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An amazing array of Chiang Mai temples dot the landscape of the historic city in Thailand. It is nearly impossible to be in Old Town Chiang Mai and not have at least one temple in sight. With dozens of temples in Chiang Mai Old City, how do you choose which ones to visit? We can help! From dazzling complexes to hidden gems, we are detailing the Chiang Mai Must-See Temples.
Chiang Mai Old City
Chiang Mai, Thailand is a sprawling city that was established in the late 13th century. Designed as a square, the layout features a grid of roads and numerous sois (alleys) connecting the main streets. The historic Chiang Mai Old City was once walled with gates and a moat for protection. Today in Chiang Mai, preserved city gates and crumbling bricks are all that are left of the wall…and the surrounding moat is more decorative than protective. The sois are lined with Chiang Mai accommodations, massage parlors, tourist shops, a plethora of cafes and numerous ancient Thai temples.
The Best Temples In Chiang Mai, Thailand
There are some Chiang Mai temples that are as old as the city itself, while others were established in the 20th century. A few temples sit alone, while others sit within the confines of large complexes. There are Chiang Mai temples that have been completely renovated – and some that are in a state of dilapidation.
Some of the best temples in Chiang Mai are found in the depths of the Old Town or just outside the city gates. However, there are a couple of iconic Thai temples outside the Chiang Mai city center that should not be missed!
Our Chiang Mai Best Temples List
Our list of the top temples in Chiang Mai includes 11 must-see temples. For each sight, we include a brief description, a link to Google Maps, as well as a link to more information.
At the end of the post, we include a Chiang Mai City Map, which can be useful when creating your own self-guided Chiang Mai temple tour. (Would you rather have a guide lead you on a Chiang Mai walking tour while sharing the history of Chiang Mai? We have tour suggestions below, too!)
Additionally, we offer general information about visiting temples in Thailand, as well as tips about understanding Buddhism and what to expect.
Thai Temple Terms
Understanding the terminology associated with Buddhist temples can help when visiting the temples in Chiang Mai.
The entire temple complex, which is enclosed by a fence or wall. Many structures, as well as monk living quarters, are contained within a wat.
Also called a Bot or Ordination Hall, it’s the main prayer room. Rituals, like ordaining monks, are performed inside the Ubosot. The hall is surrounded by 8 Sema stones, which designate the area as sacred. The hall houses Buddha images, with the largest usually located along the opposite wall of the entrance.
Also called the Wihan or Assembly Hall, Vihara often look similar to Ubosot and are also used for ceremonies and prayer, as well as displaying Buddha images. The difference, however, is that the Vihara lacks the boundary Sema stones.
Also called Stupas or Pagodas, the cone-shaped structures house Buddha relics, the remains of kings and famous monks.
A snake-like creature (sometimes with multiple heads) that often decorate staircase railings leading into the temple.
The Kingdom of Lanna (or Kingdom of a Million Rice Fields) encompassed the area of Northern Thailand from 1292 until 1775; Chiang Mai was designated the capital from 1292 until the kingdom’s demise. Lanna-style structures are characterized by the inverted V-shape roof and are typically made from teak wood. Colorful embellishments and golden detailing are also common elements of Lanna style.
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Chiang Mai Temples In The Old City
Use our list of temples in Chiang Mai Old City to route your way to the city’s must-see spots. Our list of temples to see in Chiang Mai are the ones that we think are the most intriguing and beautiful.
We seldom tire of exploring Chiang Mai temples, but we understand travelers are often short on time. If you feel like you will get ‘Templed Out’ attempting to see all 11 Chiang Mai temples on our list, we recommend paring down the list to the Thai temples that most intrigue you (which is why we provided ample descriptions of each one).
Use our Chiang Mai Itinerary to best plan your time in the city…and balance your temple touring with other Chiang Mai activities!
