Chiang Mai's Top Wats

18 September 2012

The ancient city of Chiang Mai, Thailand's "Rose of the North", nestled in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, has a history steeped in Burmese, Sri Lankan and Lanna Thai cultures. Chiang Mai offers visitors more than 30 sacred temples dating back to 1296 AD. The most well known temple is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, located 13 km from Chiang Mai but there are many more to explore.

Here are our top five Chiang Mai Wats.

 Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of Chiang Mai's most revered temples. As such, this Theravada Buddhist temple, located near the summit of Doi Suthep moutain, just 15 km from Chiang Mai city, is a popular pilgrimage for many Thais. A short cable car ride or a steep climb up the 300 steps of the Naga (serpent) Staircase will reward you with magnificent views of Chiang Mai and unique Lanna style pavilions, golden chedis (pagodas) and sacred shrines.

Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang (Royal Chedi), constructed in 1391 AD by King Saen Muang Ma to house his father's ashes, once enshrined the Emerald Buddha, a Thai relic of immense cultural significance, which now resides in Wat Phra Kaew in the grounds of the Royal Palace in Bangkok. Located beside the former royal palace, Wat Chedi Luang is a semblance of what it once was, due to damage from invasions and earthquakes. Even so, Wat Chedi Luang stands at 60m and having been partially restored, remains a favourite temple amongst tourists and a popular place of worship for Buddhist monks.

Wat Sri Suphan
Situated on Wua Lai Road in the centre of the silver-making district is the spectacular silver-plated and painted Wat Sri Suphan. Like many Thai temples, the ubosot (Ordination Hall) forbids women to enter it but there is more to see and do at Wat Sri Suphan, including meditation, Monk Chats and watching the skilled local artisans at work on ornate decorative silverware items.

Wat Phra Singh
Wat Phra Singh, constructed in the fourteenth century to house the ashes of King Ku Fam, is located on Ratchadamnoen Road in the heart of Chiang Mai and boasts beautiful Thai Lanna art. Buddhist scriptures are stored in the library hall, which is decorated with carvings, gilded lacquer and glass mosaic. The real beauty of Wat Phra Singh is discovered in its gardens, underneath the trees, from which are hung fortune cookie style sayings. The school on site caters for dedicated teen and pre-teen novice monks.

Wat Jed Yod
Located on the Superhighway, the "Temple of the Seven Spires", Wat Jed Yod, features Indian, Burmese and Chinese architectural influences. Constructed in 1455 AD by Lanna king, Tilokkarat, Wat Jed Yod is known for its seven chedis (spires) for which it is named. The spires represent the seven weeks spent by Buddha in meditation in India. Seventy celestial images – the extraordinary proportions – can be seen at the base of the chedi.

Xanthe Coward

Xanthe's favourite travel destinations are the Greek Islands, Indonesia, Fiji and Vanuatu. With a background in performing arts, fine food, wine and good times, Xanthe enjoys travel that brings her close to the locals and their leisure activities. Being a theatre reviewer means that Xanthe will always do dinner and a show before checking out the late night city scene and still be up early to find the markets and a decent pot of chai.