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Chiang Mai Temples are a famous sight; there are a million and one temples in Chiang Mai, just as there are a million and one churches in Rome. A country that’s dedicated to Buddhism, it isn’t surprising for Chiang Mai to have a temple at every corner of the street. It’s definitely an exotic sight to those who aren’t used to seeing them, but it’s difficult to decide just which one is worth stopping by and paying your respect. It’s even harder trying to discern one from another when you are wandering the streets.
There are an endless number of temples to visit, the blog post (pre-April 2018) listed my top 5, which are now the top 5 famous temples, and I’ve added my top 5 beautiful temples as well as those from Chiang Rai that should not be missed!
Top 5 temples to visit
Wat Chedi Luang
Arguably the most famous temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Chedi Luang is less of a temple, but rather a complex of temples. While it is referred to as Wat Chedi Luang, the complex contains Wat Ho Tham and Wat Sukmin as well.
The first temple to greet you when you arrive at the complex is Wat Ho Tham, with its beautiful golden filigree work and the quaint blue tiled roundabout in front of it. There’s also a small silver temple nearby whose name I didn’t manage to find out.
The construction of Wat Chedi Luang began in 1391, but didn’t finish until mid-15th century due to the death of the King who commissioned it and instability.
At 82 meter high, it used to be the highest building during its time, but unfortunately, an earthquake had damaged it in the 16th century and now only reached up to 60m. Though it was restored by UNESCO in 1990, it is still in a ruin state that somehow added more to its charm. Some of the elephant statues lining around the chedi is missing.You can glimpse the replica of the Emerald Buddha – Phra Kaew through the paths guarded by the two mythical snakes called Nagas. The Emerald Buddha was held here briefly but now resides in Bangkok.
Address: 03 Road King Prajadhipok Phra Singh, Muang District, Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
Opening times: 6:00 – 18:00
Note: I visited again in 2018 and they are now charging 40 baht for adult and 20 baht for children admission
They are also enforcing the dress code strictly. If your outfit doesn’t cover your shoulder or knees, you can leave a deposit of 100 baht and rent a wrap
Wat Lam Chang
A quaint little temple whose name means shackled elephants – there are definitely more than the average numbers of elephant statues dotted around the temple, standing guard around the entrances. One of the more off the beaten path temples on my list, it has a charm and a more serene feel than the others, and I am particularly in love with this flowering tree in front of the side entrance, as well as this row of praying monks.
It is built on a site that used to keep the elephants that transported King Mengrai around during the building of Chiang Mai, I thought cannot find information on the age of the temple.
Address: Moon Mueang 7 Si Phum,50200, Thailand
No admission fee
Wat Phan Tao
Unique due to the fact that it’s a wooden temple, Wat Phan Tao was also built in the 14th century. It was formerly a production site for Buddhas for Wat Chedi Luang and where the monk stayed, hence its name meaning ‘temple of a thousand kilns’. Another fun fact is that the viharn, the wooden building you see in the photo, which means assembly hall used to be a royal residence until a new palace was built for them.
The viharn was built in the Lana style, and the entrance is decorated by gilded gold pieces above the door and windows.
They were preparing for the Songkran tradition of returning sand – to replace those that visitors take away every year.
Wat Sri Suphan
A little way south of the city walls, Wat Sri Suphan is along the way of the Saturday Night Market, so there’s no excuse not to visit. Though not as famous as the silver temple near Chiang Rai, this one is equally beautiful and intricately crafted. Built in the 14th century, it might not make entirely out of silver, but the ubosot (an ordination hall) is definitely worth visiting just to admire the details on each panel. Women are not allowed inside as the hall is active, however watching it at night definitely prove to be a treat as different coloured lights shine across it.
It is especially lively during Saturday night as visitors wandered from the market to here, where a small market is also up and plenty of people chilling around.
Address: 100 Wua Lai Road | Hai Ya Subdistrict, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand
Wat Chiang Man
At first glance, Wat Chiang Man is very similar to Wat Chedi Luang, and it’s the first temple built in Chiang Mai when it was a town of the Lawa people. Like Wat Chedi Luang, it consists of a complex of buildings and structures. Built during the last few years of the 13th century, it was the first royal temple built.
The viharn, the big temple that greeted you as you enter the complex has a beautiful royal blue and gilded gold façade. It has an outdoor balcony with beautiful burgundy wood and gold fence.
To its either side are two smaller temples, the one to the right is the modern viharn, while the one to the left is an ordination hall (so no women allowed). Directly behind the viharn is the chedi – guarded by the nagas and topped by a gold and silver spire.
Address: Ratchaphakhinai Road, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Top 5 beautiful temples in Chiang Mai
On my second visit to Chiang Mai, I had a month with Venture with Impact, which gave me more time to explore. While the above temples are all very beautiful, I’ve also found some that are simply a work of art itself and are perfect for taking photos!