#1 WAT PHRA SINGH CHIANG MAI
One of the most beautiful temples in the Old City is Wat Phra Singh Temple Chiang Mai. The complex features numerous Lanna-style structures, some of which date to the year 1345 when the temple was founded. MAP | INFO
Wihan Lai Kham
Don’t miss the small building toward the back of the complex, Wihan Lai Kam. The temple houses the Lion Buddha (called Phra Singh). The walls are decorated in historic murals that depict the history of the people of ancient Chiang Mai. The wall behind the Lion Buddha is decorated in meticulous lai krahm – gold stenciling.
Other structures on the grounds that we recommend visiting are the exquisitely decorated Luang Assembly Hall, the wooden Ordination Hall (which features 4 eerily life-like monk statues), the 15th century library and a small temple that is completely filled by a single, enormous Reclining Buddha.
#2 WAT CHIANG MAN CHIANG MAI
The oldest temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Chiang Man Temple, dates to 1296, which is the same year the city was founded. It is one of the top temples to visit in Chiang Mai – not only for the two ancient Buddha sculptures it houses, but also for the detailed Elephant Stupa. MAP | INFO
Sacred Elephant Encircled Stupa
Once a royal residence, the king lived in the Elephant Stupa while the rest of the temple complex and the city of Chiang Mai were being constructed. Sculptures of 15 elephants stand on the second level of the massive chedi. It is said that the stupa houses a Sacred Hair Relic from the Buddha.
The two revered Buddha statues – which are credited for having special powers – are kept in the small assembly hall. The Phra Sila Buddha is carved from stone and is thought to bring rain. The Phra Sae Tang Khamani – or Crystal Buddha – is a 10-centimeter-tall quartz crystal statue that offers protection from disasters.
Two other things to see in the Chiang Man complex are the Oldest Buddha Statue in Chiang Mai (located in the Main Wihan) and the library. The Scripture Library – called the Ho Trai – houses Buddhist scriptures. The somewhat simple structure sits on stilts in the middle of a small square pond, reachable only by a retractable bridge. It was common for libraries to be designed this way – as a way of keeping the texts safe from critters and insects.
#3 WAT CHEDI LUANG TEMPLE CHIANG MAI
There are many reasons why visitors should make their way to Wat Chedi Chiang Mai. Built in the 1400s, Wat Chedi Luang at one time featured the tallest building in Chiang Mai (which still partially stands). Additionally, the complex is the site of the City Pillar and the city’s most popular Monk Chat – and we think it is one of the best wats in Chiang Mai! MAP | INFO
Chedi Luang Stupa
The complex’s central stupa reigned as Chiang Mai’s tallest building, rising to the height of 270 feet when it was completed in the middle of the 15th century. However, the upper portion of the stupa collapsed during an earthquake in 1545 – and was not reconstructed until the 1990s. Famous for housing the Phra Kaew (Emerald Buddha) from 1468 until 1551, a jade replica now resides in the east-facing nook. The original Emerald Buddha can be found in a temple at the Royal Palace in Bangkok.
The Chiang Mai City Pillar, which was moved to Wat Chedi Luang in the year 1800, is located inside a small shrine. (More on the City Pillar below under Wat Sadue Muang.)
Chiang Mai Monk Chat
One of the most interesting and fun things to do in Chiang Mai is to attend Monk Chat. The monks are able to practice their English, while tourists can gain insight into Buddhism and life as a monk in Thailand. (More on Monk Chat at the end of the post)
#4 WAT PHAN TAO
Situated just steps from Wat Chedi Luang, most visitors bypass the Phan Tao temple. We, however, think the unique temple – that is both beautiful and serene – shouldn’t be missed. It is one of the oldest remaining temples in the city, dating to the 14th century. However, the main sights were built more recently. MAP |INFO
Wooden Assembly Hall
The most striking feature of Wat Phan Tao is the wooden Vihara Assembly Hall that sits just steps from the main road. Made of teak wood panels – from a former palace – the temple has a three-tiered roof gilded with golden Naga snakes. The intricately decorated portico depicts a peacock standing over a dog. Note: In 2019, the vihara was undergoing a major renovation and was closed to the public – but guests are free to explore the rest of the complex.
