The Buddhist Temples of Chiang Mai
The magnificent Buddhist temples of Chiang Mai
Introduction: a selection of the Buddhist Temples of Chiang Mai
The magnificent Buddhist temples are the main attractions of Chiang Mai. There are more than 300 temples in and around Chiang Mai. Initially, the temples were included in the Things to do in Chiang Mai section, but I decided to make a separate page.
The ranking is random. I have selected the temples that are a bit different. They all have something such as design, background, history, beauty, etc.. that makes them just a little bit more special than others. I have written longer articles for some of the temples of Chiang Mai. Just click the button underneath.
If you think a specific temple should be on this list, please inform us.
Table of Contents
Wat Pra That Doi Suthep, the temple on the mountain
The Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is the most famous temple of Chiang Mai. It is located on Doi Suthep, the mountain overlooking Chiang Mai. Rising 1676 meters above the city, Doi Suthep is one of Thailand’s most revered religious destinations. The temple dates back to the 14th century. Allegedly the famous naga staircase was constructed in 1557. Until about 80 years ago, a trail through the forest was the only way to get to the temple. In 1934-1935, Kruba Srivichai, the “engineer monk, ” constructed a road leading up to the staircase. The best times to visit the temple are early morning and late afternoon. Visiting Wat Phra That is one of the things to do in Chiang Mai. It features in our Chiang Mai Highlights tour, amongst others.
What is special about Wat Phra That Doi Suthep? This temple is one of the must-see attractions of Chiang Mai. The location is spectacular, and the views over Chiang Mai magnificent.
The big chedi: Wat Chedi Luang
The Wat Chedi Luang (Temple of the Big Chedi) is one of the most visited Buddhist temples. Its massive stupa is easily visible from afar. The seventh monarch of the Mangrai Dynasty, King Saen Muang Ma, constructed the great pagoda of Chedi Luang in the center of the city of Chiang Mai in 1391. In 1545 however, the upper 30 meters of the structure collapsed after an earthquake. In the early 1990s, the Fine Arts Department reconstructed Wat Chedi Luang, at least partially financed by UNESCO and the Japanese government. A good time to visit Wat Chedi Luang is after dark when the crowds have left and the Chedi is beautifully illuminated. The temple is featured in our Chiang Mai Temple day tour, amongst others.
What is special about Wat Chedi Luang? The huge ruined chedi and the old ubosot.
Wat Inthakin Sadeu Muang
Wat Inthakin Sadeu Muang, aka just Wat Inthakin, is an important temple. King Mangrai erected the City Pillar at this place when he founded Chiang Mai. The ashes of Mangrai are interred in one of the two stupas of Wat Inthakin as well. Wat Inthakin has a fascinating museum. The entrance is free. The museum has very interesting exhibits related to the history of Lanna, in particular on the Golden Age of Lanna under King Tilokaraj and Buddhism.
What is special about Wat Inthakin? The beautiful viharn, the two chedis and the wonderful museum.
Wat Chiang Man, the oldest temple
The founder of Chiang Mai, King Mangrai, founded Wat Chiang Man in 1296 at Wiang Nopburi, a fortified town of the Lawa people. From Wat Chiang Man, Mengrai oversaw the construction of his new capital city. Wat Chiang Man is the oldest temple of Chiang Mai and is a must-see temple. It features in our Buddhist temples of Chiang Mai tour. The temple houses several ancient and revered Buddha statues. Its oldest structure is its “Elephant Chedi”, Chedi Chang Lom. Wat Chiang Mai features in our Chiang Mai Highlights Tour.
What is special about Wat Chiang Man? Wat Chiang Man is the oldest temple of Chiang Mai. The chedi with the protruding elephants is unique.
The library of Wat Phra Singh
Wat Phra Singh dates back to the 14th century and is one of Chiang Mai’s most important temples. It is located within the old city walls. Wat Phra Singh is arguably one of the best examples of classic Lanna style temple architecture in Northern Thailand. One of the oldest structures is the chedi. It is decorated with elephant figures emerging from the chedi. Another impressive structure is the library, located on the right side if one enters the temple grounds. Built-in the 15th century, it was renovated in the 1920s by followers of the monk engineer Kruba Srivichai. Wat Phra Singh features in our Chiang Mai Highlights Tour.
What is special about Wat Phra Singh? Wat Phra Singh is the second most venerated temple after Wat Doi Suthep. The temple has a very famous library, and the chedi with the protruding elephants is very special.
Wat Suan Dok, the reliquaries of the Royal Family of North Thailand
Wat Suan Dok is one of the most important and interesting temples. It houses the chedis in which the ashes of the Royal Family of Chiang Mai are interned. On the temple grounds, an important Buddhist University is located. Wat Suan Dok is west of the old city of Chiang Mai. The temple dates back to the 15th century. Wat Suan Dok literally means “Flower Garden Temple” because the temple area was once used as a flower garden by Chiang Mai’s ruler. Wat Suan Dok was built on a location of an ancient fortified city of the Lawa people. The walls of this city are still visible. Wat Suan Dok features in our Chiang Mai Temple Tour.
