There are over 300 temples in Chiang Mai. It seemed that every turn we took we were stumbling across another temple. While they were beautiful, they all seemed small and paled in comparison to the large somewhat wild temples that we saw in Cambodia several days before.
While we saw a lot of temples in Chiang Mai, here are our favorites:
Wat Suan Dok
Wat Suan Dok is located outside of the city walls so getting there will cost you a little money. We stopped many of the red truck taxis to get their pricing to take us to the temple. At first drivers were trying to rip us off, but eventually we found a driver that was willing to take us there for a reasonable price.
When we were dropped off the first thing that I noticed was the graveyard which was pure white. Since the sky was a perfect shade of blue the contrast was breathtaking. When Andy said he wanted to take some pictures in the graveyard because they would look really cool I was a little hesitant since that is where people were buried. After I gave him the benefit of the doubt, I was happy that I did. The pictures that we took there were some of our favorites throughout our entire 3 week trip around Southeast Asia.
Andy went into the main temple but I hung back. Both pairs of my pants were being laundered so I was wearing shorts, something not appropriate to wear when visiting temples. I could see inside of the temple a little bit, but Andy’s pictures showed me what I had missed. The inside of the temple was beautiful and featured many different Buddhas ranging from large to small.
Since it is further away from town, we were some of the only tourists around. This was great as it allowed us to get all the shots that we wanted without anyone in the background.
Wat Chiang Man
Wat Chiang Man is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai, dating back to 1296. While it was very old, it was very well preserved while still looking old.
Similar to Wat Chedi Luang the temple was decorated with elephants. I prefered Wat Chiang Man because even though it was quite a bit smaller, there were more elephants and the temple was still fully in tact with a beautiful golden top.
Surprisingly, there were not many people around this temple. We found a couple that was enjoying a break in the shade of a nearby tree that took some pictures for us. After our picture, we relaxed in the shade for a bit before continuing on to our next temple.
Wat Phra Singh
Wat Phra Singh was the most ornate temple that we visited in Chiang Mai. It actually seemed like it could be new because it was so well maintained but was built in 1345. The level of preservation that has taken place to keep the temple in its current condition is extremely impressive.
There was the main temple which I think was the most beautiful, but there were also smaller buildings on the complex as well. We were lucky enough to be there when there was a group of school children learning lessons from the monks at the temple which was a fun glimpse into the life that locals live. Andy also had fun posing with a large bell on the grounds which I am sure is used for some type of religious ceremony.
Be warned, when we were leaving a tuk tuk driver tried to pull us into the Chiang Mai version of the Lucky Buddha scam of Bangkok. He spoke perfect English and offered to take us to several far away places as well as some handicraft shops. We politely declined but I’m sure not too long after, some tourist fell for the trap and was roped into spending the day visiting what they wanted to see, but also getting pulled into shops and pressured to purchase something.
Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang is located in the center of Chiang Mai. The structure itself is quite large and strangely there weren’t too many people around when we were at the temple.
The first thing that you notice is that the entire top of the temple is somewhat odd looking, almost like something happened to it. There are theories that it was damaged in the 16th century during an earthquake while others claim it was damaged by cannon fire. Either way, there is no restoration plan set to occur as nobody knows what the top of the temple should look like.
My favorite part of the temple was the elephant structures that decorated the side of the temple. There are a lot of elephant related items throughout Thailand, with a higher concentration in Chiang Mai.
Unlike Cambodia, you weren’t allowed to climb up the temple. It is something that we understand since they want to preserve the temple. In hindsight, we sometimes prefer this as we didn’t have to worry about anyone being in our photos.
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is the most famous and sacred temple in all of Chiang Mai. It is located at the top of the hill and the only way to get there is to take a red taxi truck up.
The temple itself is located 9.3 miles from Chiang Mai. Originally built it in 1383, the only way to get to the temple was to walk all the way up the hill as a sort of religious pilgrimage. In 1935 a road was constructed which allowed the people to more easily reach the temple.
Once we were dropped off, we had to get to the top of the temple. Our driver suggested that we take the cable car up since there were quite a few stairs to the top. We listened to him and paid the 20 baht or 60 cents to go up. In hindsight, we wish that we didn’t pay for the cable car. There are only 309 steps to get to the top, which is about 26 stories. That wouldn’t have been too physically exerting for us and would have added to the journey.
Once we arrived at the top and were by the temple we thought wow there are a lot of people here! With Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep being one of the top attractions in Chiang Mai, there were a ton of tourists and locals alike at the temple. Nobody seemed to be in too much of a hurry to take their pictures and leave, likely because it was such a journey to get there.
The temple was covered in gold and very pretty but not the favorite that we visited. I think the sheer number of people around took away from the calm quietness that you get when you visit most temples. There were sweeping views of Chiang Mai which was pretty cool, especially for Andy who loves looking at the entire city from a high vantage point.
If you are headed to Chiang Mai, I highly recommend getting a taxi to Wat Suan Dok. This is one of the less visited temples but in my opinion one of the most beautiful. Wat Chiang Man, Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang are all located within the city walls, making it very easy to visit these.
Even though it wasn’t my favorite, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is definitely worth a visit. Getting to visit the most sacred temple is something that you should experience. Even if you don’t love the temple, there is a great view to the city and the journey of getting there is part of the fun.