Golden Stupa, Bondi Tree with Pond and Wooden Stupa
Sitting behind the wooden assembly hall is a giant golden stupa. The shimmering stupa stands in contrast to the simple assembly hall. Next to the stupa is a raised area, where there is a small pond and Bondi tree. At the back of the complex, guests will find an unusual stupa of interwoven wood, decorated with flags.
#5 PAN ON TEMPLE CHIANG MAI
Assembly Hall and Stupa
The assembly hall is notable for its gilded arched windows with red and gold detailing. Next to the vihara is a large golden stupa (built in 2007) with a Buddha inset. Lining the base of the stupa are numerous bells that visitors can freely ring and at the back is a giant gong. Note: A man may helpfully explain – and encourage – how to properly hit the gong…and sometimes he asks for tips.
Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market at Pan On Temple
The Pan On Temple sits along Rachadamnoen Road, where the Sunday Night Market takes place. In fact, the market flows onto the temple grounds with several food stalls set up just inside the wat gates. Dining within the temple grounds was a memorable market experience for us. Tip: No alcohol is served – or can be consumed – on the grounds.
#6 WAT INTHAKHIN SADUE MUANG TEMPLE
Most of the cities in Thailand have a City Pillar, which is erected before the city is built and said to embody the spirit of the city. The Chiang Mai city pillar – named Sao Inthakin – was placed in Wat Sadue Muang in 1296 by King Mengrai. Although the pillar has been relocated to Wat Chedi Luang, the Inthakhin Sadue Muang Temple is still worth a visit. The temple is located in the heart of the city, on the south side of the Three Kings Monument square. MAP | INFO
Wat Inthakhin Vihara
Made of teak and extravagantly gilded, the small temple is captivating. Guarded by two serpents, the assembly house features the Luang Pho Khao Buddha, which dates to 1794. Along the side of the temple are a series of laughing Buddha statues.
More Sights at Wat Inthakhin, Chiang Mai
Behind the wood temple, there are two old brick chedis that date to the 14th and 15th centuries. A free museum that details the history of the temple and city is also located on the temple grounds.
#7 WAT CHED LIN CHIANG MAI
One of the most fascinating – yet seldom visited – temples in Old City Chiang Mai is Wat Ched Lin (also spelled Jetlin or Jet Lin). In fact, on our first visit to Chiang Mai, we were practically staying across the street and never once wandered onto the temple grounds. On a recent trip, however, we discovered what a gem Wat Ched Lin really is. MAP | INFO
Guests enter the temple grounds to a long line of gongs and an array of oddities (like a 5-eyed creature, a surrealist Buddha and a skeleton sporting sunglasses). Historically significant, Wat Ched Lin was once a temple where kings were crowned. However, what drew us to the temple is the picturesque pond.
Pond and Bamboo Boardwalk
Supposedly originating as a bathing pond for Lanna kings’ pre-coronation ceremony, the enormous square pond is now covered in lotus flowers and lily pads. Large carp and baby turtles call the pond their home, often coming to the surface in search of food. Cutting across the center of the pond is a woven bamboo boardwalk that leads to the monks living quarters. Visitors are invited to cross the springy bridge to the other side where they can chat with the monks, sip coffee or just relax in the stilted lake huts.
#8 LOK MOLI TEMPLE
Located outside the Old City walls on the north side of the city moat, Lok Moli Temple is one of the best temples in Chiang Mai. The complex dates to the 14th century, when it was established as a Royal Wat, although certain structures (like the dazzling vihara) are much more recent. MAP | INFO
Chedi at Lok Moli
The gigantic chedi at Lok Moli was built in 1527. The brick structure is one of the largest chedis in Chiang Mai and contains the ashes of several former Mengrai kings. Carvings and niches for Buddha sculptures grace all four sides of the chedi. Buddhist devotees can make special offerings to the south-facing Buddha via a special pulley device.
