The What’s Up Guide to Chiang Mai Historic Temples

Chedi Luang Temple is home the largest Buddhist pagoda in Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai’s collection of historic temples and attractions are a delight for tourists and culture vultures. In Chedi Luang Temple, a 60-metre-high pagoda dates from the middle of the 15th century and is a fitting epitaph to the importance of Chiang Mai at that time. The still extant centuries old walls and portals around Chiang Mai Old City plus the iconic Three King’s Monument really do add to the impression of a city steeped in history. The What’s Up team have provided a potted guide to the key sights for visitors. They say a Chiang Mai city tour is definitely the way to go for the best insights to local heritage and attractions.

Temples in Chiang Mai:
Buppharam Temple | Chedi Luang Temple | Chet Yot Temple | Chiang Man Temple | Doi Kham Temple | Doi Suthep Temple | Jetlin TempleLok Moli TemplePhra Singh Temple | Sao Inthakin | Suan Dok Temple | Three King’s Monument | Umong Temple | Wiang Kum Kam | Further Reading


Although on a hill high above the city, Phra That Doi Suthep Temple is the most famous Chiang Mai temple. As the saying goes ‘if you haven’t been to Doi Suthep, you haven’t been to Chiang Mai’. A long flight of stairs leads to the temple entrance where guardian statues keep out evil spirits and best kept happy with a small donation. There is an adjacent cable car for those who do not want to walk to walk up 300-plus steps. The centrepiece of this temple is a huge, gold-coated chedi said to hold a fragment of the Lord Buddha’s bones. Temple bells, a decent sized collection of Buddha statues and panoramic views of Chiang Mai are other Doi Suthep highlights. 
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Chedi Luang Temple is a good place to start on any tour of Chiang Mai’s historic attractions. This temple was founded in the 14th century and its lofty pagoda a century later. Historians say the pagoda was 85-metres high when built, but the top section was destroyed by an earthquake. Nevertheless, it remains an amazing sight and pleasing contrast to the multi-tiered roofs of the temple buildings surrounding it. A jade Buddha statue sits in an alcove high on one side of the pagoda and is a copy of the legendary Emerald Buddha which used to reside there.
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Sao Inthakin is Chedi Luang Temple’s other claim to fame. Sao Inthakin translates to English as the City Pillar. It is the de facto foundation stone of Chiang Mai and legend has it that King Mengrai brought it to the city when it was established in the 1290s. Sao Inthakin has its own purpose-built shrine in the grounds of Chedi Luang. Folklore claims the wellbeing of the city’s residents is linked to how well they look after the pillar. For this reason there are two warrior statues standing guard outside and the shrine is securely locked. The only time it is opened is during the Inthakin Festival in late May or early June.
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Phra Singh Temple is another landmark temple and monument, also in the Old City, and is a 10 minute walk west from Chedi Luang Temple. Huge lion statues sit atop the pillars marking the main gateway. Wihan Lai Kham is the temples’ principal chapel and houses the eminent Phra Singh Buddha statue. The chapel has really excellent murals. A stroll around the temple complex takes in other peerless statues, shrines and the elephant-themed Phrathatluang Chedi.
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The Three King’s Monument is a focal point of the Old City and is on a plaza outside the former City Hall and current home to the diverse collections of the Art and Cultural Centre. The monument is cast in bronze and features the founding father of Chiang Mai, King Mengrai, and the kings of the Sukhothai and Phayao kingdoms. Local residents come to the statue of an evening and make small offerings of flowers, candles and drinks.
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At the heart of the backpacker guesthouses in the northwest corner of the Old City, Chiang Man Temple is as old as Chiang Mai and was founded more than 700 years ago. The temple enshrines one of the most important relics of the ancient Lanna kingdom, the Buddha statue of Phra Sila. The so-called Elephant Chedi and the main chapel (wihan) are other key features of this haven of tranquillity set amid the bustling lanes of this quarter of the Old City.
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Lok Moli Temple is another monument to Chiang Mai’s long and rich history. Historical records place the establishment of this one-time royal temple as pre-1367. A lofty and ornate chedi, intricate naga serpent statues and a lovely wihan with a sweeping, multi-tiered roof are key attractions here. Lok Moli Temple is just north of the Old City and about 10 minutes on foot from Chang Phuak Gate.
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Buppharam Temple is a short walk from Thapae Gate and about midway along Thapae Road. The compound here is packed with religious structures, statues and murals. Of particular note are the Monthian Dhamma Hall and a 400-year-old chedi epitomising the Burmese style common at that time. The temple houses the teak Phra Narit Buddha statue which is said to be as old as the chedi.
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Sitting alongside one of the chief thoroughfares to Doi Suthep, Suan Dok is a great appetiser for any city temple tour. Its name translates as Flower Garden Temple and it is loaded up with sights including an almost 50-metre-high Sri Lanka-themed chedi, a graveyard contained the ashes of Chiang Mai’s former royalty and an early 16th century bronze statue of Buddha. There’re also monk chat and meditation retreat programmes at Suan Dok Temple, visit MCU Buddhism University’s website for more information.
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Chet Yot Temple is also known as Photaram Maha Vihara Temple. It is a great choice for fans of artistic beauty. The principal structure in a collection of complete and partially ruined ones is Maha Chedi. This structure is Indian influenced and its exterior features carved reliefs. A group of seven chedis are the crowning glory on the building.
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Located at the foot of Doi Suthep, Umong Temple is a leafy and extensive temple complex. Umong means tunnel and this is what Umong Temple is noted for. The tunnel below the chedi still has murals dating from the temple’s foundation 700 years ago. A large pond with fish and turtles plus proverbs in Thai and English script hanging from numerous trees add to the distinctive Umong Temple experience.
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A few minutes’ walk from the better known Chedi Luang Temple, Jetlin Temoke is another fabulous temple to visit in the old city. Also spelt as Chedlin, this temple compound is home to unusual Buddhist artefacts including a huge stone statue of Buddha’s head in its own dedicated shrine and giant-sized gongs. The central viharn is quite colourful and has a gold Buddha state at the top end. To celebrate the annual Songkran Festival in April, monks at Wat Jetlin, with the help of local residents and tourists, build a huge chedi sai (sand pagoda). These have been known to reach 15 metres in height. Once the finished structure is shored up, it is decorated with Buddhist flags and a crowning parasol.
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South of Chiang Mai, Doi Kham is a temple perched on a hill at the back of the Royal Park Ratchaphruek. A long flight of stairs adorned with gold-painted naga snake statues leads to one side of the temple and a windy mountain road to the other. At the top of the steps, a lofty standing Buddha statue gazes impassively over the landscape. This terrace offers panoramic views back towards the city. Doi Kham is a popular destination for visiting Buddhists and boasts an extensive collection of Buddha statues as well as a few of elephants. A pavilion inside the complex is where Buddhists go to give small donations and make wishes.
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Wiang Kum Kam was built before Chiang Mai and is a living monument to the greatness of the Lanna kings of seven centuries ago. Wiang Kum Kam is about seven kilometres south of the Old City. Due to a propensity for flooding during the rainy season, King Mengrai abandoned it in the early 1290s. Some structures were added in medieval times, but from then until 1984 it lay virtually untouched. Some of the temples and chedis are in a good state of repair while others have been restored or are in ruins. The five-storey Chedi Liam Temple and the remains of the Monkey Temple and Pupia Temple are among the draws here. They are spread out and so most visitors take advantage of the trolley-bus tours on offer.
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