What is special about Wat Suan Dok? Wat Suan Dok has a Buddhism school. Moreover, it houses the mausoleums, in which the ashes of members of the royal family of Chiang Mai are interred.
The Silver Temple: Wat Sri Suphan
Wat Sri Suphan is located south of the old City of Chiang Mai. It is the main temple of the silversmith area, called Wualai. The temple is completely covered in silver. Even the statues of Buddha are covered in silver. Around the temple, there are many silver manufacturing shops. The temple organizes a monk chat on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday evenings. Visitors can ask questions about Buddhism and meet with the monks. On the grounds of Wat Srisuphan, there are nowadays many activities. You can try your hand as a silversmith, and there are regular performances. It’s one of the lesser-known temples but should be on the Things to do in Chiang Mai list.
What is special about Wat Sri Suphan? Wat Sri Suphan is known as the ‘silver temple.’ On the temple grounds, there is a silver workshop.
Wat Chet Yot, the temple with seven spires
Wat Chet Yot is located northwest of the old city along with the Super Highway Chiang Mai – Lampang (Highway 11), north of the intersection of Huay Kaew and Nimmanhaemin roads. King Tilokarat sent monks to Bagan in Burma to study the Mahabodhi temple’s design, which is a copy of the Mahabodhi Temple of Bodh Gaya. This is the location in North India where Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, attained enlightenment.
What is special about Wat Chet Yot? The central sanctuary design with the seven spires, based on the Mahabodhi Temple in India, is unique.
Wat Phuak Hong with its Mon-style chedi
Wat Phuak Hong means “The Monastery of the Flight of Swans”. The temple is located in the southwest corner of the old city, not far from Jaeng Ku Ruang bastion of the old city walls and the Buak Had Park. It is a remarkable temple because of the shape of its chedi. This chedi is designed as a series of circular layers piled atop one another. Each layer contains niches in which are enshrined images of the Buddha, 52 in total. Wat Phuak Hong is overlooked by most tourists but has a special place in our hearts as one thing to do in Chiang Mai.
What is special about Wat Phuak Hong? The chedi with the Buddha images is similar to Wat Chedi Liam in Wiang Kum and Wat Kukut (Wat Chamathewi) in Lamphun.
Wat Phuak Hong, 78/4 Samlarn Rd, Tambon Phra Sing, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200
Wat Muen San, the other silver temple
Wat Muen San is a temple located in the Wualai area, south of the Old City. Wualai Road (or Wua Lai Village) is known for its skilled silversmiths. The temple is close to Wat Sri Suphan, also known as the “Silver Temple”. Wat Muen San is the lesser-known silver temple. It is less spectacular than Wat Sri Suphan but interesting in its own right and worth a visit. Wat Muen San aka Wat Mun San is also covered with ornate silver alloy relief work depicting religious figures, floral patterns, and scenes from Buddha’s life. During World War Two, the compound of the temple was used as a Japanese field hospital. There are a Japanese Memorial and a small museum about the Japanese presence and the Wua Lai area. Read more in this extensive article about this temple.
What is special about Wat Muen San? It is the second ‘minor’ silver temple. The small museum is worth visiting for those interested in World War Two.
Wat Mahawan with its Burmese style chedi
Wat Mahawan is located just outside the Old City on Thapae Road. It is an attractive temple with both Lanna and Burmese-style buildings and many sculptures of mythical creatures. Wat Mahawan comprises a Lanna-style viharn and ubosot, a large Burmese-style chedi, a Ho Trai (library), and a large Burmese-style brick viharn. The main viharn with its imposing multi-tiered roof was built in 1865.
What is special about Wat Mahawan? The Burmese-style chedi is very beautiful.
The wooden temple: Wat Phan Tao
Wat Phan Tao is one of our favorite temples in Chiang Mai. It is one of the few remaining all teak wooden structures of its sort in the city. The oldest structures that were built at this location probably date back to the 14th century. The teak wooden viharn was constructed in the late 1870s from the wood from a dismantled throne hall of one of the rulers of Chiang Mai. Wat Phantao is a great place to visit during the Songkran and Loy Krathong festivals.
What is special about Wat Phan Tao? The teak wooden viharn is unique.
Wat Phuak Taem, the craft temple
Wat Phuak Taem dates back to the 15th century. King Tilokkarat was the ruler of Chiang Mai in that period. According to my information, the buildings are more than 100 years old. The word “Phuak” means heads of villages. “Team” might be the name of someone who was involved in the establishment of the temple.
