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Chiang Mai Temples

buddha wat phra singg

Another name for Chiang Mai is "City of Golden Temples" and each one is different. Here's our favorite temples to visit with kids in the old city, but also look at temple life in the neighborhood where you're staying. At our hotel, every day the monks in the monastery next door came by to receive alms, chanting in the early morning air.

In Buddhist temples, the chedi is a pagoda or stupa for sacred relics, such as ashes of kings or monks. Ubosot (chapel) and viharn are ceremonial halls with images of the Buddha.

Gates and stairways are often decorated with guardians, such as lions, nagas (serpent deities) and makaras (water creature with big toothy mouth like a crocodile, often paired with a naga).

    Wat Phra Singh (Wat Prasingha Woramahawiharn) –
wat phra singh

The temple was founded in 1344, when King Pha Yu built a chedi for the ashes of his father Kam Fu. The complex includes two viharns (ceremonial halls), ho trai (temple library), ubosot (smaller ceremonial hall), large bell-shaped chedi, and many sculptures of nagas and lions. In the Viharn Lai Kharam is stored the Phra Singh Buddha (for which the temple is named). This Buddha is very important to the city and is carried in a procession in the Songkran festival each year.

Wat Phra Singh Photo Album

When you enter the temple complex, out front are two white Singha guardian lions. The statue in front is a revered monk, and behind is the Main Viharn.


This Viharn is the biggest building, but it's relatively new – it was built in the 1920's. On the stairs are jeweled golden nagas, and above the door is a gilded carving of Vishnu riding on a garuda bird. Go inside the Viharn, but wear appropriate dress (no shorts, mini-skirts, bare shoulders). This is an active chapel where people come to make offerings and prayers.


Ho Trai – This is a particularly lovely temple library (where scriptures are kept). The top half is painted red and gold with a swooping roof. The bottom half is decorated with figures of beautiful celestial beings (devas). On the stairway are guardian lions and makara creatures (nipping at the lions).


Ubosot – Stop into the Ubosot so see a glowing replica of the Emerald Buddha (now in the Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok). In front of the Buddha are statues of revered monks.

phra singh buddha

Viharn Lai Kharam – The Phra Singh Buddha is a 15th century bronze statue, sitting meditating, his left hand in his lap, his right hand pointing down (calling the earth to witness gesture, defeating illusion). The walls of the viharn are decorated with murals, which are two different fables, but also illustrate daily life more than a century ago.


Chedi – The large white, bell-shaped chedi is decorated with elephants on each of the four sides (elephants look like they are half-in, half out of the chedi).


Next to the chedi is a stack of bricks. When temple was restored in the 1920's three urns were found here – brass, silver and gold, with ashes inside. It's thought these were the ashes of Kam Fu, but the urns have disappeared.


Statue of King Mangrai – The statue commemorates King Mangrai who created his new capital city of Chiang Mai in 1296


Reclining Buddha – At the far end of the complex is a lovely reclining Buddha.

    Wat Chiang Man (Chaingmun) –
chiang man murals

Chiang Man is the oldest temple in the city, built in 1297. The temple has an ancient stone stele with the "birth date" of Chiang Mai – at 4 am, on the eighth day, the month of Visahka, year of the Monkey, in 1296.


Inside the viharn, check out the red and gold murals, which tell the story of the founding of Chiang Mai.


Chedi Chang Lom is ringed with 15 elephants (the elephants symbolize royalty).

    Wat Buppharam –
wat buppharam duck

Walking by this temple, golden four-headed lions at the gateway caught our attention. In the gardens we spotted a statue that looked like Donald Duck eating a bowl of noodles. Wat Buppharam is one of the most fun temples for kids in Chiang Mai.


Wat Buppharam might appear more contemporary, but it has a long history. It's a city temple, founded in 1497. In the 18th century, Wat Buppharam is where the new Thai ruler of Chiang Mai took back the city from the Burmese.


In the temple gardens, along with the duck are statues of a lion, giraffe, rhinoceros, jaguar, zebra, ostrich, cobra, panda, deer, camel, eagle, water buffalo, and lots of elephants and Chinese style lion dogs.


Yellow-green, toothy five-headed nagas decorate the stairs, along with other mythical creatures.

wat buppharam teak buddha

Go up the stairs to the Ho Monthiantham Hall (which is recent), every inch of the walls and ceiling are painted and decorated. A huge teak Buddha is painted white and yellow, another Buddha wears a rhinestone robe. There's several green glass emerald Buddhas, and little mini-stupas containing holy relics of the Buddha from India, China, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.

    Wat Chedi Luang –

The spiritual center of old city Chiang Mai is Wat Chedi Luang. Here is the city pillar (lak muang), a cosmological link to the heavens and home of guardian spirits for the city. Each year at the Inthakhin festival, offerings are made to encourage good fortune for Chiang Mai. (The city pillar isn't open except during the festival.)


The huge brickwork chedi was constructed in the 15th century to enshrine relics of the king's father. For 500 years it was the tallest building in Chiang Mai. Around the base are nagas (serpents) at the stairways and rows of elephants above. Tip: For almost a hundred years the Emerald Buddha (now in Bangkok) resided here in a niche on the east side of the chedi.


Stop into the viharn to see a centuries old standing Buddha image (Phra Chao Attarot), with his two disciples on either side. At the western edge of the complex is a golden reclining Buddha.


Wat Phan Tao – Next door to Chedi Luang, stop for a look at this small beautifully constructed wooden temple. Over the doorway is a lovely carved peacock (symbol of royalty) surrounded by nagas, with a dog (sign of the zodiac) underneath.

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