Thursday, September 6, 2012

Which Wat to Wander at in Chiang Mai

Upon arriving in Chiang Mai, Thailand, the first thing you will notice are the number of temples or wat this city has. Every neighborhood and every street in Chiang Mai will almost always have a temple. Some of the temples in Chiang Mai are huge, some small. Some temples are part of a large complex, some stand alone. Suffice it to say, there are so many of temples in Chiang Mai to cover in the few days any tourist will spend in the city. So you need to pick which temples in Chiang Mai to visit.

Having lived here for several months, I have grown fond of a few noteworthy temples in Chiang Mai, even photographing them at night when, in my opinion, these temples are at their most stunning. Here are six temples in Chiang Mai or wats to wander at while in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

1. Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Let us begin with the largest temple in Chiang Mai. By large, I am referring to the huge stone chedi or stupa located in the heart of the temple complex. A stupa is a mound-like structure used in Buddhism as a reliquary or a place of worship. The chedi at Wat Chedi Luang is so huge that it was at one time the tallest structure in all of northern Thailand. Wat Chedi Luang is so huge even the name Wat Chedi Luang literally means temple of the large chedi. You get the drift. What is strange about Wat Chedi Luang, however, is how its architecture is characteristic of temples in Central Thailand, and not those in northern Thailand, realm of the Lanna Thai culture. This stirred a little bit of controversy during its reconstruction in the 1990s. At any rate, Wat Chedi Luang is one of the most prominent temples in Chiang Mai and definitely worth a visit.

Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai, Thailand


2. Wat Phantao

Wat Phantao, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Now since you are already in the area, why don't you hop on over the other side of the wall and head to Wat Phantao, right next to Wat Chedi Luang. The name Wat Phantao means the monastery of a thousand kilns as experts believe this is where they cast images and statues for use in Wat Chedi Luang. Now, I know Wat Phantao isn't as impressive as all the other temples in Chiang Mai. I like to think, however, that its being small, compact, and overshadowed by its larger temple brother makes it place worthy of a quiet and peaceful visit.

Wat Phantao, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Wat Phantao, Chiang Mai, Thailand


3. Wat Phra Singh

Wat Phra Sing, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Wat Phra Singh takes its name from Phra Buddha Sihing, a Buddha statue housed inside one of the structures in this temple in Chiang Mai. This wat is one of the most popular temples in the whole of Chiang Mai probably due to its location, right in the center of the old town of Chiang Mai, in line with the main entrance of the old town of Chiang Mai, Tha Pae Gate. The ironic thing is I live quite close to this temple and pass by it every single day, yet I have never really explored it until about a few days ago when I realized I had to write this article. What I love about Wat Phra Singh though is that seeing it every single day reminds me how lucky I am to be living in a city with such beautiful structures.

Wat Phra Sing, Chiang Mai, Thailand


4. Wat Suan Dok

Wat Suan Dok is a noteworthy temple in Chiang Mai because of its historic significance. It is built within an old settlement of the ancient Lawa people whose history predates the city of Chiang Mai itself. The temple name, flower garden temple, comes from from the flower garden owned by the Lawa king that used to live here. Notice the flowers on the 48-meter golden Sri Lankan style chedi located at the heart of this temple complex? Quite the attention to detail. Definitely worth an hour of exploration, or two, while in Chiang Mai.

Wat Suan Duok, Chiang Mai, Thailand Wat Suan Duok, Chiang Mai, Thailand


5. Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai, Thailand

During my Thai cooking class, our instructor told us that you have not really been in Chiang Mai unless you have done two things: (1) try the northern Thailand speciality, Khao Soi, and (2) head up to the mountain guarding Chiang Mai, Doi Suthep, and visit the temple there, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Eating Khao Soi is easy. I have done it too many lots of times. Going to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep independently though is a little bit trickier. It is literally located on top of the mountain it was named after. So you can either take a red van, locally called a song thaew, get your own ride (a motorbike, most probably), or sign up for a tour.

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai, Thailand Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai, Thailand

However you go, you will realize upon arriving at Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is that it is the most visited and, therefore, most touristy temple in all of Chiang Mai. Souvenir shops, food stalls, hire-on-the-spot photographers, cultural dancers and musicians, big-*ss tourist buses, they are all here. Despite those, it remains to be a pilgrimage destination for many Buddhists from all over Thailand. Thus, for a non-Buddhist such as myself, this temple in Chiang Mai is a great place to visit to witness the religious practices of Buddhists in Thailand.

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai, Thailand


6. Wat Lok Molee

Wat Lok Molee, Chiang Mai, Thailand

I saved this for last not because it is particularly significant but because it is my favorite temple out of all the temples in Chiang Mai. It is my favorite simply because it is for me, pretending to be the photographer that I am, the most photogenic temple in Chiang Mai. Located right outside the moat north of the old town of Chiang Mai, Wat Lok Molee has a stone chedi and a couple of prayer rooms. The ashes of the some of the members of the dynasty that ruled the Lanna Kingdom for several centuries, the Mengrai dynasty, are kept inside this temple. History aside, I pass by this temple on my motorbike almost every night and I figured it was only right that I pay my respects at some point, perhaps do it justice, too, with a photograph at night when it is most stunning.

Wat Lok Molee, Chiang Mai, Thailand

* I have plotted all six temples in the map below. Please zoom in on each pin to figure out directions from this to that temple in Chiang Mai.


** For more photos of my favorite temples in Chiang Mai, please visit my Flickr page: Wat Overload in Chiang Mai


Did I forget any noteworthy temples in Chiang Mai? What are your favorite temples to visit in Chiang Mai?


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