A Guide to the main Chang Mai Temples
Chang Mai is famous for hosting more than 300 temples on its territory: here is a guide to visit the most picturesque and important ones. Remember that shoulders ad knees always need to be covered to be admitted in these religious sites. The entry tickets varies from 30 to 60 Baht per person per temple, a modest sum considering the wonderful architecture and spirituality of these shrines.
1. Wat Chedi Luang: an imposing building
Wat Chedi Luang was built between the 14th and 15th centuries and represented one of the tallest and most imposing temples in the city (measuring 80 metres high) at that time until a violent earthquake damaged the pagoda which 20 metres shorter.
“Luang” means “large” in the Northern Thai dialect and goes well with the land extension surrounding this holy place. This temple is one the most important temples in the city centre and it is famous for once housing the Emerald Buddha, one of the most important religious relics in Thailand.
In 1475, the statue was moved to the Temple of Dawn in Bangkok, but there is a now a jade replica housed at the temple, a gift from the King Rama IX in 1995 to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the temple.
In 1990, a restoration and stabilisation project has been started and led by UNESCO and the Japanese government to re-establish the temple former glory, but the top of the pagoda was never reconstructed as nobody knows how it used to look before the calamity and works are still in progress. For this reason it is not possible to enter.
2. Wat Phra Singh: the second holiest temple of the city
This temple, also known as “The Temple of the Lion Buddha”, is considered the second most holy temple of Chiang Mai after Doi Suthep one. It is renowned for being home to hundreds of monks and novices that you will see walking and in the grounds. The walled-in temples area is busy with visitors and worshippers all year round and particularly during Songkran, the Thai New Year festival celebrated in mid-April. Visit this area early in the morning to avoid queuing and foresee a couple of hours to take he time to explore this ancient site.
Wat Phra Singh is a temple complex built during 14th century when Chang Mai was the capital of The Lanna kingdom.
It is composed of three main Lanna style buildings with old Buddha images and decorations illustrating local popular stories and tales about previous Buddha lives: the Viharn Lai Kham, which is the oldest assembly room made of teak wood, decorated with gold colours and leaves patterns, and once home to the Phra Singh Buddha (Lion Buddha); the Viharn Luang, the largest main assembly which has been completely refurbished, hosting a 15th century gold and copper image of Buddha and the Haw Trai, the library featuring Lanna style beautiful stucco figures, which contains ancient Buddhist scriptures and built on a stone base to prevent floods and insect to damage its precious contents.
3. Wat Sri Suphan: the “Silver Temple”
Due to the elaborated hand-made silver decorations, this temples is named “The Silver Temple”. This holy site was built originally around 15th century close to a silversmith village; this building is completely covered in silver and features Buddha legends and tales on the surfaces. Unfortunately, due to archaic Buddhist rules women are considered impure are therefore are not allowed to enter the inside of the temple.
The temple grounds are particularly interesting and women waiting outside can kill time roaming through the small silver stalls and watch real artists at work. On some evenings it is possible to meet and chat with the monks or meditate with them. It is an a great occasion for cultural exchange and better understand local mentality and life philosophy. The monk chats are free but donations are welcomed.
4. Wat Lok Molee : the Sacred Trees Temple
This is one of my favourite temples, as it is less visited and and touristic compared to the others. The entry is guarded by two stone elephants and the prayer hall is stunning, peaceful and very wide. It is a great spot to take pictures and there is lot to see. The temple was linked to the royal Magrau Dynasty (1292-1558) whose cremated remains are buried here. This one of the oldest temples of the city, although nobody knows the built date and it undertook many recently refurbishments.
The courtyard is decorated with two sacred wishing trees: one in silver and one in gold. A small kiosk sells refreshments and leaves heart-shaped amulets to hang on the trees after making a wish.
The Hall is a fest for the eyes: the wooden teak ceiling is beautifully decorated with shining glass mosaic, lotus flowers and gold leaf images depicting the story of the Buddha’s life. Fresh flowers welcome the visitors with their delicate scent and they create a serene atmosphere perfect for meditation: a balm for your soul!
Check out some organised tours to visit an Elephant Sanctuary, explore and see the main temples or visit the highest peak of Thailand!
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