Wat Phra Singh: Discovering Chiang Mai's Spiritual Heart

Nestled in the mountainous region of Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is a city steeped in history, brimming with a rich cultural heritage that dates back to its founding in 1296. As the former capital of the Lanna Kingdom, this vibrant city is home to countless temples, each with its unique architectural style and storied past. Wat Phra Singh is a true gem among these sacred sites, holding a special place in Chiang Mai's history and spiritual landscape.

As one of Chiang Mai's most revered temples, Wat Phra Singh's striking Lanna architecture and the treasured Phra Buddha Sihing statue draw visitors worldwide. The temple's serene atmosphere provides a tranquil respite from the bustling city, inviting visitors to explore its ornate halls and contemplate its rich history.

Whether you're a history buff, a spiritual seeker, or a curious traveller, enrich your travel experience at this remarkable temple. From its fascinating past to its breathtaking art and architecture, join us as we discover Chiang Mai's spiritual heart at Wat Phra Singh.


Wat Phra Singh - akyra Manor Chiang Mai Hotel 


The History of Wat Phra Singh

Established in the 14th century, Wat Phra Singh was founded during the reign of King Phayu, the fifth ruler of the Lanna Kingdom. Initially constructed to house the king's ashes, the temple's importance grew over time as it was a focal point for religious and cultural activities within the kingdom. Its prominent location within Chiang Mai's old city walls further underscored its significance, solidifying its status as a spiritual and cultural centre.

As the centuries passed, Wat Phra Singh underwent a series of expansions and renovations that contributed to its current grandeur. Successive rulers and patrons added various structures, such as the Viharn Lai Kam and the Ubosot, while enhancing existing buildings with ornate decorations and artwork. One of the most notable additions was the Phra Buddha Sihing statue, which significantly elevated the temple's spiritual standing.

The evolution of Wat Phra Singh's architecture and art reflects the diverse cultural and historical influences that have shaped Chiang Mai over the centuries. The temple's distinct Lanna architectural style, characterised by its intricately carved wooden facades and multi-tiered roofs, showcases the artistic ingenuity of the region's craftsmen. Moreover, the murals adorning the temple walls narrate stories from Buddha's life and scenes from traditional Thai culture, providing a unique insight into the values and beliefs that have shaped the region's identity.

Wat Phra Singh's art and architecture also bear traces of external inspiration, most notably from neighbouring Burmese and Sri Lankan traditions. As Chiang Mai's history unfolded, these diverse cultural influences mingled with the indigenous Lanna style, creating the captivating blend of artistic elements that continue to enchant visitors to Wat Phra Singh today.


The Architectural Splendour of Wat Phra Singh

Lanna architecture is a distinct style that developed in the northern regions of Thailand, particularly during the Lanna Kingdom's reign. Characterised by its elegant wooden structures, multi-tiered roofs, and intricately carved decorations, Lanna's architecture showcases the region's unique artistic heritage. The style often features prominent chofahs (bird-like finials) adorning the roof's edges and stencilled gold patterns on red lacquer, adding to the overall luxury of the buildings.


The Viharn Lai Kam:

The Viharn Lai Kam, or the main assembly hall, is a stunning representation of Lanna's architectural prowess. Its multi-tiered roof gracefully sweeps down towards the ground, while its facade is adorned with exquisite wood carvings that depict mythical creatures, foliage, and traditional patterns. The Viharn Lai Kam houses several important Buddha statues and is decorated with intricate murals that illustrate scenes from Buddha's life and Thai folklore.


The Ubosot

The Ubosot, or ordination hall, is another key structure within Wat Phra Singh that exemplifies Lanna architecture. Typically reserved for important religious ceremonies and the ordination of monks, the Ubosot is a sacred space that exudes a serene atmosphere. The hall enshrines the revered Phra Buddha Sihing statue, considered one of the temple's most spiritually significant treasures. The finely crafted exterior and interior designs of the Ubosot contribute to its status as a place of reverence and contemplation.