Vihara at Wat Lok Moli
Built in 2003, the vihara at Lok Moli is a wooden Lanna-style temple heavily decorated in colorful mosaics (both inside and out). The temple stairs feature intricate naga snakes. In the garden, between the adorned gate and the temple steps, there are two life-size elephant statues.
#9 WAT SRI SUPHAN (SILVER TEMPLE CHIANG MAI)
Touted as one of the most beautiful places in the city, the Sri Suphan Silver Temple in Chiang Mai sits to the south of the Old City, near the Saturday Night Market street. Built in the 1500s, Wat Srisuphan Chiang Mai was used by the local silversmiths – a popular trade of the Wualai village. MAP | INFO
The Silver Temple is, no doubt, a stunning sight; the entire temple – both inside and out – is bedecked in silver. However, because it is an ordination hall that abides by old Lanna rules, women are not permitted to enter the actual temple.
Note: There is a 50-baht fee for all foreigners to enter the grounds immediately surrounding the Silver Temple.
Assembly Hall and Silversmith Studios
The golden assembly hall next to the Silver Chiang Mai Temple is open to all visitors – for free – and features exquisite silver artwork. Working silversmiths are also located on the complex grounds…visitors can listen to the tap-tap-tapping of the creators as they work. Guests can purchase artwork – and even try their hand at the craft. On select days, the complex offers Monk Chat hours, as well.
Wat Muen San Chiang Mai
Just a short walk away is Muen San Temple, which has a few notable sights as well. The Suttajitto Art Gallery is designed to resemble a temple and was built to celebrate the silversmith’s trade. Large silver panels decorate the space – each piece of artwork depicts the history of the temples and people of Muen San Village. It is free – and all are welcome. At the back of the complex is an ancient chedi (which features a sign clearly forbidding women from entering it). MAP
Mountain Temples In Chiang Mai, Thailand
While the Thai temples inside the Chiang Mai Old City walls and just outside the gates are attractive, two of the most beguiling Buddhist temples are to the west of the city in the mountains. Visiting the Chiang Mai temples in the hills are one of the best reasons to leave the confines of the Old City – but requires some mode of transport.
To get to the Chiang Mai mountain temples, we hired a driver for a half-day private tour. We only asked to be taken to two destinations: Doi Suthep Temple and Doi Kham Temple. While Doi Suthep is a popular day trip for tourists, Doi Kham temple is (allegedly) not one of the top Chiang Mai attractions…at least for foreigners. We disagree. Both places offer fantastic views, tranquil settings and a good deal of fascinating folklore.
In hindsight, we wished we would have made a Chiang Mai full-day tour so that we could have visited a few more mountain sights (which we describe below). Other visitors may want to consider booking one of the popular Chiang Mai day trips to the mountains – learn more here.
#10 DOI KHAM TEMPLE – THE GOLDEN TEMPLE CHIANG MAI
Wat Phra That Doi Kham is one of the best Chiang Mai, Thailand temples to visit to get a better understanding of local beliefs and customs. The temple has an ancient history. Shrouded in legends and modern ‘miracles,’ the temple also offers phenomenal views. MAP | INFO
When we arrived at the temple parking lot, we were a bit taken aback to find the place buzzing with visitors. (We did note, however, that we were the only Westerners.) Vendors lined the walkway to the entrance – selling both Jasmine flower offerings and lottery tickets. Slightly perplexed by the oddity, we learned that a local woman prayed to a specific Buddha statue at Doi Kham Temple to win the lottery and offered a gift of jasmine. She won…and ever since, craziness has ensued.
Visitors can find the small golden Buddha in a small vihara within the complex…just follow the devotees carrying fresh jasmine. Inside, you will find piles of jasmine offerings left by those seeking a little bit of luck.
Large Sitting Buddha Statue
Although we think it is impossible to miss, take a moment to size up the enormous sitting Buddha statue near the entrance. The 17-meter-tall (55 feet) Buddha statue sits on an elevated platform, which hosts several other Buddha statues (which are all dwarfed in comparison).