What is special about Wat Phuak Taem? On the temple grounds, there is a small museum about “khua tong”, which are temple ornaments. There is also a workshop where they produce “khua tong”.
Wat Lok Molee with its brick chedi
Wat Lok Molee, aka Wat Lok Moli, is located outside the old city. This temple dates back to at least the 14th century when it first appeared in the chronicles. King Kuena, The sixth king of the Mangrai dynasty, invited monks from Burma to spread their teachings of Theravada Buddhism.
The chedi of Wat Lok Molee is brick which is unusual and merits inclusion in this selection. People believe that the ashes of several members of the Mengrai dynasty are interred at this temple.
What is special about Wat Lok Molee? The beautiful brick chedi of the temple.
Wat Ku Tao, the Shan temple
Wat Ku Tao is one of the Shan temples of Chiang Mai. Besides that, the chedi is known as the “watermelon stupa”. It is the only one of that particular design in Chiang Mai. In the past, the temple was known as Wat Weruwanaramwiharn.
Ku Tao’s name comes from the northern Thai word ‘Ku’, which means a place that contains ash and bones after cremation. ‘Tao’ means melon or ash. Wat Ku Tao is the temple where the largest Poy Sang Long ceremony in Chiang Mai takes place.
What is special about Wat Ku Tao? The watermelon stupa is unique in Chiang Mai. Besides that, Wat Ku Tao is the religious center of the Shan community in Chiang Mai.
Wat Chiang Yuen with its Buddha statue
Wat Chiang Yuen, aka Wat Chiang Yeun, is located just outside the old city. It is not known when this temple was constructed. It first appears in the chronicles in the 16th century when the ashes of two Kings of Chiang Mai were interred at Wat Chiang Yuen. During the Burmese occupation, people abandoned the temple. After he pushed the Burmese out, King Kawila initiated the reconstruction of Wat Chiang Yuen. The impressive sitting Buddha statue and architecture make this temple special.
What is special about Wat Chiang Yuen? The sitting Buddha statue is magnificent.
Wat Sai Moon Myanmar, the Burmese temple
Wat Sai Moon Myanmar is a Burmese temple close to the Katam corner of the moat. This temple is very different from most temples in Chiang Mai, so I included it in this list. There are quite a few temples that show Burmese influences, but Wat Sai Moon Myanmar is the temple of the Burmese community. In 2017 an ubosot was added, and another building also looks very new. This temple is almost next to a Thai temple called Wat Soi Moon Muang.
What is special about Wat Sai Moon Myanmar? This very active temple is the religious center of the Burmese/Myanmar community in Chiang Mai. The architecture is unique and different from other temples.
Wat Prasat in the shadow of Wat Phra Singh
Wat Prasat is located in the shadow of Wat Phra Singh. Most visitors of Chiang Mai visit Wat Phra Singh but overlook Wat Prasat. The temple dates back to the 16th century, but apart from that, not much is known about this temple. What is special about Wat Prasat? A tunnel connects the viharn with the chedi, which contains the principal Buddha image. This temple has two chedis, and the viharn has a very sober, typical Lanna-style design. The viharn seems to be between 200 and 300 years old.
What is special about Wat Prasat? The sober design of the viharn and the tunnel connecting the viharn and the chedi.
Wat Phra That Doi Kham with its standing Buddha
Wat Phra That Doi Kham is not one of the most visited temples of Chiang Mai by tourists but is very popular with local visitors. It is located on a hill overlooking Chiang Mai. At the base of the hill is the shrine for grandmother Ya Sae and grandfather Pu Sae, the guardian spirits of Chiang Mai.
From there, you can drive up to the temple, but I always prefer to walk up. Walking the Naga staircase to Wat Phra That Doi Kham is a great experience. The first part takes you through the forest until you reach the base of the Naga staircase. The temple is fascinating, with a 17 meter high sitting Buddha statue and a standing Buddha statue.
What is special about Wat Phra That Doi Kham? Its location and the view over Chiang Mai. Besides that, the temple has amazing Buddha images. The hike to the temple is also very worthwhile.
Wat Umong, the forest temple
Wat Umong is a unique temple at the base of Doi Suthep mountain. King Mangrai, the founder of Chiang Mai, constructed the temple in 1297. Wat Umong has an exceptional atmosphere due to its location in a forest. “Umong” is the Thai word for a tunnel, hence the name of the temple. The temple has several tunnels under a hill on which there is an ancient chedi.
What is special about Wat Umong? The forest location of Wat Umong is unique as well as the tunnel system.
