Temples, Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai has nearly 200 temples, nearly all of which warrant a visit by anyone interested in art history. This is true even of the more recently built ones, the artistry and sensitivity to form shown by modern Thai craftsmen being in no way inferior to those of earlier centuries. Only the most important and beautiful can be mentioned here, the selection nevertheless illustrating well the rich art historical and religious heritage of Thailand's northern capital.
A prominent temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Phra Singh is located in the heart of the old city. The temple dates back to 1345.
Wat Suan Dok
In Suthep Road west of the city stands the famous Wat Suan Dok ("dok" means flower garden). The story of its foundation, closely linked with that of Wat Doi Suthep, is woven around with legend. The big, bell-shaped, snow-white, central chedi, Ceylonese in style, houses one half of a miraculous relic only the size of a pea. The relic was found by a monk called Sumana, concealed in a receptacle hidden away inside a series of silver and coral "Chinese boxes" contained in a bronze casket. It came into the hands of King Kuna of Chiang Mai (1355-85) who had the chedi built to house it. In 1383 the relic miraculously divided itself into two pieces, each growing back to the original size. Wat Doi Suthep was therefore built to house the second piece.The variously shaped, glistening white chedis in the courtyard contain the ashes of members of the royal family.The bot in Wat Suan Dok is graced by an exceptionally fine, 6-m (20- ft) high Buddha in the Chiang Mai style (cast in about 1550). The wiharn, built as an open hall in 1932, is the largest religious assembly room in northern Thailand. The interior has richly ornamented columns and ceilings, two Buddhas standing back-to-back, and various other painted images of the Enlightened One. Note also the palace-shaped reliquary containing the ashes of Phra Si Wichai, the monk at whose instigation the wiharn was built.
Wat Buakkhrok Luang
The San Khamphaeng road, along which many crafts have retail outlets, also leads to Wat Buakkhrok Luang, one of Chiang Mai's loveliest but least known temples. The wat has a wonderful teak wiharn in the Lan Na style (late 13th c.). Divided into three aisles by rows of teak columns, it houses a fine statue of Buddha in the Chiang Saen-style; the old murals and the carved doors are also superb. To the left of the wiharn stands a beautiful bot. Up until 1988, when it was destroyed in a storm, there was a replica of this temple in Phayao.
Wat Pha Pong
The magnificent Wat Pha Pong is entered through finely articulated gates. Several chedis encircle a pretty pavilion, with steps leading up to a chapel inside. The façade of the square building, adorned with round-arched windows and pilasters, shows Chinese as well as Burmese influence. In addition to its statues of Buddha, the three-aisled interior is decorated with murals.
This mid 15th C temple was once an outstanding complex during its time. It was abandoned following Burmese attacks, but restored in the 1950s.
The ruins of Wat Chedi Luang indicate the impressive size of the structure prior to its destruction caused by the 1545 earthquake.
Wat Chiang Man
Wat Chiang Man in Ratchaphakinai Road, the oldest of Chiang Mai's monasteries, was built by King Mengrai in 1296 even before the city itself was founded. The king probably lived here while his palace was being completed.Although restored many times over the years the wiharn still retains its original appearance. The double-tiered roof, embellished with darting nagas, falls low in a slight curve towards the ground. Note the elaborately carved gables above the main entrance, the latter flanked by two lions. A tablet with an inscription in Thai marks the spot where King Mengrai is said to have died in 1317.The interior of the wiharn, divided by teak columns into three aisles, contains two Buddha images of particular note, the first being a large gilded statue and the second a replica bas-relief of the sacred Buddha Sila - the original of which, held in safe keeping by the abbot, is brought out only once a year for a special ceremony. Believed to date from the 8th c., and Indian in style, it is credited with rainmaking powers.Also kept under lock and key by the abbot is the Phra Sal Tang Kamani, the rock crystal figure on a gold base known as the Crystal Buddha. It was probably presented to Chama Thevi, Queen of Haripunchai, in 663, and was carried off by King Mengrai after the fall of Haripunchai in 1281. Wat Chiang Man boasts in addition a chedi supported on a base of fifteen stone elephants, the upper section being clad in gilded copper. There is a small bot, and a modern sala.
Wat Prachao Mengrai
Founded in 1288, Wat Prachao Mengrai (in Ratchamankha Road, opposite Wat Chedi Luang) was renamed in 1953, having previously been known as Wat Kan Kawd. The wat's chief treasure, housed in a small sanctum of its own, is a 4.5 m (15 ft) statue of Buddha cast in 1320 and said to be a likeness of King Mengrai, founder of Chiang Mai. Also of interest are a Buddha image from Chiang Saen and a lovely reading desk, both in the wiharn.
Situated a few hundred meters outside the city's east gate, Wat Chetawan is noteworthy for its three impressive, heavily articulated chedis, two decorated with fabulous beasts from Hindu mythology and all three inlaid with gold and colored tiles which sparkle in the sun. Keep a look out also for the superb wood carvings on the wiharn.
Wat Mahawan, almost directly opposite Wat Chetawan, on the other side of Tha Phae Road, boasts a very beautifully articulated chedi in the Burmese style topped by a gilded spire. Huge statues of lions adorn the four corners of the enclosure. Both the wiharn and the small chapel are ornately carved, reliefs on the doors depicting scenes from Buddha's life.
Wat Saen Fang
On Tha Phae Road is the unpretentious entrance leading to the delightful Wat Saen Fang. A narrow alley flanked by two serpents opens into a picturesque precinct with a beautifully kept garden, lovely chedi in the Burmese style and a wiharn with richly gilded carving on the façades.
Chedi Chang Phuak
In the north of the city, 300 m (990 ft) from Chang Phuak bus station) stand the ruined Chedi Chang Phuak and Wat Ku Tao, the latter having a rather unusual chedi built in 1613. The upper section above the square, tiered base consists of a series of interlocked spheres diminishing in size (and probably symbolizing alms bowls).Each is embellished with niches and clad in colorful glazed tiles laid in geometric patterns, the whole being crowned with a delicate spire. This curious and most unusual stupa is believed to contain the ashes of the Burmese Prince Tarawadi. Some ancient carvings survive on the gable of the wiharn. The bot is a 20th c. addition.
Wat Umong, situated west of Wat Suan Dok in forested surroundings just off and a little further along Suthep Road, was founded by King Mengrai for the benefit of a much revered phra (monk). Later, King Kuna (1355-85) added an underground chamber for use by another phra, where the latter could devote himself to meditation completely undisturbed. Remains of frescos can still be seen on the walls of the vault. The monastery, belonging to a strict Ceylonese Buddhist order, has served ever since as a refuge for monks living in retreat - recognizable by their dark robes.Part of the temple complex functions by contrast as a meeting-place for people of all nationalities interested in Buddhism. The original chedi, built when the wat was founded, has collapsed. The other buildings, which include a Pali school, monks' quarters and library, are of recent date.
More Temples Pictures
Map of Chiang Mai Attractions