Chiang Mai temples are considered as one of the main attractions and best things to explore in the northern Thailand. Chiang Mai is located in the mountainous regions of Northern Thailand, and is famous as a cultural and spiritual gem with a history dating back centuries. In this article we will go through an overview about the temples in Chiang Mai and explaining their different architectural styles with some facts, list the best ones that you must visit, and other tips to consider before visiting them.
Overview of Chiang Mai Temples
Total number of temples in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is known for its rich cultural heritage and historical sites. The city is home to numerous temples. The exact number of temples in Chiang Mai can vary, but there are over 300 temples (wats) in and around the city. Some are historical and some are not, however, each temple has its own unique history, architecture, and significance, and they are all sacred places for locals.
The Diverse Architectural styles of Chiang Mai temples
Chiang Mai’s temples are not only spiritual places, but also architectural marvels that reflect the city’s rich history and cultural diversity. From the Lanna style to the influence of neighboring regions like Burma and Sukhothai, all can be found in this rich city. This diversity in architectural styles make Chiang Mai home to many beautiful temples from several architectural styles and backgrounds. Below are the Architectural styles that can be found in Chiang Mai temples:
- Lanna Style: Characterized by tiered roofs, carvings, and often adorned with gold and vibrant colors. This style is considered as the dominant architectural style in Chiang Mai and northern Thailand.
- Burmese Style: Influenced by Burmese design, featuring multilayered roofs and unique chedi designs.
- Sukhothai Style: Reflects the influence of the Sukhothai Kingdom, with simpler structures.
- Mon Style: Influenced by Mon architecture, characterized by tall, slender stupas and intricate details.
- Contemporary and Modern Temples: These temples’ architecture is a blend between traditional and modern architectural elements, and often found in the newly built temple.
- Other architectural styles that can be found in Chiang Mai temples are: Silver Temple, known for its detailed silver artwork, Mountain Temples, having unique structures and located in the mountains and surrounded by nature, and finally, the Meditation Centers, that are designed to provide a peaceful and contemplative environment for meditation
The oldest & the largest Temples in Chiang Mai
The oldest temple in Chiang Mai is Wat Chiang Man. It was built in 1296. On the other hand, one of the largest and most prominent temples in Chiang Mai is Wat Chedi Luang, known for its massive chedi. The temple was built in the late 14th century.
Chiang Mai temples that you must visit
You will not have the opportunity to visit all the temples in Chiang Mai during your visit, therefore you must select the best temples to ensure that you covered the most important and beautiful ones. Below are 10 of the best Chiang Mai temples that you should not miss visiting while being in the city:
Wat Phra Singh
- Built year: 1345
- Architectural Style: Lanna-style architecture
This temple was built by King Pha Yu to enshrine the ashes of his father, King Kham Fu. Wat phra singh is located within the old city walls of Chiang Mai, and is easily accessible since it’s located in the center of the city. The temple keeps the Phra Singh Buddha, a very respected Buddha statue. This sitting Buddha is an example of Lanna artistic style.
The temple plays a significant role during religious festivals, such as Visakha Bucha. This festival takes place on the full moon day of the sixth lunar month, usually happening in May. During this festival, candlelit processions and ceremonies take place.
Wat Chedi Luang
- Built year: in the late 14th century
- Architectural style: Blend of Lanna and Sukhothai styles
Wat Chedi Luang is one of the most important temples in Chiang Mai. It was built in the late 14th century during the reign of King Saen Muang Ma and is considered as the largest temple in Chiang Mai due to its massive chedi (originally 82 meters tall).
This temple suffered damage over the years. however, remains an imposing structure and a prominent landmark in Chiang Mai. The temple once housed the revered Emerald Buddha, which is Thailand’s most sacred religious icon. The statue was later moved to Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok at the Grand Palace (today known as the temple of the Emerald Buddha).
Wat Chiang Man
- Built year: 1296
- Architectural Style: Northern Thai / Lanna Style
Wat Chiang Man is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai. It was built in 1296 by King Mengrai, the founder of Chiang Mai. Building this temple was part of his efforts to establish a new capital for the Lanna Kingdom in the northern Thailand.
This temple has the Phra Sila (Crystal Buddha), which is an crystal image of Buddha that is believed to have protective powers. The entrance of Wat Chiang Man is guarded by two large lion statues, symbolizing protection and strength. It also features a unique chedi known as the Elephant Chedi, adorned with elephant sculptures. The chedi reflects the influence of the Lanna Kingdom.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
- Built year: 1383
- Architectural style: Northern Thai / Lanna Style
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of the most popular temples in Chiang Mai, located on Doi Suthep Mountain, about 15 kilometers northwest of Chiang Mai city center (30 minutes drive).
The temple was founded by King Nu Naone, and according to legend, he built it after a white elephant carrying a relic of the Buddha climbed the mountain, circled three times, and trumpeted before lying down, signaling the site for the temple.
