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Chiang Mai's Silver Temple: Wat Sri Suphan
Old handicrafts of Chiang Mai
Wat Sri Suphan (วัดศรีสุพรรณ), Chiang Mai’s “Silver Temple,” is one of the most exciting and active temples, located outside the old walled city. It is just north of the Chiang Mai gate, the northern entrance to the old city. The name of this district is Haiya, but everyone knows this neighborhood as the Wualai area, named after the street with the same name.
This neighborhood has been the center of the silver and lacquerware handicraft industry for more than 200 years. Then silver and lacquerware artisans from the Kengtung area in Burma settled in this neighborhood. The lacquerware industry has moved to an area east of Chiang Mai. The silver handicraft industry is still alive on Wualai road and its side streets. Wat Srisuphan is the temple where you can learn the skill of repoussé and chasing metal and silver sheets.
The history of the silver temple of Chiang Mai
Not much is known about the history of this temple. They constructed the Wihan of this temple in the year 1500, during the reign of King (Phaya) Kaew or Mueangkaew (1495–1525), the eleventh ruler of the Mangrai Dynasty. An inscription on a stele (ศิลาจารึก) mentions this year, according to Sarassawadee Ongsakul.
Next to the viharn is an information board with some facts about the history of the temple. There are statues of King Kaew and his wife Phra Rachamanda Jao Siriyasuwadee as well. Nine years later they added an ordination hall (ubosot) and the chedi, named the Phra Wihan Borommathai Chedi (วิหาร พระบรมธาตุเจดีย์).
Is Wat Sri Suphan an old temple?
According to information at the temple, Kawilorot Suriyawong, the 6th ruler of Chiang Mai (1856-1870), constructed the assembly hall and chedi between 1860 and 1863. A major reconstruction of the assembly hall and chedi occurred in 1993. I think it is safe to assume that none of the structures at Wat Sri Suphan are older than 30 years.
There is circumstantial evidence that the second silver temple, Wat Muensan, was a more important temple than Wat Sri Suphan in the past. It houses, for instance, a chedi with relics of the monk-engineer Kruba Srivichai. Besides that the Imperial Japanese army used this temple as a field hospital during World War Two.
The famous silver ordination hall
Wat Sri Suphan owes its nickname to the silver ordination hall that was constructed between 2004 and 2016. The temple doesn’t appear at all in old guide books because it became the silver temple not that long ago.
It is the only structure of its kind in the world. It is an amazing and unique structure, also because it was a project of the community. Artisans from the Wualai neigborhood worked for years on the construction and decoration of the famous ubosot. The material used is a mixture of aluminium and silver.
Is the ubosot of Wat Sri Suphan from silver?
According to the information at the temple most of the material used is a mix of aluminium and silver. Some parts are 100% silver but is hard to say which ones. The artisans who decorated and constructed the ordination hall used two techniques: repoussé and chasing. Repoussé is the technique of hammering from the inside of the piece, chasing is working on the outside.
War Sri Suphan, the center of a community
Over the years the temple became a lively center of education, heritage and preservation of old handicrafts. On the temple compound is a primary school, a silverware learning center and workshop, a “monk chat’ office, and a center with information on the handicraft artisans in the neighborhood.
At this moment there is a row of shops under construction.
Disaster at Wat Sri Suphan, the silver temple of Chiang Mai
On September 29, 2022, the Phra Wihan Borommathai Chedi collapsed. It had been raining heavily during the preceding days. The staff of the Fine Arts Department office had already detected cracks in the structure but were still stunned. Apparently repairs and gold paint around the structure trapped moisture inside the chedi causing it to collapse. I took below picture in 2021 of the gilded chedi Phra Wihan Borommathai Chedi .
I took the below pictures on the day of the collapse of the chedi.
I took these pictures on October 18, 2022
Sources for this article
I have visited Wat Sri Suphan many times in the past decade and regularly go there.
There is some information available at the temple on information boards. I searched for old temple photographs online but have not found any.
These are the sources that I used:
Sarassawadee Ongsakul, History of Lanna, Chiang Mai, 2005.
Information at the temple
Some facts about Wat Sri Suphan
The temple is open from 0600 until 1800. None of the buildings are illuminated so it doesn’t make sense to go there after dark except on Saturday. Every week on Saturday the Wualai road transforms in a street market, the so-called Walking Street. On that day the temple is open until 2130
The entrance to Wat Sri Suphan is free. The monks appreciate donations.