Visiting the temples is one of the favourite activities of travelers to Chiang Mai. These temples have centuries of history, and they also become a bustle of activity during Buddhist festivals. As both the old and new town are pretty small and compact, exploring within the city is best done on a bicycle. The traffic here is also slow and drivers know to look out for cyclists and pedestrians.
Wat Phra Sing
This lovely temple Wat Phra Sing should be on your itinerary if you just want to see only one temple in Chiang Mai. Located on Sam Lan Road in the west side of the old town, it dates from 1345 and enshrines the revered Phra Phutthasihing Buddha image, a focal point for the Songkran Thai New Year festivities on April 13-15. The temple compound includes the Lai Kham chapel featuring exquisite woodcarvings and northern-style murals; a magnificent scriptural repository with striking bas-reliefs, and a bell-shaped stupa.
Wat Suan Dok
Located on Suthep Road, this temple was built in a 14th-century Lanna king’s pleasure garden and is most notable for its several white Chedi, which contain the ashes of members of Chiang Mai’s former Royal Family. Enshrined in a secondary chapel is a 500-year-old bronze Buddha, one of Thailand’s largest metal images.
Wat Chiang Man
This is Chiang Mai’s oldest temple, believed to date from 1296, when King Mengrai allegedly lived here while the new city of Chiang Mai was under construction. It is situated within the old town on Ratchaphakhinai Road. The temple is noteworthy for its fine Chedi supported by rows of elephant buttresses and a beautiful chapel, while enshrined within are the ancient Buddha images of Phra Kaeo Khao, a tiny crystal statue thought to have the power to bring rain, and Phra Sila Khao.
Wat Chedi Luang
Here, on Phrapokklao Road, is the largest Chedi in Chiang Mai measuring 98 m. tall and 54 m. wide. It was originally completed in 1481 but partially collapsed due to an earthquake in 1545. Among other features is a magnificent Naga staircase adorning the chapel’s front porch. Wat Chedi Luang is also notable as one of the temporary abodes of the Emerald Buddha, now enshrined at Wat Phra Kaeo in Bangkok.
Wat Ku Tao
Located near the Chiang Mai Stadium, Wat Ku Tao is remarkable for its unusual bulbous Chedi, shaped like a watermelon and thus prompting its Thai name. The structure is decorated with coloured porcelain chips and is believed to represent five monks’ alms bowls.
Wat Chet Yot
Away from the town centre on the Super Highway, north of the Huai Kaeo Nimmanhemin intersection, the temple is characterised by its square Chedi with seven spires. The design was inspired by the temple at Bodhgaya, in India, the site of the Lord Buddha’s Enlightenment.
Located on Suthep Road, this delightful meditation temple, founded in the reign of King Mengrai, is very different from Chiang Mai’s other major temples and enjoys an almost bucolic setting. Its principal architectural feature is a large ancient Chedi.
Wat Saen Fang
This old temple on Tha Phae Road is interesting for its Burmese-style architecture.
Wiang Kum Kam
Southeast of Chiang Mai between KM 3-4 on the Chiang Mai-Lamphun road, the site is an ancient city built by King Mengrai prior to the founding of Chiang Mai. Uncovered by archaeologists are the ruined remains of some 20 ancient temples and other buildings.
Chiang Mai National Museum
Standing next to Wat Chet Yot and in modern Lanna style, the museum houses an interesting collection of northern arts and crafts. Open Wednesday to Sunday from 9.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m except on Songkran and New Year. Tel. 0 5322 1308
Insect and Natural Wonders Museum
On display here is a fascinating collection of domestic and foreign insects, as well as animal fossils. The museum is located at 72 Nimmanhemin, Soi 12.
Tel. 0 5321 1891