When visiting Doi Suthep, you will not just explore one of the most iconic temples in Chiang Mai and Thailand, but you will also enjoy a breathtaking Panoramic view of Chiang Mai city from the Outside hall of the temple.
Wat Suan Dok
- Built year: 1370
- Architectural style: Northern Thai / Lanna Style
Wat Suan dok, alos known as “Flower Garden Temple” is one of the must visit temples in Chiang Mai. One of the distinctive features of Wat Suan Dok is its collection of elegant white burial stupas, known as chedis, which house the ashes of Chiang Mai’s royal family.
The temple is a popular destination for Meditation seekers, as it offers a serene environment suitable for meditation. It’s also home to a monastic university, where monks engage in studies and provide teachings on Buddhist philosophy and meditation practices.
- Built: in the late 13th century
- Architecture Style: Suan (tunnel) and Lanna Style
Wat Umong, “The Tunnel Temple,” is a unique Buddhist temple located in a tranquil forest just outside of Chiang Mai city. It’s believed to have been founded by King Mangrai in the late 13th century.
The temple holds historical and cultural significance within the region and is featuring a large artificial lake and fish pond, adding to the tranquility of the temple grounds. Visitors can walk around the late to enjoy the natural beauty of surrounded nature. Wat Umong grounds have trees with wooden boards containing Buddhist proverbs. These proverbs provide visitors with reflections on life and spiritual wisdom.
Wat Jed Yod
- Built in 1455
- Architecture Style: Indian/Chedi Design with Lanna Influences
Wat Jed yod was built by King Tilokaraj in 1455. The architectural style of Wat Jed Yod is influenced by Indian design, particularly the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, India, where the Buddha attained enlightenment.
The Chedi Jed Yod is adorned with seven spires, symbolizing the seven weeks that the Buddha spent preaching after his enlightenment. Each spire is topped with a golden finial. It’s one of the recommended temples to visit in Chiang Mai especially that it has a unique architectural design, different from the other temples in the region.
Wat Sri Suphan (Silver Temple)
- Built in the early 16th century
- Architectural Style: Lanna and Burmese Influences
Wat Sri Suphan is known as the “Silver Temple” due to its remarkable silver-covered ubosot (ordination hall). It’s one of the most unique temples in Chiang Mai. The temple is located in the Wualai district, known for its silverware craftsmanship.
Traditionally, women were not allowed to enter the ordination hall due to the belief that the sacred nature of the silver and the temple would be compromised. Till today, it’s only allowed for men to enter this hall.
Wat Gate Khar Rnam
- Built in 1829
- Architectural Style: Burmese Influence with Traditional Lanna Architecture
Wat Gate Khar is located along the banks of the Ping River in the heart of Chiang Mai city. This temple has a strategic location that has contributed to its historical importance. The temple complex includes a museum, known as the Wat Gate Museum, which houses a collection of artifacts, historical items, and traditional textiles, offering insights into the local culture and history of the region.
Wat Pan Tao
- Built in the late 19th century
- Architectural Style: Traditional Lanna Architecture, Wooden Viharn made of Teakwood
The temple was built during the late 19th century, and its design incorporates traditional Lanna architecture with intricate carvings and ornamentation. The temple was originally a Lanna royal residence before it was converted into a monastery. This history adds to the cultural and historical significance of Wat Pan Tao. The temple’s viharn (assembly hall) is made entirely of teakwood and features detailed carvings, gilded decorations, and a multi-tiered roof, showcasing exquisite craftsmanship. Wat Pan Tao is surrounded by well-maintained gardens and greenery, providing a peaceful and serene atmosphere for visitors to enjoy.
The Best Time to visit Chiang Mai temples
The best time to visit Chiang Mai temples is either in the early morning or in the evening.
In the early morning (Around Sunrise time), you will have the chance to see the Monks walking in procession to collect alms from the local community (Happening daily) .
Visiting the temples in the late afternoon or evenings will give you the opportunity to see the Monks gathering for evening chanting and meditation sessions in the temple.
Proper Etiquette and Dress Code when visiting Chiang Mai Temples
It is crucial to dress in accordance with the local culture when visiting Chiang Mai temples and to show respect for cultural norms. Below are some things that you should consider before visiting any temple around Thailand:
- Men: Wear long pants or knee-length shorts. Shirts with sleeves are also recommended.
- Women: Dress modestly by covering shoulders and knees. Long skirts, pants, or dresses are appropriate. (Hot Shorts not recommended)
- Footwear: It’s customary to remove your shoes before entering temple buildings. Wear easy-to-remove shoes, like sandals or slip-on shoes.
- Cover Tattoos: If you have tattoos, especially those with religious or sensitive symbols, consider covering them as a sign of respect.
- Hats and Sunglasses: Remove hats and sunglasses before entering temple buildings.