Inthakin Sadue Muang

Although not a popular tourist attraction in Chiang Mai, the Wat Inthakin Sadue Muang is certainly worth visiting. It’s centrally located inside the old walled town, and has a free museum depicting what life was like in the Lanna Kingdom of old.

In the late 13th century, the king of the Lanna Kingdom at the time, King Mengrai, placed the city pillar in the temple grounds, giving the temple great spiritual significance. It remained there for centuries, until it was finally relocated to the grounds of the nearby Wat Chedi Luang.

In the temple grounds, you’ll find monk’s quarters, two brick chedis, as well as an ornate, Lanna-style viharn. This viharn contains the temple’s Buddha images, including that of the principle Buddha, Luang Pho Kao.

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Wat Loi Khro

Wat Loi Khro doesn’t draw the tourists like some of the better-known temples, yet has a very interesting history. It dates back to the 15th century and was constructed during the reign of the sixth king of the Mengrai Dynasty. In those times, the temple was called Wat Hoi Khor.

The Wat, and indeed the city, was deserted many years later, after the fall of the Mengrai Dynasty and remained this way for about twenty years until the reconstruction of Chiang Mai began under King Kawila. The ruined temple was rebuilt in a Lanna style and renamed Wat Loi Khro.

The temple consists of large viharn with intricate carvings depicting everyday life in those ancient times. Included in the artwork are Buddha images, mythical creatures and Naga figures.

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Wat Mahawan

Situated outside the old walled city of Chiang Mai is Wat Mahawan, a Buddhist temple that combines the best of both Burmese and Lanna style architecture.

The Lanna-style main viharn is the focal point of the complex, with two large white lion statues guarding the entrance. Inside, the viharn is decorated with intricate carvings of water serpents, Buddhist Gods and other symbols. The principal Buddha image sits at the back of the hall.

The large white-painted Burmese-style chedi also has large lion guards, one at each corner of the base. Each side of the chedi has a niche in which you’ll find a statue of a standing Buddha.

Other buildings in the complex are the ordination hall, a scripture library, and a Burmese-style viharn that enshrines a seated Buddha image, also constructed in Burmese style.

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Wat Jet Lin

Wat Jet Lin is named after the seven water channels that the Lanna Royal family used to bathe in. Although the construction date of the temple is unclear, there is speculation that it dates back to the early 16th century, and it’s likely that some buildings were restored at a later stage.

The main building in the temple complex is the prayer hall, inside which you’ll find a number of Buddha statues including a large, golden Buddha and a smaller jade statue.

The Lanna-style chedi is possibly the oldest structure in the complex. The middle part of the chedi has an empty niche on each of the four sides. Although the base of the chedi is plain with no guardians or other images, you will see a number of large stone balls called luk nimit. These stones are traditionally buried under the eight sema stones that demarcate the ordination hall’s boundary wall.

Other structures are scattered around the temple grounds, including open-sided pavilions housing different images. A unique feature at this temple is a large lily pond with a bamboo bridge and coffee shop where visitors can take in the beauty of their surroundings.

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