The Golden Chedi

Wat Phra Singh's golden chedi, a towering structure that dominates the temple grounds, is a testament to the temple's historical significance. Encased in glittering gold leaf, the chedi is believed to contain the ashes of King Phayu, the temple's founder. Adorned with statues of elephants, symbolising physical and mental strength in Thai culture, the chedi stands as an enduring reminder of the Lanna Kingdom's legacy and Wat Phra Singh's central role in Chiang Mai's spiritual life.


The Phra Buddha Sihing: The Temple's Spiritual Centrepiece

The Phra Buddha Sihing is a highly revered statue believed to have originated in India or Sri Lanka. According to legend, the statue was first housed in the ancient city of Nakhon Si Thammarat in southern Thailand before being moved to various locations, including Sukhothai and Ayutthaya. Eventually, it was brought to Chiang Mai, where it found its current home at Wat Phra Singh. The statue's history is shrouded in mystery, with various accounts and legends describing its journey, adding to its spiritual allure and significance.

The Phra Buddha Sihing holds a central position in Thai Buddhism due to its beauty, historical importance, and the belief that it possesses protective powers. The statue is considered a powerful symbol of the Buddha's teachings and a source of inspiration for Buddhists who seek guidance and blessings. As a result, the Phra Buddha Sihing is the focal point of various religious ceremonies and rituals, with devotees flocking to Wat Phra Singh to pay their respects and seek spiritual solace.



When visiting Wat Phra Singh and admiring the Phra Buddha Sihing, it is crucial to follow proper etiquette to respect the statue and the temple's religious significance. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:


  • Dress modestly: Ensure that your shoulders, chest, and knees are covered, as revealing clothing is inappropriate in Thai temples.
  • Remove your shoes: Before entering any temple building, remove your shoes as a sign of respect.
  • Sit or kneel with your feet pointing away from the statue: In Buddhist culture, pointing your feet towards any sacred object or person, including the Buddha statue, is disrespectful.
  • Avoid touching the statue: Refrain from touching the Phra Buddha Sihing or any other religious artefacts, as it is considered disrespectful.
  • Be mindful of your surroundings: When photographing the statue, be aware of your surroundings and avoid disrupting the prayers or meditation of others. It is also essential to check if photography is allowed inside the temple buildings, as rules may vary.


Following these tips ensures a respectful and enjoyable experience while admiring the Phra Buddha Sihing and other sacred objects at Wat Phra Singh.


The Art of Wat Phra Singh: Murals and Sculptures

The murals adorning Wat Phra Singh's walls are among the finest examples of Thai Buddhist art. These paintings provide visual narratives of Buddhist teachings and stories and offer a unique insight into their creation's cultural and historical context. The murals at Wat Phra Singh are particularly renowned for their intricate details, vivid colours, and exquisite compositions, which reflect the exceptional artistic skills of the Lanna craftsmen.



The murals at Wat Phra Singh primarily depict scenes from the Buddha's life and traditional Thai Buddhist cosmology, including heaven, earth, and hell. The paintings also portray stories from the Jataka tales, which are narratives about the previous lives of the Buddha. Additionally, the murals feature scenes from everyday life in the Lanna Kingdom, providing valuable glimpses into the region's history, customs, and culture. The artists who created these murals employed various techniques to achieve their stunning visual effects. They used natural pigments derived from plants, minerals, and other organic materials to create vibrant colours that have stood the test of time. The painters also combined linear and painterly techniques to render delicate details, intricate patterns, and expressive figures, resulting in a harmonious and captivating visual experience.



Wat Phra Singh is home to various sculptures that adorn its multiple buildings and courtyards. These works of art range from the sacred, such as the statues of the Buddha and other revered figures, to the mythical, including depictions of celestial beings, guardian spirits, and fantastical creatures from Thai folklore. The temple also boasts numerous intricately carved wooden doors, windows, and panels that feature traditional Thai motifs and patterns, showcasing the exceptional craftsmanship of the Lanna artists. As you explore the temple grounds, take the time to admire these remarkable sculptures and the rich artistic heritage they represent.


Experiencing Thai Buddhist Traditions at Wat Phra Singh

Wat Phra Singh plays a central role in the spiritual lives of Chiang Mai's residents and serves as a venue for numerous religious festivals and ceremonies throughout the year. Among the most notable events are Songkran, the Thai New Year, and Loy Krathong, the Festival of Lights. During these celebrations, the temple comes alive with colourful processions, sacred rituals, and lively performances, offering visitors a unique opportunity to witness and participate in Thai Buddhist traditions first-hand.