Lanna-style Ordination Hall and Monument
To the left of the giant Buddha is a colorful ubosot (Ordination Hall) featuring exquisite details. The brightly colored structure has murals and impressive naga serpents along the stair railings. To the right of the statue is an interesting shrine that features two elephants and a statue of Queen Chamathew.
Ancient Chedi at Wat Phra That Doi Kham
The oldest structure in the complex is the chedi (or pagoda). Built in the 7th century, the chedi is said to contain a sacred Buddha Hair Relic. According to legend, Buddha bequeathed the hair to two cannibalistic giants – Pu Sae and Ya Sae – after they agreed to stop eating people and convert to Buddhism. The chedi sits in the center of a courtyard that is adorned with numerous bells and gongs. Ringing the bells offers good luck…and a lovely soundtrack.
Chiang Mai Viewing Deck
At the back of the temple complex there is a large deck that provides views over the city of Chiang Mai and the region. Naturally, the views are best on clear days (which seem to be few and far between). Clouds, fog or smog (take your pick) can make it nearly impossible to see any of the city below, although there were nice mountain vistas. From the deck, a long, naga-lined staircase leads down to the base of the mountain.
#11 DOI SUTHEP – THE MOST POPULAR CHIANG MAI TEMPLE
The Chiang Mai mountain temple, Doi Suthep, is one of the most famous temples in Thailand. Tucked into the forested Chiang Mai mountains, the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple is accessible via a road of winding switchbacks – and visiting is a must-do in Chiang Mai. MAP | INFO
Wat Doi Suthep Temple History
The fable of why the Chiang Mai Buddhist temple was built on the mountain is a fantastic tale. According to legend, a Buddha relic (often claimed to be a shoulder bone) was attached to a sacred white elephant. The elephant was set free in the jungle and climbed the hill. At a hillside spot, the elephant circled an area three times, trumpeted loudly in the air and then suddenly died. It clearly was a sign – and the temple was built on that exact site were the elephant perished.
The original, simple structure was built in the late 1300s to house the Buddha relic. However, the complex has been expanded and embellished in the many years since. Today, the temple grounds seem to shimmer and glisten in golden hues and vibrant colors.
Wat Doi Suthep Sights
The Doi Suthep complex is actually quite compact and easy to navigate. While the complex in its entirety is worth seeing, be sure not to miss these temple highlights.
Guarded by magnificent serpents, it is more than 300 steps from the main road up to Wat Prah That Doi Suthep. The staircase was built in 1557 and the ornate Naga snakes line the entire route. Tip: Too hot to climb? There is an inexpensive cable car that takes visitors to the top.
White Elephant Chiang Mai
The sacred elephant theme is (obviously) strong throughout the wat complex. In addition to ivory tusks and elephant images, don’t miss the life-size White Elephant sculpture.
In the center of the complex is the glittering Golden Pagoda, which was built to house the Buddha relic. It stands at 52-feet-tall and dates to the 1400s.
Emerald Buddha Statue Chiang Mai
Although a replica, the Emerald Buddha Statue was one of our favorite sights in the complex. Perhaps it was the time of visit, when light was just right and everything around it sparkled.
Monks, Bells and another Chiang Mai Viewpoint
Monks live on-site at the Doi Suthep temple. We happened to stumble into a temple at just the right time to witness an elderly monk giving special blessings to children. Bells – of varying sizes decorate the entire complex – and ringing them is encouraged (even by non-Buddhist visitors!).
A viewing platform offers vistas over Chiang Mai (but only when the air is not so thick). Elevated at 1,075 meters, the air is noticeably cooler with nice mountain breezes – which all adds to tranquil nature of this amazing Thai temple.
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep Hours are from 6:00am until 6:00pm. There is a small fee for foreign visitors to enter the temple complex.
More Doi Suthep Chiang Mai Sights
The Chiang Mai temple on the hill is not the only reason to go to the mountain. There are many Doi Suthep Mountain sights – including both natural and man-made. Regrettably, we only had time to see the two temples, but other visitors may want to plan to see these attractions as well.