Wat Rajamontean Red Temple
Right along the moat on the northern stretch, Wat Rajamontean is a small but gorgeous little temple. With staircase that leads straight up, it’s nicknamed Red Temple due to its vivid red colour scheme. It did feel like you have entered another world once you stepped onto the terrace on top, where a Buddha statue rests to the left of the temple and the tiles are an intricate red and white pattern.
Be sure to take off your shoes before you go up to the area where the Buddha is!
Address: Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
Wat Lok Moli
Across the street and moat from the Red Temple, Wat Lok Moli is Lola from Miss Filatelista’s favourite. With a charming arched entrance, the temple was built before the 14th century and was personally maintained by the Mingrai dynasty. The chedi at the back was built in the 15th century, and you can find the statues of the twelve animals of Chinese Astrology by the side of the vihran, along with an elephant statue!
Address: Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
I wandered into Wat Pansao on my walk along the west gate. It’s on the road outside the moat, with an ornate and intricate white entrance that took my breath away. It took some waiting and guts to cross the road, and inside the temple is a Lanna style, one-story structure. But the other highlight is the chedi towards the back.
With a paved path and serene ambiance, the temple looks stunning with the setting sun in the back with no one around. It doesn’t seem to be a popular temple, which means you don’t have to fight other tourists to take photos like in Wat Chedi Luang. I did some research and according to the local legends, there is a spirit residing inside the Chedi and if you catch it on a good day while looking in, it’ll grant you a wish!
Address: Su Thep, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200
Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang (Wat Hua Khuang)
A Burmese temple in the northern part of the old town, Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang is relatively large with two temples and a chedi at the back. It is guarded by two elephants and Naga at the front, consisting of wood and gold decorations. It is a relatively quiet temple set back from the main road, and I was one of the few tourists there! Wat Hua Khuang also has a chedi at the back, and the main vihran holds prayers at sundown.
Address: 175 Prapokkloa Rd, Tambon Si Phum, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50200
Bonus: temple run in Chiang Rai
The most beautiful temple in the region isn’t actually in Chiang Mai, but in Chiang Rai. A city about 3 hours north of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai was the old capital of Lanna Kingdom before they migrated to Chiang Mai (new city). The easiest way to see the beautiful temples of Chiang Rai is to join a day tour, which we did through Backstreet Academy, visiting the following:
The White Temple Wat Rong Khun
Perhaps one of the most iconic temples in the world, the White Temple is neither as large as it seems in photo nor is it that old. While the temple itself existed before, the beautiful white exterior is a work of local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. He restored the temple to reflect the Buddha’s purity and teaching, with a bridge leading from hell to heaven in exquisite details.
The temple is much smaller than expected, with the bridge leading to the small main hall before you exit the main area. However, the entire complex is not completed with more buildings still in development. Another interesting thing is the Golden Toilet – an ornate and bright building with the cleanest and prettiest toilets out of all the temples I’ve visited.
There are restaurants and cafe nearby the temple, too, as it is adjacent to the highway. We had lunch in a restaurant nearby with the tour before heading to the next destination.
Address: Pa O Don Chai, Amphoe Muang Chiang Rai
Opening times: 8:00 – 17:30
Admission fee: 50 Baht
The Blue Temple Wat Rong Suea Ten
A masterpiece by Chalermchai Kositpipat’s pupil, the Blue Temple looked like something out of Aladdin with the royal blue and gold combo. Still under construction, it is opened to the public in January 2016 when the main part is completed, on my visit, one of the guardians by the gate is still not painted over. The temple is absolutely stunning and intricate, and the interior is also in various hues of blue. The only drawback is that all the cars and vans are parked around the temple, which does mean your photos won’t be quite as scenic.
There are also paintings of tigers along the fence, that is because the Thai name for the temple means Dancing Tigers!
No Admission fee
Tips for visiting the temples:
Every country and culture there are different rules regarding what to do and how to act when you are in a religious place. And in Thailand, where Buddhism is the national religion, there are certain things that you must do when you enter a temple. While some of them might be obvious, I hope to list the points here so that you are well prepared for your visit!
Cover your shoulders, belly, and legs
While this isn’t enforced in all temples, it’s definitely a rule in all. This applies to entering the viharn, and even though you might want a beautiful photo, it’s only considerate if you adhere to the local rules. If you wish to enter the temple, then it’s best to cover out!
You will need to take off your shoes
There is no danger of your shoes being stolen, so if you are deciding on a temple day, then it might be easier for some of you to wear something that’s easy to take off. However, the floor of the viharns are often not very clean, therefore you might want to take some wipes to clean the soles of your feet.
While it is okay to take photos inside the temples, using flash might damage the delicate state of the artworks, not to mention rude. If you see someone praying, then you should avoid taking a photo and disturbing someone’s daily rituals.
Note: thanks Lola from Miss Filatelista for taking the photo of me at the Red Temple