Located in the northern part of Thailand, Chiang Mai is a medium-sized city that’s a top spot to visit by tourists and locals alike. It’s a diverse region where you can indulge in Thai cuisine and culture, go hiking in national parks, and even learn a variety of new skills. But one of the most popular and intriguing things to do in Chiang Mai is visit its array of temples. Temples in the city are like duomo’s in Italy or sea lions on the Galápagos Islands, they are everywhere. You will spot them next to convenience stores, tucked in between souvenir shops and smack dab in the middle of bustling business sections of town.
Even though there was not a Chiang Mai temple that quite compared to the unconventionality of the White Temple in Chiang Rai, there were a few stunners. Of them, Wat Chedi Luang is one of the more impressive ones, located within Chiang Mai’s Old City district. With a long history combined with notable structures, Wat Chedi Luang is a temple in Chiang Mai that cannot go unacknowledged in your bucket list and your final holiday itinerary.
Wat Chedi Luang: A Thai Temple in Chiang Mai’s City Center
About/History of Wat Chedi Luang
The enormous chedi (also called pagoda) of Wat Chedi Luang was built in Chiang Mai between the very late 1300s and very early 1400s; there is no certainty of the exact year but it’s said to have finished building between 1385 and 1402. It’s been one of Chiang Mai’s most extraordinary components since it was built, even today, and can be easily spotted when you walk around the Old City, although since it got damaged in an earthquake in 1545 it has been standing at only half of its original height. Back in the day, it also used to be the home for Emerald Buddha, which is the most sacred relic in Thailand.
About the Structures On-Site
Wat Chedi Luang isn’t simply composed of one massive chedi, but on the premises you can actually find several different structures holding a fair bit of cultural importance. These include the city pillar Intakin, a giant gum tree that is positioned so that it guards the temple’s entrance, and the large viharn (sermon hall) that dons naga dragons at it’s doorstep—it is the home to Wat Chedi Luang’s principal Buddha image. Wat Chedi Luang is where worshippers come together for the evening candle procession during important Buddhist holidays.
My Experience: I took my shoes off, a requirement to entering this sacred temple, and stepped inside the grand building. The interior of the wat was a frenzy of flowers and gold.
After getting my fill of the gilded interior, I exited and walked to the back side of the vihran where there was a striking sight. The ruined brick chedi that sits behind the grand assembly hall was incredibly impressive with its monumental stairway, elephants standing guard and stone nagas. Stunning.
As I approached the chedi, there were locals peddling strands of flowers to leave as an offering. Of course, I bought one and walked closer to the stairs to place it close to a naga. I continued to explore the perimeter, every step being just as notable as the last: metal bells hung, sitting Buddhas peaked through archways and active worshippers gathered at the bottom of the steep, stone stairs.
The Monk Chat
An amazing way to both take a deep dive into the local culture and tap into your spiritual side is by having a chat with a monk, and in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s spiritual capital in the northern region, there’s plenty of places to do it. But, Wat Chedi Luang is amongst the best places to do it, where it’s possible to experience daily from 9am until 6pm. You’ll see a group of monks sitting at the outdoor tables on the northern side of the temple, and you can just go, possibly line up for a bit first, and have a seat and start a chat with the monk about all things spiritual.
On my last day in Chiang Mai, I went back to Wat Chedi Luang in an attempt to participate in their Monk Chat, a time that is set aside for the monks to have conversation with visitors and practice their English.
Unfortunately, on this particular day there was one guy intensely questioning the one and only monk. So instead, I spent an hour reading the blue inspirational signs posted around Wat Chedi Luang that said things like “Wisdom is the knowing what to do next”, “Better an ugly face than an ugly mind” and “Do good, receive good; do evil, receive evil”.
Some of the top temple tours in and near the city:
Other Temples in Chiang Mai Not to Miss
Besides Wat Chedi Luang, there are several other temples in and nearby that you will not want to miss during your visit to northern Thailand’s spiritual capital. Here are the top 5 that you ought to visit to get the best of the temples in Chiang Mai:
1. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Although Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is located within the incredibly gorgeous Doi Suthep National Park, a big part of why the park is as popular as it is, is due to the temple itself, on which premises you can even find the royal family’s vacation home. Plated in gold from top to bottom, the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple is considered one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Thailand, drawing massive pilgrimage crowds across the year, especially during specific Buddhist holidays like Makha Bucha (February 13) and Visakha Bucha (May 11).
2. Wat Phra Singh
After Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Wat Phra Singh is the second highest revered temple in Chiang Mai region. It draws crowds especially for its Lai Kam assemply hall, built in 1345, due to how fine of a showcase it is of Lanna temple architecture.
3. Wat Suan Dok
Built during the same period of time as the other main temples in Chiang Mai mentioned thus far, Wat Suan Dok also houses several structures with historical significance to the region and Thailand as a whole. These structures include, but are not limited to, a garden with whitewashed mausoleums that serve as ‘home’ to the ashes of many of late Chiang Mai rulers, a big open-air assembly hall, as well as a principal pagoda contains the Buddha’s relics.
4. Wat Umong
Wat Umong is not only another temple with great amount of cultural and religious significance, but it is one that stands out in its uniqueness, as it is the only forest temple in Chiang Mai. The history of Wat Umong dates all the way back to the 13th century, consisting of a mix of old ruins and tunnels for meditation and even a large stupa that has been left unpainted.
5. Wat Phra That Doi Kham
More often referred to as the Golden Temple, Wat Phra That Doi Kham is located a little south west of Chiang Mai, at the top of a hill, housing amazing views of Chiang Mai’s cityscape as well as Doi Pui Mountain’s rolling mountains. On top of the gorgeous temple structures, there is a huge 17-metre sitting Buddha for visitors to admire.
A bonus temple is Thailand’s Wat Rong Khun: The White Temple in Chiang Rai. It is an unconventional Buddhist Temple located about 2 1/2 hours north of Chiang Mai. And it is a vision of pure white. Go figure.
The easiest way to get to the White Temple is to book a tour that leaves from Chiang Mai and here are three top-rated ones:
Now that you have been introduced to some of the most remarkable temples in Chiang Mai, you are well on your way to discovering your dream vacation in Northern Thailand. Although there are several notable temples and structures all around the city and its nearby regions, I wanted to specifically highlight Wat Chedi Luang due to its colorful history, central location and impressive temple structures.
Thanks to its location specifically, Wat Chedi Luang is an amazing temple to start discovering Chiang Mai’s historical and cultural side from. From there it’s easy to not only venture out to the other important temples listed above, as well as the other fun activities available for you to do in the city.
More About Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai Bucket List: 30 Things to Do in Thailand’s Best Northern City
Thailand’s Wat Rong Khun: The White Temple in Chiang Rai
Thailand Elephant Sanctuary: 5 of the Best Rescues in or Near Chiang Mai
Traveling by Tuk Tuk in Chiang Mai & Other Transporation
Learn to Make Handicraft Umbrellas in Chiang Mai
Get a Thai Massage in Thailand
Volunteer with Elephants at a Rescue in Thailand