Chiang Mai. A city filled with historical beauty, modern-day attractions, adventure and backpacker buzz. A blend that will fascinate and accommodate almost every type of traveller. Did you know Chiang Mai is also home to a whopping 300 temples or “wats”?
It has been considered the capital of Buddhism. There are temples that date back hundreds of years to the Lanna Kingdom dispersed all over the city and its outskirts. However, I’m sure you are not going to have the time to visit them all, neither did we, so we can help you narrow it down a little.
Here are five must-see temples we think you should visit while in Chiang Mai.
If you are looking for more things to do in Chiang Mai, you can check out our Top 9 Things You Have To Do In Chiang Mai.
1. Wat Chedi Luang
Experience the enchanting ancient history of Thailand as you glance upon a temple that began its construction in the 14th century.
This was once Chiang Mai’s most magnificent temple and used to house the Emerald Buddha, a very important religious relic within Thailand’s culture.
Part of the temple was destroyed by an earthquake in the 15th century and they have never tried to rebuild the missing ± 30 meters, on the account that nobody is really sure how it originally looked.
You cannot enter into the old temple itself but the grounds are filled with other prayer houses and temples that you can enter into. However, not all of them allow women inside.
It is a great experience to come and take in the temple’s history and get the chance to talk to a monk. They host informal monk chats, where you can come and ask the monks any questions you may have.
Hours: 8 am to 5 pm
Cost: 40 baht p.p.
Location: Wat Chedi Luang
2. Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
Often incorrectly called “Doi Suthep” (the name of the mountain) this is probably the most famous of the Chiang Mai temples as it offers a remarkable view over the city. A lovely spot to experience the sunset.
When you arrive you need to make your way through the collection of souvenir stands and food spots until you get to the beautiful staircase that is guarded by two jewelled serpents. You will need to walk up ± 300 stairs to get to the top.
The actual temple has a very wonderful story or legend behind how it was built.
It is believed that a travelling monk brought a piece of Buddha’s shoulder bone to the Lanna Kingdom. It was said to have magical properties and even split into two or replicated itself (that part is a little fuzzy.) The one fragment was then mounted onto a sacred white elephant that made it’s way up Doi Suthep mountain. Once it reached the peak, it trumpeted three times, knelt down and passed away. Now the temple is built here in honour of the event and to mark it as a holy site.
You can even see a sculpture of the white elephant just outside the main temple.
Warning, you will see lovely, cute little children hanging around the steps in traditional clothing. Your first thought will be to try and take a picture of them or with them. However, once the picture is taken they will demand you to pay them. Whether you decide to support them is up to you. Personally, we don’t condone it, since the mother sits at the bottom doing nothing, while her children make her money. The children also learn to be very hard and rough to get their fair share.
Hours: 6 am to 5 pm
Cost: 50 baht p.p.
Location: Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
3. Wat Umong
This is probably my favourite temple, not just in Chiang Mai. It transports you back in time to another world as you explore the underground tunnels left behind in a forest. It is raw and real and void of extravagant shrines and decorations which is why I like it so much.
This temple was said to be gifted to a monk by the King of the Lanna Kingdom. The monk found it more and more difficult to meditate as Chiang Mai began to grow and the King wanted to bless him by building him tunnels in the forest to use as a place of meditation.
In the 18th century it was renovated but shortly after was abandoned and robbed. The temple’s history is a little fuzzy after that and no one is really sure what happened to it. However, now the temple grounds are used by practicing monks.
Hours: 8 am to 5 pm
Cost: 20 baht p.p.
Location: Wat Umong
4. Royal Park Rajapruek
Now that we have mentioned my favourite temple, it’s Byron’s turn. This temple or pavilion was made to honour the late King Bhumibol, an awe-inspiring man who lead his people with passion and the utmost humility. He was known as the father of the country and very much deserves that rank. He was a great man.
This temple was Byron’s favourite for, well here are his words, “it has an understated majesty about it. From the entrance of the royal park you are guided through exquisite gardens and a grand pathway – all perfectly symmetrical of course – all the way up the stairs to the inside of the temple. Once you are inside, it feels a lot more welcoming than various other grandiose temples we have visited. The magnificent attention to detail is not lost, but not overbearing either. It’s rare to find such tasteful use of gold. You are surrounded by a massive park that points all attention to the pavilion, yet the temple maintains a sense of humility. It’s quiet, it’s calm and it’s beautiful. I think it does spectacularly well as the homage piece it was designed to be.”
Hours: 8 am - 6 pm
Cost: 200 baht p.p.
Location: Royal Park Rajapruek
5. Wat Suan Dok
Do you remember the legend about the elephant that took a piece of Buddah’s shoulder bone up the mountain where Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is built? The bone that miraculously split in two or replicated itself?
Well, this is where the bone was originally kept and where the other half still resides.
There are a few temples or ‘chedis’ to gaze at here. The main golden bell-shaped chedi is where the other relic of Buddha remains.
The other interesting thing to see, and is quite famous, is a group of white mausoleums that house the cremations of the Chiang Mai Royal Family. The architecture here is quite aesthetically pleasing, making it a very nice resting place.
Hours: 6 am to 10 pm
Cost: Free. Yay!
Location: Wat Suan Dok
Visiting Temples In Chiang Mai
Thailand’s temples are so grand and beautiful and there is so much attention to detail in even in the smallest of temples, in the smallest towns. Just remember, however, that these are places of worship and must be respected. So please dress and behave appropriately (cover knees & shoulders, nothing skin-tight or revealing) and make sure to take off your shoes before you enter into a temple.
There are many other amazing temples to go and visit while in Chiang Mai and all over Thailand. If you have found any other magnificent temples let us know in the comments and tell us what you liked about them! We would love to hear your stories and add onto our bucket list.
What Else Can You Do In Chiang Mai?
There is a lot more than just the temples to see in Chiang Mai. In fact there is so much that we came twice! If you haven’t already seen the list of what you need to do in Chiang Mai, have a look below!
Chiang Mai remains within the top five busiest cities in Thailand, so there’s lots to do and many places to go. Once you’ve completed your Chiang Mai travels, here are your next two stops:
After your travels in the north, you could always explore the visited city on Earth…
Vital Visitor’s Information
If you’d like our advice on where to stay and how to book it, or if you’re looking on how to get around, or even if you’d just like a rough budget for your trip – check out our complete Chiang Mai Guide!
A Video Of Chiang Mai
For our first visit to Chiang Mai, we made a short travel video that tells our story. It was an amazing trip, but it didn’t start out that way…
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