Chiang Mai is pretty well known for it’s temples. There are over 300 Buddhist temples, or “wats” in Thai, in the historic city, and a lot of them have an interesting history. I still have not seen every single temple in Chiang Mai, but I do have my favorites, so here is my list of the 8 Chiang Mai temples you must see.
8 Chiang Mai Temples You Must See
Wat Pha Lat
Had I not met up with a group to hike Doi Suthep, I would have never had the pleasure of visiting Wat Pha Lat. The temples was originally built as a resting place for monks making their way up to the more popular Wat Doi Suthep. We also used it as our midway resting place.
The first time I laid eyes on Wat Pha Lat I felt like it was something out of a movie. Wat Pha Lat had been well kept, but the natural flora has been allowed to grow over giving the temple an overall mystic feel. A waterfall runs through the temple too making it that much more magical.
The air is crisp and clean. There are no crowds of tourists. No locals trying to sell you their wears. It’s just you, maybe a few other tourists, and about a half dozen monks taking a break from their daily walk to the top of the mountain.
Wat Pha Lat is by far my favorite Chiang Mai temple!
Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang comes in at a very close 2nd on my list of favorite Chiang Mai temples.
Like many of the temples in Chiang Mai, Chedi Luang has an interesting history. King Saen Muang Ma began building the grand chedi in the late 14th century to hold the ashes of his father. Sadly he didn’t get to see the final product since Wat Chedi Luang wasn’t finished until the mid 15th century.
During the 16th century, an earthquake shook Chiang Mai causing the top of the chedi to collapse. The Lonely Planet also said the collapse could have been from cannon fire during the recapture of Chiang Mai from the Burmese in the 1770s, but nobody is for sure.
Chedi Luang was also the home to one of the holiest religious objects, the emerald Buddha. It stayed at Chedi Luang for a number of years before the relic was moved to Luang Prabang, and then finally to Bangkok. Now there is a jade replica in Wat Chedi Luang to see when you visit.
Wat Hua Khuang
I haven’t been able to find much history on Wat Hua Khuang, also known as Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang. There are elements about the temple that might suggest it is one of Chiang Mai’s older temples, but the founding date is unknown.
Alan and I came across Wat Hua Khuang not knowing what was behind the old walls. We were blown away by the impressive structure. Everything is incredibly detailed!
The buildings are adorned with intricate wood carving and gold work. 2 of the most elaborate dragons I have ever seen guard the front entrance to the temple and large elephants stand off to the side.
There were barely any people at the temple while we were there, so we were able to take our time and really look at all the ornate detail. It really reminded me of the detailed ceiling of Patuaxi in Vientiane. The wood carvings are also a lot like the woodwork found in Luang Prabang.
Wat Chiang Man
Wat Chiang Man is Chiang Mai’s oldest temple dating back to the late 13th century. Chiang Man is also home to a few very important Buddhist images.
1 is the oldest dated Buddha image in Chiang Mai that was inscribed with the year 1465. The other 2 important images are the guardians of Chiang Mai, the crystal Buddha and the marble Buddha, both said to have been crafted over 1000 years ago.
Wat Chiang Man’s stupa is probably one of my favorite. It is not as grand as Chedi Luang, but I quite liked the gray stone and gold details, and of course the elephants. The entire bottom layer of the stupa is surrounded by large stone carved elephants.
Wat Duang Di
Compared to all the other Chiang Mai temples, Wat Duang Di might not be on your radar. It certainly wasn’t on mine. Alan and I were spending the day walking around the old city of Chiang Mai and wanted to get away from the crowd. We took a turn down a small side street and there was Wat Duang Di.
Inscriptions say that Wat Duang Di, or the Good Luck Temple, was founded in the late 16th century after the liberation from Burmese rule.
Alan and I were lucky enough to be the only people, minus the temple’s keeper, at Wat Duang Di, so we were able to really enjoy the calm atmosphere the temple exudes.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I personally enjoy less crowded places.
We also made friends with one of the many street dogs that called Duang Di its home. If we could have, I’m sure Alan would have taken her with us!
Wat Lam Chang
Wat Lam Chang is another lesser known Chiang Mai temple, but it should not be over looked. Lam Chang, meaning shackled elephants, was the area where the king kept his transporting elephants during the construction of Chiang Mai.
Later a temple was built on the property, and now there are multiple elephant statues guarding this quiet little wat, which is probably why Lam Chang made it to the top of my list.
Of course it makes me said to think about all the shackled elephants that were held captive on the property.
Wat Pan Tao
Wat Pan Tao is an elaborate temple that pays homage to the large teak trade. The front prayer hall is supported by large teak pillars and covered with carved teak panels. The darkness of the wood definitely make the giant gold Buddha statue pop.
I personally liked the grounds of Wat Pan Tao the best.
A pond has been built just behind the prayer hall next to the stupa with a raised bamboo walking path for all the visitors. In the very back, there’s a cluster of blossom trees. We happened to be visiting just as the blossoms were coming in bloom. I can only imagine what it must look like when they are full on. Fake blossom branches have been stuck into the real tree trunks to give the same effect when the trees are not in bloom.
Just across from the stupa sits a cross legged Buddha underneath a tree filled with colorful lanterns. One of my favorite pictures from Chiang Mai is of this Buddha reflecting in the pond.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
No trip to Chiang Mai is complete without a ride up the mountain to visit one of northern Thailand’s most sacred temples, Wat Doi Suthep. My roommate and I drove up to the temple my first trip to Chiang Mai, and I knew I had to take Alan up there as soon as he got to Thailand.
If you prefer a smaller crowd, I would suggest driving up later in the evening and catching the sunset from the top. Doi Suthep is very popular, so there will be a crowd all day.
It’s worth it though. The drive up to the temple is gorgeous with places to stop off and hike up to waterfalls, the temple itself is breathtaking all covered in gold, and the legend behind it is incredibly interesting!
Wat Doi Suthep was built in the late 14th century to enshrine a piece of Buddha’s shoulder bone. The relic broke into 2 pieces before making its way up the mountain. 1 piece resides in Wat Suan Dok. The other piece was strapped to a sacred white elephant in the hopes that the sacred animal would find the right spot for the other piece of bone.
The elephant was left to wander the jungle until it died. That spot where the sacred elephant laid down for his final sleep is the very spot where Wat Doi Suthep was built. Pretty interesting story isn’t it?
Each time I go back to Chiang Mai, I try to visit more temples. I don’t know if I will ever get to see all 300 of them, but only time will tell.
Have you been to Chiang Mai? What temple was your favorite?