The Buddhist Temples of Chiang Mai
Table of Contents
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. If you have think a specific temple should be in this list, please inform us.
Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, the temple on the mountain
Wat Prathat Doi Suthep is the most famous temple of Chiang Mai. It is located on Doi Suthep, the mountain overlooking Chiang Mai. Rising 1676 metres above the city, Doi Suthep is one of the most revered religious destinations in Thailand. The temple dates back from 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 followers of 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 Doi Suthep 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 Phrathat 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.
Wat Chedi Luang, the big chedi
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 The current temple grounds were originally made up of three temples — Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Ho Tham and Wat Sukmin. The seventh monarch of the Mangrai Dynasty, King Saen Muang Ma, constructed the great pagoda of Chedi Luang in the centre 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 are gone 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 enormous size and the state of the chedi makes this temple unique.
Wat Chiang Man, the oldest temple
The founder of Chiang Mai, King Mangrai, founded Wat Chiang Man in 1296 at the location of 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 very old 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.
Wat Phra Singh
Wat Phra Singh dates back from 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 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 the ruler of Chiang Mai. 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 has mausoleums, in which the ashes of members of the royal family of Chiang Mai are interred.
Wat Srisuphan, the Silver Temple
Wat Srisuphan 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. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings the temple organizes a monk chat. 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 lesser-known temples but should be on Things to do in Chiang Mai list.
What is special about Wat Srisuphan? Wat Srisuphan is known as the ‘silver temple’. On the temple grounds there is a silver workshop.
Wat Jed Yot, the temple with seven spires
Wat Jed Yot is located northwest of the old City along 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 design of the Mahabodhi temple 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 Jed Yot? The design of the central sanctuary 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 of the things to do in Chiang Mai.
What is special about Wat Phuak Hong? The chedi with the Buddha images, which is similar to Wat Chedi Liam in Wiang Kum and Wat Kukut (Wat Chamathewi) in Lamphun.
Wat Muen San, the Japanese field hospital
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, which is 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 the life of Buddha. During World War Two the compound of the temple was used as a Japanese field hospital. There is a Japanese Memorial and a small museum about the Japanese presence and about the Wua Lai area.
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 of 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.
Wat Phan Tao, the wooden temple
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.
What is special about Wat Phuak Taem? On the temple grounds there is a small museum about temple ornaments. There is also a workshop where they produce umbrellas and roof ornaments for temples.
Wat Lok Molee
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 appeard 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 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.
The name, Ku Tao, comes from the northern Thai word ‘Ku’, which means a place that contains ash and bones after a 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
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 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 makes this temple special.
What is special about Wat Chiang Yuen? The sitting Buddha statue is very beautiful.
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 and that is why 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 a 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 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 Phrathat Doi Kham
Wat Phrathat Doi Kham is not one of the most visited temple 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. The walk up to Wat Phrathat Doi Kham is a very nice one. The first part is through the forest until you reach the base of the Naga staircase.The temple is very interesting with a 17 meter high sitting Buddha statue and a standing Buddha statue.
What is special about Wat Phrathat 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 a very special atmosphere due to its location in a forest. “Umong” is the Thai word for tunnel, hence the name of the temple. Wat Umong has a number of 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 a variety of artefacts 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 to leave a donation.
What is special about Wat Ket Karaam? The Wat Ket Museum and the unique design of the chedi.
Wat Phalat 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 Phalat. The temple is also known as Chiang Mai’s jungle temple.
What is special about Wat Phalat? 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 design of the chedis of Wat Kukut (Wat Chamathewi) in Lamphun and Wat Puak Hong in Chiang Mai. A wealthy Burmese business man 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
Wat Nong Kham is a temple on Chiang Moi street in Chiang Mai. The temple dates back from the 16th century. Pa’O merchants founded this temple. According to a plaque at the temple they sold seven elephant to fund the toundation of the temple. 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
Wat Chang Kham was formerly known as Wat Kan Thom. According to information ‘Kan Thom’ referred to the chief artisan in charge of the construction of 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.
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