Doi Suthep National Park
The park encompasses 260 km2 and was designated a national park in 1981. In addition to the temple, there are numerous attractions within the park, including waterfalls, hiking trails and villages.
Doi Suthep Waterfalls
One of the highlights of the mountain is the many waterfalls. Huai Rap Sadet Waterfall is located near Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep temple, but other popular waterfalls are Huey Kaew, Dtaat Mook, Mok Fa and Ma Tha Than.
Doi Suthep Hike
Several trails crisscross the mountain. The most popular hike is Monk’s Trail, which leads up the hillside from Chiang Mai University to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. The 1.5-hour hike passes by another temple, Wat Phra Lat (which is next on the list!).
Wat Pha Lat Chiang Mai (also called Wat Palad Chiang Mai)
A serene forest temple reachable only on foot. The grounds are kept up by the monks who live on-site – and peacocks and chickens roam freely.
The Umong Temple Chiang Mai is located at the base of the mountain. It is also known as the Tunnel Temple Chiang Mai because it is, in fact, in a tunnel.
Doi Suthep Mountain Hmong Village
Nestled on the hillside is a Hmong ethnic hilltribe village. In addition to the small cluster of residences, the native people have set up shops to sell their crafts and handmade wares.
The royal winter residence, Bhubing Palace grounds are open to visitors when the Thai Royal Family is not staying there!
Doi Suthep Tour
As we already mentioned, we hired a private driver for our Chiang Mai temple tour on the mountain. However, there are numerous Doi Suthep tours to choose from!
One of the most popular tours is a half day adventure that visits the Doi Suthep Temple and Hmong Hilltribe Village. Read reviews!
The Doi Suthep sunrise tour provides the opportunity to see the temple without the crowds and features an alms-giving ceremony. Find out more!
Start your search for the most best Doi Suthep tours on Get Your Guide.
Getting to Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai
Without a tour, visitors can drive themselves or hop on a songthaew to Doi Suthep. From the city, get a songthaew shared taxi, which has to fill up with passengers before heading up the mountain to the temple. Ask at your accommodation where your closest pickup stand is .
TEMPLES IN CHIANG MAI MAP
Use our Chiang Mai Temples Map to create your own temple tour in Chiang Mai. Use this link to Google Maps for our Chiang Mai City Map online. Or, better yet, purchase a Chiang Mai tourist map in advance of your trip – like this one on Amazon!
Chiang Mai Temple Sightseeing Tips
Above we have highlighted both Chiang Mai Old City temples and must-see temples near Chiang Mai in the mountains. Before you visit the temples in Chiang Mai, however, we have a few essential tips!
Temples in Thailand are revered places – and it is important to dress appropriately. For both men and women, knees and shoulders should be covered. Sportswear, leggings and ripped jeans should not be worn (but may be permitted at some temples). Visitors who do not adhere to the dress code may either be denied entry or given garments to wear (which may be free or offered for rent for a small fee).
Top Tip: Because it is hot in Thailand, I often wear sleeveless shirts when walking around town. I always pack a lightweight wrap in my day pack so that I can easily cover my shoulders to enter a temple while sightseeing.
Shoes always need to be removed before stepping inside a temple. There are often shoe racks near the temple doors, but if not, just leave your shoes on the side of the stairs. We recommend wearing flip flops (these Reef flips are my favorite travel shoes!), which are comfortable for long days of sightseeing, but can easily be removed before entering temples.
Top Tip: We have never heard of anyone having their shoes stolen at a temple. However, if your shoes are indistinct, make sure you leave them where you can easily find them on our way out of the temple!
Chiang Mai Temples Hours and Fees
Most temples in Chiang Mai are open during daylight hours; often from 8:00am until 6:00pm. However, some temples open earlier, and some stay open later. In my Thai temple research, I have found conflicting information on opening hours for nearly every temple in Chiang Mai. For that reason, we recommend visiting temples mid-morning, when the weather is still cool and most temples are certain to be open.
