Chiang Mai’s Best Temples – See Buddhist Wats in Thailand

in Thailand

The allure of Thailand’s markets and elephant parks is irresistible to tourists, but if you want to learn about the heart of this Asian nation you’ll need to travel to its temples, known as wats.

These are hundreds of wats around the popular tourist town of Chiang Mai, and as their Buddhist residents want for little they’re often free to visit.

It may seem strange to visit a temple in ruins, but Wat Chedi Luang’s rich history makes it worth a look. King Saen Muang Ma built the wat in 1391 to hold his father’s ashes. His successors expanded the building, which eventually housed the holy Emerald Buddha. Earthquakes and Burmese invasion destroyed the wat, but it is still an active place of worship. It’s inspiring to see the monks in their saffron robes continuing on despite Wat Chedi Luang’s decay. Some parts have been reconstructed, but the historic ruins are arguably more beautiful.

Right next door you’ll find the smaller Wat Pan Tao. It has a subtler charm than the rest of Thailand’s temples, but its wooden structure makes it unique. Lay people are invited to pray in the wooden wiharn, a relatively recent addition moved to temple grounds in 1875. Look for the gorgeous wooding carvings of peacocks and mythical creatures over the main doorway, and the flags and artifacts displayed inside.

Wat Chiang Man

Wat Chiang Man

Nestled in the Doi Suthep Mountain to the west of Chiang Mai you’ll find the wat which shares the summit’s name. It’s worth climbing the hundreds of steps to Wat Doi Suthep to see the multiple images of Buddha and feel the energy of the faithful followers. However if you’re feeling particularly lazy you can always catch the cable car!

If you only see one temple in Chiang Mai, make sure it’s Wat Chiang Man. It was built in 1292, making it the oldest in the district. Its Lanna-style architecture has held up remarkably well over the years. The carved elephants which surround the main building and the ornate red roofs on the newer structures are particularly impressive.

Remember though that wats are not simply tourist attractions; they are there to serve the local Buddhist community. You should respect local custom by wearing modest clothes and being quiet and reverential while on wat grounds.

[Image Source: Cindy Andrie/Flickr]

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