An ancient temple located in Chiang Mai’s historic centre, Wat Chedi Luang (Temple of the Great Stupa) dates back to the 14th century. This place has a long and rich history of royalty, controversy and religion. These days, it remains an active place of worship frequented by monks and is also a popular destination for travellers.
Set inside the walled part of the old city, Wat Chedi Luang was founded by King Saen Muang Ma as a tomb to hold his father’s ashes; however, the building was abandoned 10 years after construction began. Over the following 80-odd years, various rulers pursued the project, continually building and extending it until it was finally completed in the mid-15th century. At that point, the chedi was by far the largest building in Chiang Mai, with a base measuring 54 metres in diameter and a height reaching 90 metres. In 1545, an earthquake caused the top 30 metres of the structure to collapse. It remained that way until the early 1990s, when UNESCO and the Japanese government partnered to finance a restoration project.
In 1995, a replica of the Emerald Buddha made from black jade was installed in the eastern niche of the chedi to commemorate its 600th anniversary. It replaced the original Emerald Buddha (the most revered religious object in Thailand), which resided there for almost a century before it was relocated to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, where it remains today.
During your visit, look for the original elements of the structure – statues of elephants, images of the Buddha and stone nagas (mythical snakes) exist today in both authentic and restored form. Be sure to take note of the huge tree that sits to the left of the temple’s entrance; it’s revered as one of three trees that protect the city. Legend has it that if the tree falls, a great catastrophe will occur. Step inside the main prayer hall to discover a magnificent foyer flanked by grand white columns that lead up to an altar that a standing gold Buddha presides over. Admission is free, and the temple grounds are open daily from 6am until 6pm.