Most of the wats are free to enter. However, foreign visitors are required to pay fees to enter specific temples and/or the wat complex. The places that charge a fee in Chiang Mai are Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and the Silver Temple. The price of admission is around 50 baht ($1.60 USD).
Alternate Temple Spellings
Translating temple names from the Thai language into the Latin alphabet is no easy feat! Visitors should not be surprised to find that temple names are often spelled differently. Small variations – like the absence of a letter or two words without a space – are the norm. While it can be confusing, most Thai temple names are different enough to avoid complete confusion.
Chiang Mai Weather
Visiting temples in the middle of the day can be brutal. With humidity, the Chiang Mai temperature can easily soar over the 100 Fahrenheit mark. Be sure to stay hydrated; bring water with you or purchase cold water from on-site vendors (some temples even have free water on site…we always leave a donation if we take one). Wear loose clothing and consider carrying an umbrella for shade. And, of course, don’t forget the sunscreen and insect repellent!
Understanding Buddhism and The Temples In Chiang Mai
Even if visiting temples wasn’t on your list of things to do Chiang Mai, it would be nearly impossible to visit Chiang Mai without noticing the strong connection the residents have with Buddhism. It ranks as the number one religion in Thailand. In addition to all the temples, almost every house, shop, cafe, hotel and even street corner has a ‘spirit house’ where daily offerings of food, drink, flowers and incense are placed for loved ones who have passed away. It is part of daily life in Chiang Mai to see orange-robed monks walking or riding on the back of scooters throughout town.
Being westerners, we struggled a little to understand Buddhism on our first trip to Thailand. While navigating our way to the temples in Chiang Mai, we noticed many similarities and differences – and learned that almost everything has a meaning.
Buddha Positions and Day Of Week Offerings
At Wat Chedi Luang, they provide information regarding the different Buddha positions and corresponding meanings, which are more significant than we first thought. We also learned that each Buddha position identifies to a day of the week. Furthermore, almsgiving bowls are labeled with the days of the week (often near the matching Buddha image). Initially we thought donations were to be placed in the bowl of the day we visited the temple, but, in fact, visitors are supposed to put a donation into the jar of the day of their birth for good fate.
Our understanding of Buddhism increased exponentially when we joined a conversation with Chiang Mai monks during Monk Chat.
Chiang Mai Monk Chats
Talking to a monk at one of the Thai temples is something we highly recommend doing while visiting the temples in Chiang Mai! You can ask questions about Buddhism, about life as a monk or simply inquire about Chiang Mai life in general.
A few of the temples in Chiang Mai offer free ‘Monk Chat’ – a win-win opportunity for Westerners to get their Buddhist and Thailand questions answered and for the monks to practice their English. We had specific questions, but also let the conversation drift to whatever topics came to mind. At Wat Chedi Luang, we spoke with a 21-year-old monk from Laos.
We gained insight into monks’ daily routine – and he shared what it means to him to be a Buddhist monk. He even talked about the orange garments he wears and showed us how he secures the robes on his body. He told us about his living arrangements – a private room, but shared space with 13 other monks. We were surprised to learn that, although his days are full of meditation and studying, he also enjoys watching movies (like Transformers) and soccer (his favorite team is Real Madrid).
Having the opportunity to converse with a monk in a less formal way was both helpful and insightful.
Buddhist Festivals in Chiang Mai
Buddhist festivals are another incredible way to learn more about the religion, people and culture. Many public Thailand holidays are based on the Buddhist calendar (which follows the lunar cycle). The celebrations are often marked with festivals.
During our first visit to Chiang Mai, we stumbled onto a Buddhist festival that was taking place in the Three Kings Monument plaza in the center of town. Large stages were set up for bands and performers, while two enormous tents – one for monks, the other for women and men dressed in white – occupied most of the space. Long rows of tables were set up with gift basket offerings, which contained everything from soap to light bulbs to money. The baskets are ‘raffled off’ to monks and, afterwards, the monk would seek out the donor to give them a special blessing.
More information about Thai Buddhist Holidays can be found online.
