Wats of Chiang Mai


 Wat Chedi Luang

J&C Doi SuthepWat Chedi Luang was constructed in 1391 to hold the ashes of King Saen Muang Ma’s father. It reached its final form in 1475, after further expansion by later kings.

At one time, Wat Chedi Luang was home to the Emerald Buddha, the holiest religious object in Thailand (now enshrined in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok). To commemorate the chedi’s 600th anniversary, a replica was placed in one of the niches of the chedi, but the  stairs leading to the replica are closed.

In 1545, a major earthquake toppled part of the great spire. The temple was never rebuilt, but even after the earthquake damage, it remained the tallest structure in Chiang Mai until modern times.



Wat Phra Singh

Also known as the the Lion Buddha Temple, Wat Phra Singh dates back to the 14th century when Chiang Mai was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom. Like Wat Chedi Luang, the oldest structure of this wat was also built to enshrine the ashes of the current king’s father.

The main temple in the wat is impressive inside and out. The back wall displays a highly revered seated Buddha image of gold and copper, while the other three walls are covered with beautiful murals depicting the local way of life and popular folk tales. Another structure contains a copy of the Emerald Buddha. The chedi features an elephant emerging from either side, while the smaller chedi connects to one of the main temples via a tunnel, but is closed off to visitors.

Wat Phra Singh is still one of the most important wats in Chiang Mai and houses 700 monks.



Wat Sri Suphan

Truly an example of the beauty, magnificence and glory of the temples in Chiang Mai, Wat Siri Suphum, also known as the Silver Temple, is one of Thailand’s few silver temples, and is located in the silver village of Chiang Mai. The original temple was destroyed and although little remains of the original temple, the silver ubosot (ordination hall) was later reconstructed mainly with aluminum. Befitting of a temple in the silver village, restorations are ongoing, with the exterior being adorned in locally crafted hammered silver panels.

Because the ubosot is an active ordination hall, women are not permitted inside, but are allowed around the building and inside the main prayer hall located next door. The amount of detail on the exterior panels is phenomenal with panels depicting scenes of elephants roaming the jungle and important moments from Buddha’s life.

While the main temple within this wat is the only silver structure, the intricate work on the others is also a marvel with beautiful colors and small glass mosaics adding a bit of sparkle.



Wat Doi Suthep

Up a windy and scenic road, very much like the Blue Ridge Parkway (except for the banana trees), lies a charming little village and Wat Doi Suthep (Doy-Sue-Tay).

Vendors and merchants line the street. Three hundred and six steps lead to the temple, with more cart-attended vendors and booths near the entrance to the temple

The colorful architecture, beautiful murals, and many Buddha statues were splendid, but the lovely old garden and spectacular view of Chiang Mai enhanced the personality of this old wat.

The history is as intriguing as the magnificence of the architecture.

In the 1300s a monk found a relic believed to be part of Buddha’s shoulder bone. He believed this unique relic possessed special powers. With the relic hidden safely, Chiang Mai’s King Ku Na built Wat Suan Dok, the name meaning Flower Garden, to house the relic. While moving it into Wat Suan Dok it miraculously divided itself into two pieces, with each piece growing back to its original size.

King Ku Na declared that a new temple be built to honor the miracle of the relic’s second half but he wanted divine guidance on its location. The King placed the second half of the relic onto one of his white elephants and sent it off into the jungle. The elephant climbed to a peak on Doi Suthep Mountain, then lay down refusing to go any farther. This was the sign the King needed and Doi Suthep Temple was built in 1383.




Amidst the natural beauty and lushly forested setting at the foothills of Mount Suthep, we found Wat Umong especially peaceful and magically fresh after a light rain shower. One of the oldest monasteries in the Chiang Mai area, it is thought to date as far back as the 1300s.

Particularly unique are the temple’s tunnels, which give the wat its name (umong is the Thai word for “tunnel.”) The temple and its tunnels were built on a large artificial mound in the 14th century. Legend has it that the temple with its brick-lined tunnels was designed and built for a highly regarded eccentric and clairvoyant monk. The maze-like tunnels kept the mad monk from wandering off. Paintings dated to about 1380 once decorated the walls.

The air in the tunnels leading to the small shrines smelled of spicy incense and humbling earth. Drawings of patterns and elephants on the ceiling might have been beautiful ancient frescoes in the halls roamed by the monks.

The monastery was abandoned at some point and not used again until the 1940s, explaining its natural forest-like setting. Brick walls are covered with moss and plant life. Other stone works are covered in moss and vines.

Atop one end of the mound is the temple’s chedi, reached by a short stairway to the left of the tunnel entrances. The main bell section of the pagoda is mostly covered in thick vines, giving it an appearance of decay.




Built in the 15th century, the elegant architecture of Wat Jed Yod is modeled after the temple in India where Buddha found enlightenment. The seven spires represent the seven weeks he subsequently spent in meditation there.

The temple was built during the reign of King Tilokkarat, King of the Lanna Kingdom from 1441 until 1487. The King’s ashes are presumably enshrined in one of the chedis on the temple grounds.

The highlight of Wat Jed Yod is the chedi with the seven spires. Of particular interest is the rectangular base of the chedi, sculpted with 70 weathered and highly detailed Thewada (celestial) figures, considered masterpieces of Lanna art. Depicting various gestures, the figures are seated on one side, while those on the opposite side are standing. While some of the figures are still in very good condition, others are damaged or missing entirely.

We looked for an empty platform with an entrance to a cave near the main chedi, but found no sign of a cave entrance. We had read that such a cave existed, usually the entrance guarded by a monk. The secretive nature or purpose of any such cave is anyone’s guess.

While Wat Jed Yod is an active temple, with monks living and studying on the premises, it is not highly visited.