There are about 300 temples in and around Chiang Mai. In this post we highlight three of the most famous ones; two in the old city and one on the mountain overlooking Chiang Mai.
The Wat Chedi Luang Complex
In Thailand "wat" is the word for a Buddhist temple. There may be buildings surrounding the wat such as the viharn, or assembly hall, where prayer and other ceremonies take place with both monks and lay people. Most are very ornate and filled with gold leaf images of the Buddha. The chedi (pagoda, also called stupa) normally contains relics. The wat in the photo below was damaged in an earthquake in the 16th century and has only been partially restored.
The water serpent up close.
This is the beautiful interior of the Viharn Luang, the assembly hall.
The elephant is Thailand's national symbol, signifying strength and longevity.
We loved watching the novices.
Wat Phra Singh (Temple of the Lion Buddha)
Also located within the walls of the old city, Wat Phra Singh is considered the second most venerated temple in Chiang Mai. The small building to the left behind the golden stupa is the bot, the building in which monks are ordained.
So much gold!
There are lovely murals on the walls.
The wax monk figurines are so life-like!
Wat PhraThat Doi Suthep
Named after the mountain Doi Suthep on which it's located about 2,500 feet above Chiang Mai, it's considered one of the holiest temples in northern Thailand and it's the most famous wat in Chiang Mai. The legend is that a white elephant carried a bone from Buddha's shoulder up the mountain and died peacefully at what became the site of the temple. The relic is enshrined in the beautiful golden stupa.
We hired a driver through the travel desk at our hotel. It's a 45-minute drive out of the city. Once you get through the Chiang Mai traffic the drive up the mountain is pleasant. We saw a number of people walking up on the road as well as some bikers. Once you arrive at the temple site, you can walk up the 309 steps to the complex or, as we did, take the cable car.
These are the steps from above. Notice the serpent railing. We chose the cable car for the trip down, too.
The faithful file past the stupa with flowers.
A statue of the legendary elephant who carried the relic up the mountain.
This monk was blessing the crowd.
Another view of the beautiful stupa.
When you arrive at the top of the mountain, at the foot of the wat, there are lots of souvenir and food stalls.
➜ Top Tips
Temples require that knees and shoulders be covered.
Hire a guide at the temples in the old city or read about them before you visit in order to enhance your experience.
We visited the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep at midday and it was teeming with people. We'd advise visiting it early in the day to avoid the crush of people.
Wat Chedi Luang Complex - 8:00 am - 5:00 pm
Wat Phra Singh - 6:00 am - 5:00 pm
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep - 5:00 am - 9:00 pm