Wat Ket Karaam with its museum
I included Wat Ket Karaam because it is the most important temple in the historic Wat Ket area. It also houses the quaint Wat Ket Karaam Community Museum. Jack Bain, the son of William Bain, last manager of the Borneo Company, founded this museum. The museum exhibits various artifacts such as textiles of the Princess Consort Dara Rasmi and historical Chiang Mai photos from Boonserm Satrabhaya. Entrance to the museum is free, but I recommend leaving a donation.
What is special about Wat Ket Karaam? The Wat Ket Museum and the unique design of the chedi.
Wat Pha Lat, the forest temple
Wat Pha Lat aka Wat Palad is a temple on Doi Suthep. This temple has seemingly been neglected for centuries but now receives many visitors, both tourists, and locals. Not much is known about its history. Much of its recent popularity comes from the growing popularity of a hiking trail through the forest, known as the ‘Monk’s Trail’. Supposedly this was the trail monks used to walk to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep before the construction of the road in 1935. The first part of this trail ends at Wat Pha Lat. The temple is also known as Chiang Mai’s jungle temple.
What is special about Wat Pha Lat? The ‘Monk’s Trail’ is very nice and easy. Wat Phalat has a building with very old Buddha images and some nice views. The location is great.
Wat Chedi Liam with its beautiful Mon-style chedi
Wat Chedi Liam, aka Wat Chedi Liem, is located at Wiang Kum Kam, the first settlement founded by King Mangrai in 1282. The temple dates back to 1288. The stepped, pyramid-shaped chedi with the Buddha images is similar to the chedis of Wat Kukut (Wat Chamathewi) in Lamphun and Wat Puak Hong in Chiang Mai. A wealthy Burmese businessman financed the reconstruction of the temple about 100 years ago.
What is special about Wat Chedi Liam? The shape of the chedi is spectacular and unique.
Wat Nong Kham, the Pa’O temple
Wat Nong Kham is a temple on Chiang Moi street in Chiang Mai. The temple dates back to the 16th century. Pa’O merchants founded this temple. According to a plaque at the temple, they sold seven elephants to fund the temple’s foundation. The design of the viharn clearly shows Burmese influences.
What is special about Wat Nong Kham? Wat Nong Kham is the only Pa’O temple in Chiang Mai. It is the social and religious center of the Pa’O people.
Wat Chang Kham in Wiang Kum Kam
Wat Chang Kham was formerly known as Wat Kan Thom. According to information, ‘Kan Thom’ referred to the chief artisan in charge of constructing the temple. King Mangrai founded this temple in 1290. The Fine Arts Department has reconstructed the temple and excavated ruins in 1984. Wat Chang Kham is only one of two active temples in the ruined city of Wiang Kum Kam.
What is special about Wat Chang Kham: the shrine of King Mangrai, the fundaments of an original temple, and the beautiful chedi.
Wat Nantaram, the old centre of the lacquerware craft industry
Wat Nantaram dates back to the 14th century. After Shan lacquerware artisans from the Kengtung area in Myanmar settled in this neighbourhood about 200 years ago, the temple became the centre of the lacquerware craft industry. Wat Nantaram has a small lacquerware museum and has several nice viharns. It is still the centre of a vibrant community.
What is special about Wat Nantaram? This temple is the old center of the lacquerware handicrafts in Chiang Mai.
Wat Phra Chao Mengrai, the Third Royal Temple
Wat Phra Chao Mengrai is a significant temple off the beaten track. It is one of the oldest temples in the old city of Chiang Mai, located on a quiet back street. The temple has an important Buddha image and a museum with wonderful wall paintings depicting the life of the great King Mengrai. There is much more though to see at this well-maintained temple compound.
What is special about Wat Phra Chao Mengrai? The historical value as well as the museum with the amazing wall paintings.
The Ruined Temples of Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is dotted with ruined temples
Wiang Kum Kam is the most well known complex of ruined temples in Chiang Mai. Much less visited is the smaller complex of Wiang Tha Kan near San Patong. Apart from that there are numerous ruined stupas and ruins of temples, scattered all over the city, in people’s back yards, in rice fields and so on.
Wiang Kum Kam, the “Atlantis” of Chiang Mai
According to the Chiang Mai Chronicle King Mangrai, the founder of Chiang Mai, established a settlement on the Ping River in the 1286. This settlement, named Wiang Kum Kam (เวียงกุมกาม), predates Chiang Mai by fourteen years. Unfortunately flooding became a big problem at Wiang Kum Kam after which Mangrai decided to move his capital to the new city: Chiang Mai. The Fine Arts Department started excavating and restoring the ruins in the 1980s.
Wiang Tha Kan, the forgotten ruins
Whereas authorities have invested a lot of money in the development of Wiang Kum Kam as a tourist destination, no money was spent on the smaller complex of Wiang Tha Kan. These ruins are located in and around the village Tha Kan, between the Ping River and Sanpatong. If you are into archaeology Wiang Tha Kan is very much worth visiting.