If temple hopping is high on your agenda when visiting Chiang Mai, with over 300 to choose from, you won’t be disappointed. In fact, Chiang Mai has more temples than anywhere else in Thailand, and more than its fair share of the countries best.
From ancient ruins steeped in history to modern feats of creative genius, there’s a temple for everyone in and around this buzzing North Thailand city.
These are some of our favourites….
Wat Phra Singh; Temple of the Lion Buddha
Built during the 14th century, Wat Phra Singh holds the accolade of being Chiang Mai’s oldest temple, dating back to the time the city was the capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom. This temple is typically Lanna in style with its stunning gold embellishments and probably the best example of Lanna architecture in Chiang Mai.
The temple is home to a hugely important Buddha statue, the Phra Singh (lion headed) Buddha after which the temple is named. Before he gained enlightenment to become Buddha, Prince Siddhartha Guatama was part of the Shakya Clan whose symbol was a lion. It is said that the statue was being transported by a ship which sank, but the statue floated to the surface, somewhat of a miracle.
In keeping with it’s huge spiritual significance, the statue is paraded through the streets of Chiang Mai during the Songkran water festival, when Buddhists pay their respects by spraying it with water to mark the start of the traditional Thai new year.
Look out for the enormous golden chedi which features elephants emerging from its base; this is the oldest structure on the temple complex, built to contain the remains of King Pha Yu’s father. Since its installation, it has grown as more royal ashes have been added and the formerly white structure was changed to the impressive gold you see today.
We enjoyed exploring the different structures with their unique features, hearing the many prayer bells chime outside and watching a group of monks chanting in one of the buildings during our visit.
The temple is very active and home to many monks, and is said to be one of the best places in Chiang Mai to be able to engage with them and learn more about their lives.
We visited during the Yee Peng festival when the walkways were heavily festooned with paper lanterns and there were monks selling lanterns you could add to the colourful display.
Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang is located in the heart of the old city and is another of Chiang Mai’s oldest temples. The name means ‘temple of the big stupa’, and certainly the ruin of the 15th century stupa (pagoda) is impressive although it lost around half of its original height during an earthquake in 1545.
The temple was the original home of the famous emerald Buddha which was relocated after the earthquake and now resides Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew.
Besides the ruined stupa, there are several building to explore around the site in varying styles ranging in construction from stone to teak.
The main temple building is beautifully decorated in deep reds and an intricate gold floral design covers the black lacquered pillers. Zodiac banners hang in clusters from the ceiling along the edges of the temple hall.
Towards the front of the complex, an ornate buiding houses the city pillar which was historically placed at the heart of the Lanna kingdom (close to the three kings monument) to protect it from evil forces. The annual Bucha Intakhin ceremony invites Buddhists to pay their respects to the pillar, that is, provided they are male; women are forbidden to enter this building due to ancient Buddhist beliefs.
A tall tree near the front entrance of the temple complex is also believed to have a protective role and it is believed that, should it ever fall, catastrophic consequences shall ensue.
Plenty more small buildings invite you to explore the complex and a pretty ornate temple at the back makes a full exploration worthwhile.
The temple hosts daily monk chats inviting tourists to ask them all about Buddhism and being a monk.
Location: Phrapokklao road
Opening: 06:00 – 17:00. Monk chats are available from 9am.
Cost: TBH 40 for adults and TBH 20 for children (again, we were not charged for our chidren to visit)
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
You’ll need to get out of town to visit this beautiful temple which sits atop one of the regions tallest mountain, Mount Doi Suthep, and is one of Thailand’s most important temples.
Legend has it that a sacred white elephant carried a piece of bone from Buddhas shoulder to the top of Doi Suthep mountain, trumpeted 3 times then lay down and peacefully passed away and this was taken as a sign that this was the spot to build a temple to house the relic.
This legend makes Doi Suthep temple one of the holiest in Thailand and it is a major pilgrimage site for Buddhists, especially during the Makha Bucha and Visakha Bucha holidays.
