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We love visiting Temples and often take our time wandering around taking a plethora of photographs from every angle. The myths which form their historical importance and significance are fascinating plus, we just love looking at Buddha statues which come in a huge range of sizes, colours and materials… mainly gold!
When we were in Chiang Mai, we naturally did the Old City Temple Tour however we also ventured just a little further… but which ones do we recommend?
First, I must start with Temple etiquette as this is extremely important.
When visiting Temples, you are reminded to be respectful of the Monks’ religion, beliefs and way of life. As tourists, we should remember that we are visitors and must dress and act in a way that does not offend. Sadly, most of my time visiting Temples meant my head was filled with thoughts of annoyance looking at others who walked around in tiny shorts, small vests or see-through tops with plenty of flesh on display. A Temple is not a place to show off your body, it is a place of worship and if you visit, please treat it with respect. If you are hot and wear less clothes on holiday, when visiting Temples please just carry a sarong with you so you can cover up for those small periods of time.
Naga serpents, which are large mythological snakes, are often found protecting the entrance of Buddhist Temples and usually contain beautiful mosaics and stones.
Some people say once you have seen one Temple you have seen them all, but if you delve further into when they were built and why, there are always some differences. From what (or should that be wat) we saw, they all have a large amount of historical importance in some way. You don’t have to visit all eight of the temples we are recommending here, but at least this guide will help you choose.
If you want to only do the Old City Temple Tour, most travel books have a section dedicated to this walk so you can do it yourself at your leisure, alternatively you can book one of the many tours that are advertised.
These temples are listed in the order we saw them and not our order of preference.
1. Wat Phra Singh
Wat Phra Singh was built in 1345 by King Pha Yu who had the chedi built to house the ashes of his father. It is the main Temple in Chiang Mai Old City and a point of reference for most people, I personally think this is one of the top three people should visit as it’s rather impressive. Pilgrims come here to view the famous Phra Buddha Singh statue which roughly means “Lion Buddha” and is housed in a small chapel south of the chedi. During Songkran, which was when we visited, this statue is carried through the streets as part of the procession as it is considered to be the holiest in Chiang Mai. The Lion Buddha statue came from the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya, India where Buddha gained enlightenment.
This temple is impressive at night as well as during the day so if you can, visit twice (it’s close to the Sunday Market so you could stop here on the way). Gold and red dragons adorn the steps that lead you to the main room which is filled with gold Buddhas, life-like wax monk statues and you can be blessed by a monk for a few baht.
If you are visiting the Old Town, take some time to visit this Wat but wear your sunglasses, the gold may blind you!
Opening hours: 6.00am – 8.00pm
Location: Ratchadamnoen Road
2. Wat Tung Yu
A short distance from Wat Phra Singh, I have to be honest and say this was the most controversial and unexpected Temple I have visited. Ever. And I have visited countless numbers of Temples in my time!! At the entrance to this Temple you are greeted by beautiful gold and green dragons, however the paintings on the inside leave you in complete confusion for a Buddhist Temple.
Opening hours: Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find out!
Location: Ratchadamnoen Road
3. Wat Phan Tao
This old teak wooden temple is visually different from others and often overlooked for its more popular neighbour, Wat Chedi Luang. Construction began in the 1300’s and Wat Phan Tao means “Temple of a Thousand Kilns”. It isn’t very large or as impressive as others, however we had the pleasure of watching Monks here on a pilgrimage. As they walked along a bamboo bridge, they rang the bells and posed for photographs of each other using their mobile phones.
Opening hours: 8.00am – 5.00pm
Location: Phra Pokklao Road
4. Wat Inthakhin Saduemuang
Another visually different Temple, this time made of black teak wood with gold gilt edging. Built in 1296, this temple isn’t very popular with tourists which is always nice. The entrance is made up of white naga serpents and inside the Temple, the Buddhas were pristine clean white and appeared to almost be glowing.
Opening hours: “During daylight hours”
Location: Soi Inthakin
5. Wat Chiang Man
If you want to visit the oldest Temple in the City, then come to Wat Chiang Man. Built around 1296 at the time the City was founded by King Mengrai, it was once the king’s residence and its name means Temple of the Fortified City. Two very important Buddha images are housed here, the crystal Phra Satang Man Buddha has been here for 1,800 years and the Marble Phra Sila Buddha for 2,500 years.
