When your travels bring you to the Old City of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, you have to find your way to visit the Buddhist temple of Wat Chiang Man (sometimes referred to as Wat Chiang Mun) located in the northeast quadrant of the Old City.
Wat Chiang Man was built in 1296 – 1297 A.D. (a couple of hundred years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue to discover America). King Phya Mangrai the Great, the first King of the Mengrai Dynasty, used the fortified town of Wiang Nopburi as a camp during the construction of his new capital city of Chiang Mai. On this location, he built Wat Chiang Man, the first royal temple of Chiang Mai.
The Wat complex is home to a number of structures. They are numbered to correspond to the map of the grounds.
The first is the CHEDI CHIANG LOM, or elephant chedi, the oldest and most significant stupa within the temple grounds. 15 large elephant carvings form a ring around the chedi. The name chedi is an alternative term for the Buddhist Sanskrit word, stupa, which literally means “heap”, mainly used in Thailand. Typically, the structure contains Buddhist relics or the ash remains of Buddhist monks and is used as a place of meditation.
The next is the main VIHARA, a Sanskrit term to describe a Buddhist monastery. Vihara originally meant “a secluded place in which to walk”, and referred to dwellings or refuges used by wandering monks during the rainy season. In this structure is a standing Buddha with the year 1465 CE engraved on its base. This makes it the oldest statue of the Lanna Kingdom.
The MODERN VIHARA, next to the main vihara, is the smaller of the two. This vihara houses two very significant statues of Buddha.
The first is the Crystal Buddha or Phra Satangkhamani or Phra Kaew Khao, transferred to the city from the Hariphunchai Kingdom by King Phya Mungrai in 1296. The statue is thought to protect against disaster. It is believed to have been made in Lavo (Lopburi) about 1,800 years ago.
The second is the stone stele of a standing Buddha while taming the elephant “Nalakiri” carved by craftsmen of the Pala school. It is believed to have been made in India about 2,500 years ago.
Both have been in the temple since its founding in the 13th century A.D.
Unfortunately, both of these relics are enclosed within a barred chamber behind the vihara’s primary buddha statues and are very hard to see.
The UBOSOTH is the holiest prayer room, also called the Ordination Hall. The term ubosot, shortened to “bot” in Thai colloquial speech, is derived from the Pali term uposathagara, which refers to a hall used for rituals on the upostha days – the Buddhist Sabbath, which falls four times a month on the full moon, new moon, and the eighth day after each.
In front of the ubosoth is a stone inscription written in 1581 A.D. which records the history of both Wat Chiang Mun and the the founding of the city of Chiang Mai on April 12, 1296 CE at 4:00 a.m.
As for dress to enter a vihana, long pants for men, dresses covering the knees or long pants for women, and shirts that cover the shoulders for both genders. Shoes must be removed so wear sandals or flip-flops if possible.
Mark this Wat on your to do list as a “must-see” when visiting Chiang-Mai.