The temple is accessed by climbing the 309 steps from the car park which are flanked by huge Naga (mythological sea serpents) on either side. The legendary white elephant is depicted in stone just inside the complex where there are numerous beautiful temple buildings and pagodas to explore.
The central complex features the famous golden pagodas and numerous buddha depictions in marble, metals, wood and stone. We were lucky enough to receive a blessing from one of the resident monks during our visit.
The temple is extremely photogenic nut also very popular with tourists so expect to be patient if you want perfect pictures and be prepared to be shoed out of the way by the roving photographers looking to sell portraits in front of the famous golden pagoda’s. It is probably wise to arrive early if you’re hoping for some unspoilt shots.
The mountain also offers spectacular views across the city of Chiang Mai – see if you can spot the airport from the lookout which is adorned with intricately carved wooden pillars.
There is an ice cream parlour just outside the entrance to the temple complex which serves as a useful bribe for ‘templed out’ children!
Back towards the car park there is also a small market complex where you can buy souvenirs including metal bells similar to those around the temple which are believed to bring good luck when rung.
If you have time to explore more than the temple, Doi Suthep National Park has plenty of deciduous forests to explore which are home to many birds and small primates and a couple of waterfalls including popular Huay Kaew waterfall.
To reach Doi Suthep mountain, you will need to organise transport. We hailed a songathew and the driver waited outside for us to complete our visit which appears to be usual practice. Alternatively, you can hire a private car or join a tour although these options are considerably more expensive.
If you’re feeling especially energetic, you can take the Monks Trail on foot to access the temple. Starting just behind Chiang Mai Zoo on Doi Suthep road, the track passes through jungle before making the steep ascent to the top of Doi Suthep mountain. The route is reported to take around 2 hours one way.
Location: Doi Suthep National Park Chiang Mai
Opening: 06:00 – 17:00 daily
Cost: TBH 30 for adults (we weren’t asked to pay for children)
Wat Sri Suphan (the Silver temple)
Arguably the prettiest of Chiang Mai’s temples, Wat Sri Suphan is completely covered inside and out with intricate silver carvings in keeping with the silversmithing handicraft of this area. Women, however, will have to take their men folks word for the quality of the inside since ancient Buddhist rules prevent women from entering to see for themselves. Before you feel too put out about it though ladies, the ruling is supposed to protect you since ancient Lanna belief is that the relics buried beneath the floor can damage your pure spirit. There is more than enough intricate silver details on the outside to keep the ladies interested so it’s still worth a visit for the girls.
Sri Suphan is one of Chiang Mai’s oldest, although the silver decoration is a more recent addition following renovations between 2008 and 2016. Much of the ‘silver’ is in fact aluminium, although some of the smaller decorations are real silver; I imagine polishing that tarnished candlestick would pale into insignificance next to maintaining the shine on this temple if it were all the real deal!
Dazzling in daylight, the temple is also lit up at night in an array of changing colours for added sparkle.
The complex features a couple of smaller temple buildings where we received a blessing from a monk and a small carved buddha. The temple hosts monk chats on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings (17:30-19:30) as well as group meditation sessions on the same days (19:00-21:00).
Look out for the silver elephant which is one of the Elephant parade artworks displayed outside.
Location: 100 Wulai Road
Opening: 06:00 – 21:00 daily
Cost: TBH 50 for adults
Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang
This small and beautiful temple located close to the Three Kings Monument sits at the centre of the original city of Chiang Mai when it was founded in 1296. The site was marked with the city pillar, which legend states was given to the people by Indra, the lord of heaven to protect them from evil. Although the pillar has subsequently been re-located to Wat Chedi Luang, the temple is well worth a visit.
The teak temple is intricately decorated in gold both inside and out whilst stone naga adorned with blue and green mosaics guard the entrance.
The temple is especially beautiful during the Yee Peng festival when the area outside is heavily decorated with paper lanterns.