Opening hours: 08.00 – 17.00
Location: The corner of Phra Poklao Road soi 13 and Ratchaphakhinai Road (North East corner of the old town)
6. Wat Jed Yod
Wat Jed Yod means “Seven Peaks” and refers to the seven spires on the top of the structure. Apparently this temple is a copy of the Mahabodhi Temple in India and was built around 1453. The seven spires represent the seven weeks Lord Buddha spent at Bodhgaya (India) when in search of enlightenment. Unfortunately, we didn’t time our visit to this temple right and arrived here just as it was closing, we therefore never had a chance to go inside but you get the feeling that not many tourists come here. The sun was low in the sky so we enjoyed wandering around the peaceful grounds, however we did see a few dogs in one particular section who appeared to be rather defensive of their home.
Opening hours: 6.00am – 6.00pm
Location: The Super Highway, northwest of the Old City
7. Wat Suan Dok
Wat Suan Dok isn’t very popular with tourists, maybe because it’s not in the centre of the Old City, however it has many reasons to visit, one of them being a lovely sunset. If you time your visit right, you can wander around the grounds whilst the sun is still in the sky, hang around for sunset, have a chat with some of the monks and come out when it’s dark for some night time viewing.
As you enter the temple grounds, you are greeted by white washed pagodas which are mausoleums holding the ashes of past rulers and important nobles. Inside the temple there are plenty of gold Buddha’s to satisfy any budding jackal.
Monk Chats are a hugely important part of a monk’s social duties and they value their time with us; it helps their spoken English and they learn more about a life they do not lead. By chatting with the monks, you are sharing valuable information and, as sharing is a value taught in Buddhism, this is an important part of their learning. If you want to know more, read our blog post “It’s a Monk’s Life”.
Opening hours: 6.00am – 7.00pm
Location: Suthep Road
8. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Doi Suthep Temple is 15km out of Chiang Mai and is super easy to find if you want to travel by scooter which cost 250 baht for 24 hours. The winding mountain road is a lovely smooth ride and, on a hot, humid April day, the cool breeze on our faces was a welcome relief. If you don’t want to take a scooter, from Chiang Mai centre you can grab a red taxi (songthaew) and, providing it is full with 10 people per taxi, you can expect to pay around 100 baht per person for the return trip (if you don’t want to wait for the taxi to be full, you can haggle and pay a bit more).
Doi Suthep temple is considered to be the most sacred, most important but is also the most visited of all Temples so beware of the crowds! The first stupa is said to have been built in 1383 and, over time, the temple has expanded to be the extravagant shrine that it is today. As one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Thailand, it is a major pilgrimage destination, especially during Buddhist holidays on 13 February and 11 May.
After we parked our scooter on the road leading up to the Temple, there were a few stalls selling souvenirs and snacks. Despite it being on my bucket list, we resisted the temptation to buy a box of deep fried insects to snack on and opted instead for a deep fried banana covered in chocolate. Much tastier I’m sure.
Entrance: 30 baht
Opening hours: 6.00am – 6.00pm
Location: Wat Phra That Dli Suthep Road Tambon Su Thep
Hiring a scooter
If you want to explore more of Chiang Mai’s mountainous region and temples, the cheapest and most convenient way is to hire a scooter so, for 250 baht per day that is what we did! I had always said I would never ride a scooter in Thailand after hearing all the horror stories of accidents and dodgy hire companies, however we put our faith in the ladies at our Homestay who arranged the scooter for us and, thankfully, everything turned out OK.
You do not need an International Driving Licence in Thailand provided your licence displays a photograph and is in English. We are from the UK so our licence complies but if you are unsure, check this website for regulations.
It’s always best to give your scooter a once-over before setting off; check the tyres, brakes and ensure that any scratches/dents are photographed and pointed out to ensure you aren’t later blamed for them.
Don’t forget to wear a helmet, you would be a fool if you don’t!
Have you visited the Temples of Chiang Mai? Which was your favourite? Did you miss any out and regret it? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.
How to get to Chiang Mai
Flying: All major airlines fly to Bangkok, then take a short internal flight, Air Asia are the cheapest and most popular.
Sleeper Train from Bangkok: If you are picturing a rickety old train with awful sleeping conditions next to chickens and old men, think again! They are modern, clean and super efficient. We checked the schedules online and booked in advance via the 12GoAsia website. The office is located across the road from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong train station; buying and picking up the tickets couldn’t have been easier and I would thoroughly recommend them!
Where to stay
We stayed outside of the old town, about a 20 minute walk/10 minute bike ride away at Banilah Boutique Guest House (email: firstname.lastname@example.org). We would thoroughly recommend them, they are friendly, efficient and provide very thorough information and maps for the area.
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