Participating in meditation and mindfulness sessions

For those seeking a more reflective experience, Wat Phra Singh provides a serene setting for practising meditation and mindfulness. The temple often hosts meditation sessions led by experienced monks who guide participants through various techniques to foster inner peace and spiritual growth. These sessions are typically open to both locals and visitors and offer a chance to immerse oneself in the calming ambience of the temple while deepening one's understanding of Buddhist philosophy and practices.


Opportunities to engage with monks

Visiting Wat Phra Singh also presents the opportunity to engage with the resident monks and learn about their daily lives and spiritual practices. Many temples in Thailand, including Wat Phra Singh, organise "monk chats," where visitors can ask questions and have informal conversations with the monks. This exchange provides a valuable opportunity for cultural exchange and fosters a deeper understanding of the role of monks in Thai Buddhism. Remember to approach these interactions with respect and mindfulness, adhering to the customs and etiquette of conversing with monks in a temple setting.


Practical Tips for Visiting Wat Phra Singh


Best times to visit and avoid crowds

To fully appreciate the beauty and serenity of Wat Phra Singh, it is advisable to visit during quieter periods. Early mornings, shortly after the temple opens, are generally less crowded and provide an opportunity to witness the monks performing their daily rituals. Similarly, late afternoons offer a more peaceful atmosphere as the day's crowds dissipate. Visiting on weekdays can also help avoid the larger crowds that often gather on weekends and during popular festivals.


Appropriate attire and etiquette for temple visitors

As Wat Phra Singh is a sacred site, you must dress modestly and adhere to proper etiquette during your visit. Here are some guidelines to follow:


  • Dress conservatively: Cover your shoulders, chest, and knees. Avoid revealing or tight clothing, which is considered disrespectful in Thai temples.
  • Remove your shoes: Always take off your shoes before entering any temple building as a sign of respect.
  • Show reverence for sacred objects and spaces: Be mindful of your behaviour, speak softly, and avoid touching statues or other religious artefacts.
  • Be respectful when interacting with monks: Maintain a polite distance, avoid touching monks (especially female visitors), and follow the customs associated with conversing with monks in a temple setting.


Nearby attractions and experiences to complement your visit

To further enrich your experience in Chiang Mai, consider visiting other nearby attractions and engaging in local experiences. Some suggestions include:


  • Wat Chedi Luang: Another historically significant temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Chedi Luang is home to an impressive chedi and hosts daily monk chats.
  • Sunday Walking Street Market: This vibrant market takes place every Sunday evening and offers a wide variety of food, handicrafts, and entertainment.
  • Tha Pae Gate: As a historic landmark and popular meeting spot, Tha Pae Gate is an excellent starting point for exploring Chiang Mai's old city.
  • Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Centre: This museum provides an overview of Chiang Mai's history, art, and culture, helping visitors better understand the region's heritage.



Wat Phra Singh, with its rich history, stunning architecture, and revered religious artefacts, is a testament to Chiang Mai's spiritual and cultural heritage. From the intricately adorned Viharn Lai Kam and the sacred Ubosot to the majestic golden chedi and the highly revered Phra Buddha Sihing, the temple offers visitors an immersive experience in Thai Buddhist traditions and the unique artistic legacy of the Lanna Kingdom.

The serene atmosphere and spiritual significance of Wat Phra Singh have the power to leave a lasting impression on visitors. Whether seeking a deeper understanding of Thai Buddhism, admiring exquisite art and craftsmanship, or looking to find solace amidst the temple's tranquil surroundings, Wat Phra Singh provides a truly enriching experience that resonates with the hearts and minds of those who explore its sacred grounds.

As you plan to visit Chiang Mai, consider staying at akyra Manor Chiang Mai. This luxurious boutique hotel is the perfect base for discovering the city's many wonders. Located in the heart of Chiang Mai, akyra Manor offers easy access to Wat Phra Singh and other nearby attractions, allowing you to immerse yourself in the city's spiritual heart.


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Su Thep, Muang Chiang Mai District,

Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand


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