Wat Phan Tao
Whilst this teak 14th century temple is beautiful in its own right, it is best known for hosting a ceremony for novice monks during the Yee Peng and Loy Krathong festivals. As darkness falls, onlookers will witness novice monks emerging on to the bank in the temple grounds under a tree laden with paper lanterns. As the ceremony proceeds, hundreds of candles are lit and the monks are led in chanting and meditation by a senior monk before releasing paper lanterns into the night sky as the ceremony concludes. Read our post on the Yee Peng Festival to find out more about this fantastic celebration.
Location: Phra Pok Klao Road in the old city, directly beside Wat Chedi Luang
Opening: 06:00 – 17:00; Novice monk ceremony held in the grounds during the Yee Peng Festival starts around 19:00 – 20:00 on days 2 and 3 of the festival
Cost: Free. Attendance at the novice monk ceremony is also free, but very popular and crowded so its best to arrive early.
Wat Phan On
This beautiful temple is one of the lesser visited temples in Chiang Mai, although it was actually our first. The large temple hall (Viharn) is painted a distinctive yellow and red on the outside with intricate gold decorations.
Inside, black pillars are embellished with detailed gold designs whilst naga frame the windows with their carved wooden shutters.
In the courtyard, the golden chedi features recesses to contain images of Buddha sitting under the Bhodi tree.
Beautiful by day, the temple really comes to life during the Sunday walking street market when it fills with stalls selling beautiful handicrafts and a vast selection of delicious foods. This was one of our very favourite places to eat while we were staying in Chiang Mai.
Opening: 08:00 – 17:00 daily. Courtyard open until midnight on Sundays
Wat Rong Khun; the white temple, Chiang Rai
Okay, so the observant amongst you will have noticed that this temple is in Chiang Rai rather than Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai being a 3.5 hour drive away is pushing the ‘in and around’ description a bit…. However, in my defence, this temple is far too beautiful not to mention and definitely worth getting out of town for.
Located 13Km outside of Chiang Rai in Rong Khun village, the white temple of the same name has been lovingly restored by artist Chalermchai Khositpipat with his own money to restore the delipidated temple on this same site to one of the most spectacular, and indeed, most visited temples in all of Thailand.
The dazzling white exterior is inlaid with silver mirrored mosaic tiles for extra gleam factor and the detailed construction will leave you in a state of awe. As if the outside wasn’t spectacular enough, the inside has a few surprises up its sleeve which will leave even the children loving temples.
Still not convinced? Perhaps the knowledge that the complex features some of the worlds most impressive toilets will convince you to make the journey!
Our blog post on visiting Wat Rong Khun will tell you everything you need to know to plan your own visit to this spiritual masterpiece.
Location: Rong Khun Village Chiang Rai
Opening: 06:30 – 18:00 daily
Cost: TBH 100 per person
Wat Rong Suea Ten; The Blue Temple, Chiang Rai
Well you’re here now, so you may as well see the beautiful blue temple too!
In complete contrast to the dazzling white of Wat Rong Khun, Wat Rong Suea Ten is a brilliant shade of blue both inside and out. Although it is less well known than the white temple, it is equally as unique and impressive and definitely worth a visit.
Outside, you will see gold embellishments contrast spectacularly with the deep blue exterior, whilst the inside will delight with vivid murals and a gleaming white Buddha.
To learn more about the blue temple, read our article Top things to do in Ching Rai.
Location: 306 Maekok Road, Mueang Chiang Rai District
Opening: 07:00 – 20:00
Cost: Free (correct at the time of writing)
There is a basic etiquette to be followed at all temples in Thailand; visitors are asked to dress modestly and refrain from exposing knees or shoulders.
Inside the actual temple buildings, visitors must remove their shoes and hats. It is also considered disrespectful to point your feet directly at the buddha.
It is generally acceptable to take photographs inside the temples, but be respectful towards those coming to worship by not standing directly in front of the Buddha image or making excessive use of your flash.
That was a quick run through our favourite Chiang Mai (and Chiang Rai) temples, but there are plenty more to explore, so get out there and discover your own favourites.