There are more than 300 temples in Chiang Mai and its outskirts, with a dozen stand-outs of historical or architectural significance within walking distance of each other. Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai exhibit a mixture of Lanna Thai, Burmese, Sri Lankan and Mon architectural styles that reflect the varied heritage of Northern Thailand.
Though certain temples on the conventional tourist circuit can be overrun with loud groups it is not hard to find many less well-known, but no less interesting, temples quietly and gently crumbling in the absence of tourist hordes. Whichever you visit, keep in mind that the temples are sacred religious places of deep cultural significance for the locals. Show respect by wearing appropriate attire (long pants for men, modest tops and skirts for women, no bare shoulders or plunging necklines and women must wear a bra). You must take off your shoes before entering the temple or other buildings, but they may be worn in the courtyard. Taking photographs of Buddha images is no problem, but it is polite to ask before taking pictures of monks or locals. All temples are free.
Below is a list of Temples in Chiang Mai (within the walled city).
Wat Phra Singh, Corner of Singharaj Rd and Rajdamnern Rd. Probably Chiang Mai’s best-known temple, housing the Phra Singh image, completed between 1385 and 1400. Of most historical interest is the Wihan Lai Kham in the back, featuring Lanna-style temple murals and intricate gold patterns on red lacquer behind the altar. The large chedi was built in 1345 by King Pha Yu to house the remains of his father King Kam Fu. A typical scripture repository is located at this temple as well. These repositories were designed to keep and protect the delicate sa or mulberry paper sheets used by monks and scribes to keep records and write down folklore. The high stucco-covered stone base of the repository protected the delicate scriptures from the rain, floods and pests. The walls of the chapel are covered with murals illustrating Lanna customs, dress, and scenes from daily life. The lovely Lai Kam chapel houses the revered Phra Singh Buddha image. Sadly, the head was stolen in 1922, and a reproduction is now seen. To enter the temple is free for Thais, and 20 baht for foreigners. The ticket is in a leaflet form containing useful information and map of Wat Phra Singh complex.
Wat Chiang Man, Rajpakinai Rd. The oldest royal temple in the city. Presumed to date from the year Chiang Mai was founded (1296), it is famed for two Buddha images, which according to legend are 1,800 and 2,500 years old. King Mengrai allegedly lived here while the city of Chiang Mai was being constructed. Enshrined in Wat Chiang Man is a tiny crystal Buddha called Pra Seh-Taang Kamaneeee, which is thought to have the power to bring rain. Another image, called Phra Sila Khoa, reflects the fine workmanship of Indian craftsmen from thousands of years ago.
Wat Chedi Luang, Prapokklao Rd. Almost in the centre of Chiang Mai are the remains of a massive chedi that toppled in in the great earthquake of 1545. The temple was originally constructed in 1401 on the orders of King Saeng Muang Ma. In 1454, reigning King Tilo-Garaj enlarged the chedi (pronounced jedee) to a height of 86 m. After the earthquake, the chedi lay in ruins until 1991-92, when it was reconstructed at a cost of several million baht. A magnificent testament to Lanna (northern Thai) architecture and art, restored sections hint at its former glory. Wat Chedi Luang is also home to the “Pillar of the City”, a totem used in ancient Thai fertility rites.
Wat Phrachao Mengrai, Ratchamanka 6, Phra Sing (near Heuan Phen Restaurant), +66 53 278 788 . An atmospheric temple with two Wihan buildings, off the beaten track, quiet and gently crumbling. One of the Wihan buildings houses an important Buddha image: Phra Buddha Rupa Phra Chao Mengrai.
Wat Jet Yod (วัดเจ็ดยอด. Sometimes called Wat Chet Yot), Superhighway (about 1 km north of the Huay Kaew Rd/superhighway intersection). The history and unusual architecture scattered under the yawning canopy of ancient trees is an pleasant antidote to the flash and bustle encountered at popular temples. Established in 1455 to host the eighth World Buddhist Council, many features of the grounds imitate significant places of the Buddha’s enlightenment. Originally called Botharam Maha Vihata in honour of the venerated Bodhi tree, it came to be known as Wat Jet Yod by locals, after the seven spires (Jet Yod) protruding from the roof of the Vihara. The square-sided design of the Virhra is a replica of Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, India, though the translation has distorted proportions somewhat. Remnants of the graceful stucco relief murals that adorned the walls depict angels with a distinctly Indian flavour. The grounds also hold some more recently built, but abandoned looking, eroded chedis and buckling bases of vanished halls, overshadowed by a fully intact, though more diminutive, replica of ‘Chedi Luang that was built around 1487 to house the ashes of King Tilokarat.
Wat Suan Dok (Suthep Rd). A large open-sided hall with a jumble of roughly hewn Buddhas with a huge dazzlingly whitewashed chedi behind.
Wat Umong, off Suthep Rd (at the end of a long narrow road, off Suthep Rd. Turn at the Italian restaurant.). >An ancient temple in the forest just outside Chiang Mai. King Mengrai built this temple for a highly respected forest monk who liked to wander in the countryside, hence the isolated location where the monk could stay quietly and meditate. It is unusual in that it has tunnel-like chambers in the ground, some of the walls of which still have the original paintings of birds and animals visible. The large stupa is magnificent, and there is an eerie statue of a fasting, emaciated Buddha next to it. You can also take a break by the ponds, where you can feed the fish and turtles. free.
Sacred Heart Cathedral, 225 Charoenprathet Road Tambon Chang Khlan, Amphoe Muang (3 min. south of the Old Steel Bridge on the city wall side of the river), 0-5327-1859 (fax: 0-5321-1876). Daily Roman Catholic Mass Monday to Saturday in Thai: 7 PM. Sunday Mass in Thai: 6:30 AM, 8:30 AM, 6:00 PM. Sunday Mass in English: 11 AM. free.