Chanting Chiang Mai Monks
Chanting is something that is often heard around Chiang Mai. In the mornings, chanted prayers drift through the city. In the evenings, while walking to or from dinner, we would often find temples filled with people chanting. Of course, we can’t understand what they are saying, but we would stop to listen; drawn by the rhythm of the chants.
In addition to the temples, the monks, the chanting and the incense, the actual Buddhist signs are one of the notable things to see in Chiang Mai. Usually displayed near temples, the signs have quotes serving as reminders on how to live a good life. Some of our favorite quotes are:
- As You Sow, So You Reap
- Poverty with dignity is better than wealth based on shame
- Work hard, but not with greed
- Better and ugly face than an ugly mind (this one is my all-time favorite!)
Chiang Mai Tours
Touring the temples of Chiang Mai with a guide can help visitors to better understand the significance of the Thai temples – and Buddhism, in general. There are several tours that explore the temples in Chiang Mai Old City – as well as temples outside the city walls.
Find Top Chiang Mai Tours – with fellow traveler reviews – on Viator!
Chiang Mai Temple Walking Tour – Self-Guided
Using our above guide of the best temples to visit in Chiang Mai, create your own Self-Guided Temple Tour! Our recommended route of Chiang Mai city temples is as follows; use this link to Google Maps for walking directions.
- Wat Lok Moli
- Wat Chiang Man
- Wat Inthakhin
- Wat Pan On
- Wat Phan Tao
- Wat Chedi Luang
- Wat Chedi Lin
- Wat Sri Suphan
- Wat Phra Singh
Top Tip: Our route to the best temples to see in Chiang Mai includes our favorite spots. However, we highly encourage temple exploration! For example, two temples we left off our list – Wat Mahawan and Wat Buppharam – have incredibly striking features. Some of the lesser-known temples can be the perfect serene spot to spend the afternoon or ideal for stunning photographs. Use our route as a guideline, but set off on your own discovery, too!
White Temple Chiang Rai, Thailand
Chiang Rai – a city to the north of Chiang Mai – is known for its completely White Temple. While we visited the city and stayed for a week, it is possible to visit on a day trip from Chiang Mai. The popular Chiang Rai day trip includes visiting the famous White Temple, as well as other top Golden Triangle sights. Get the details and read reviews of this affordable all-day Chiang Mai White Temple tour!
Top Tip: While visiting the famous Chiang Rai White Temple from Chiang Mai is possible in a single day, there are other sights to see in the northern city! The Black Temple and Blue Temple in Chiang Rai are two more top attractions. Read our tips for Things To See in Chiang Rai – and consider staying longer than a single day!
Chiang Mai is one of the top places to visit in Thailand! Use our list for more tips on Things To Do in Chiang Mai!
Tips For Your Chiang Mai Trip
We have a few more tips for your trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand!
Where To Stay In Chiang Mai, Thailand
During our visit to Chiang Mai, we have stayed in the affordable Anoma 2 Bed and Breakfast and the Chada Mantra Boutique Hotel in the Old City – both of which we can recommend! However, there are many Chiang Mai hotels to choose from in – or close to – the city center.
Start your search for the best hotels in Chiang Mai on Booking.com – like we do!
Getting To Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai can be reached by plane, bus or car. Our preferred method of getting anywhere is by flying (we are JetSetting Fools, after all!) and we have flown to Chiang Mai from Phuket and Siem Reap, Cambodia and departed on flights to Krabi and Hanoi, Vietnam. When we do need to purchase plane tickets, we start our search for the best deals on airline tickets on Skyscanner.
We aren’t keen on driving abroad, but renting a car can often save time and money (especially when traveling with more than two people) – and it allows for greater discovery.
Before You Go To Thailand
- We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip to Thailand! Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos. We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is slim and lightweight).
- It’s easy to get turned around in any foreign city. Make sure to have a good city map and/or guidebook before arriving.
- We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
We Want To Know: What would you add to our list of Must-Visit Chiang Mai temples? Tell us which temple in Chiang Mai is your favorite in the comments below!
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