Related Posts: For five more splendid Chiang Mai Temples, see my post Ten of the Best: Chiang Mai Temples (Part 1).
In Part 1 of this list, we met the usual big hitters of the Chiang Mai temple scene. Wat Phra Singh, Chedi Luang and Wat Doi Sutheps all made their predictable appearance, and no list of the best Chiang Mai temples would be complete without these icons of the city. Yet there are more Chiang Mai temples, and more to Chiang Mai temples, than this usual handful of stalwarts would have us believe.
This second part of our list then, completing our Ten of the Best, shows off a less grand, but equally intriguing set of five that should be on any self-respecting Chiang Mai temple aficionado’s to-see list. And here they are:
Wat Chiang Man
The history of Chiang Mai’s oldest temple stretches all the way back to the establishment of the city as the capital of the Lanna kingdom in the final years of the 13th century. Constructed around 1296 by King Mengrai, the founder of Chiang Mai and the first king of Lanna, Wat Chiang Man was Chiang Mai’s first royal palace and the king’s residence while he oversaw the construction of his new city.
Located in the northeast corner of the old walled city, Wat Chiang Man is comprised chiefly of its two wiharns and its gold-topped chedi. The main wiharn is a gold-fronted construction, very much like Wat Phra Singh‘s Wiharn Lai Kham, containing the oldest Buddha image in Chiang Mai. The smaller one, on the other hand, is the home of two of Chiang Mai’s city guardians – the marble Phra Sila Buddha, said to have been carved more than 1000 years ago, and the Phra Sae Tang Khamani Buddha, a 10 cm tall quartz statue, reportedly crafted for the king of Lopburi around 200 AD.
Just outside Chiang Mai’s old city walls, statues of Donald Duck, a couple of elephants, a zebra, and a strange collection of garden gnomes, welcome you to Wat Buppharam. Constructed during the reign of King Muang Kaeo in 1497, the temple may not be one of the most visited of Chiang Mai’s major temples, yet it still offers many reasons to take a look.
The white chedi, for one, with its golden spire and lions standing guard at each corner, is as impressive as any in Chiang Mai. Built over four hundred years ago in the Burmese style, each side contains a bright red alcove containing a golden Buddha, while the two-floored Dhamma hall contains the largest teak wood Buddha image in Thailand. Its interior is also one of the most ornate of Chiang Mai’s wats, with the second floor in particular containing wooden carvings, a wonderful painted ceiling, and many splendid murals.
Wat Phan Tao
The slightly less grand next door neighbour of Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phan Tao is unique in being one of only a few remaining wats in Chiang Mai’s to be constructed entirely of wood. The temple was built at the end of the 14th century around the same time as Wat Chedi Luang and was originally one of several wats used by the king within the city.
Surrounded by fluttering orange flags, the door of the main prayer hall is topped with a wooden carving of a peacock (the symbol of the Lanna kings) standing astride a curled up dog representing the former king’s zodiac sign. The prayer hall itself is supported by 28 teak columns and, as well as the temple’s principle Buddha image, is home to several wooden chests containing a collection of ancient Buddhist scriptures.
Wat Jed Yod
Named for its seven-spired chedi, Wat Jed Yod is one Chiang Mai temple that you definitely won’t find overrun with tourists. Situated to the northwest of the old city just outside the main ring road, the temple was built in 1453 during the reign of King Tilokkarat. It hosted the eighth World Buddhist Council in 1477 and is based on India’s Mahabodhi Temple where the Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment.
This then, may explain Wat Jed Yod’s slightly unusual appearance when compared with some of Chiang Mai’s other temples. The chedi in particular is unlike any other in Chiang Mai. With its seven spires built to represent the seven weeks of meditation it took the Buddha to reach enlightenment, it also has a large, four-sided base decorated with 70 bas reliefs, many of which have lost heads or limbs in the intervening years. There are several other pagoda’s on the site, the largest of which, built in 1487, is said to contain the remains of King Tilokkarat himself.
Wat Phan On
Another temple with an amazing chedi, Wat Phan On is not one of Chiang Mai’s blockbuster temples, but it’s definitely a good looker and right in the thick of things too. Established during the reign of the Lanna King Muean the gilded chedi is Wat Phan On’s definite highlight. It may have only been built in 2007 (thus making it a good five hundred years more recent than most of the other chedis in Chiang Mai), but when it’s lit up at night, all shining gold against the blue of the evening sky, that really doesn’t matter at all.
The viharn too, has its charms. On the outside, naga serpents guard the entrance and decorate the elaborately carved windows, while inside, there upper walls are lined with murals depicting scenes from the Buddha’s life, together with a couple of large portraits of former monks and temple benefactors. Plus, every Sunday night after 4 pm, the temple grounds are taken over by the Sunday night night market, with stalls and people spilling over from Ratchadamnoen Road making it one of the focal points of the evening’s activities.
Get Involved: Have your own favourite Chiang Mai temple that I haven’t included here? Let us know in the comments below.