Often referred to as the cultural capital of Thailand, Chiang Mai boasts hundreds of temples for you to explore and discover. There are interesting working temples where you can see monks going about their business, people praying and making merit, and see how Buddhism is a true part of the Thai way of life today, and also historic temples from times gone by, some of which lie in forlorn yet evocative ruins.
With so many temples to visit, how do you know you are going to one of the top names? With our handy list of course! Here are some of the best temples to check out in and around Chiang Mai:
Wat Chedi Luang
One of the main temples within the old town part of the city, Wat Chedi Luang was constructed in around the 1400s. Modified over the years, it once stood at a proud 90 metres tall, but an earthquake caused some serious damage to the temple and today it stands at around 60 metres. Previously home to the sacred and special Emerald Buddha (now housed in Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew), it is famous for its incredibly life-like wax monk. Sitting inside a glass box, you would be forgiven for thinking at first glance that it is actually a living person. There is a replica of the Emerald Buddha, made from black jade, within the temple complex, as well as numerous small shrines, statues, and pictures. You can also see the city pillar (also sometimes called the city spirit house) and the remains of the tall brick chedi with its elephant carvings in the grounds.
Wa Pan Tao
Next to Wat Chedi Luang, this wooden temple is worth a quick stop when you are in the area.
Wat Phra Singh
One of Chiang Mai’s most revered temples, Wat Phra Singh contains several fine buildings, with the main temple hall glittering in the sunlight and home to some stunning and intricate murals. A historic temple that is still a working temple today, it has a school for young novice monks. Seeing boys and young men in saffron robes wandering around the grounds is a very common sight. There are many statues all around the complex, but one of the main ones to look out for is the Phra Singh Buddha image, one of the most important statues in the area.
Wat Chiang Man
This is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai and it dates back to the late 1200s. A striking example of the Lanna style of building, there are also newer and more modern parts to the temple that are just as attractive in their own special way. Part of the original features of Chiang Mai when it was founded, the all golden chedi with its carved elephants is one of the top attractions in the city. Amongst the temple’s many statues you can see two that are especially important and rare – the Marble Buddha and the Crystal Buddha.
A short drive out of the city centre and located at the bottom of a soaring mountain, Wat U-Mong makes for an interesting trip. Although you will notice a big chedi on top of the flat hill most of the temple is underground, with several tunnels snaking their way around inside the hill. Dating back to the 1300s, it later sat abandoned for a few hundred years. Even if you are tired of visiting temples this one is so different that it really is worth the trip.
Wat Pa Pao
This temple was started by a Shan monk (from Burma) 400 years ago. It is an important temple for the local Shan community and visitors will notice architectural details and customs that are different to other temple around the city. It is a great place to see traditions and spirituality from one of Chiang Mai’s ethnic groups.
Wat Suan Dok
Built in the latter part of the 1300s, Wat Suan Dok is found 1 kilometre outside of the city’s old walls. A centre of learning today, it is home to a Buddhist University. For visitors, however, the main reason to visit is to see the enormous historic bronze Buddha statue. There is also a sacred relic within the temple.
Do you agree with our list of the top temples in Chiang Mai? Would you add any others? Where would you recommend visitors to the city do not miss, and are there any temples that you regularly visit?