For visitors interested in the traditions and rituals of Buddhism, a visit to Chiang Mai is a must on any journey to Thailand. The more than 300 temples in Chiang Mai reflect the history of the ancient Lanna Kingdom and the city itself and show how Buddhism was shaped over the centuries. Walking through Chiang Mai, the contrasting colors, detailed carvings, golden Buddha statues, and the scent of incense drew us to wander into and explore a number of wats along the way – wat meaning temple in the local language. If you’re spending two weeks in Thailand make sure to save room in your itinerary for at least 3 days in Chiang Mai.
If you’re keen, a number of wats offer daily monk chats, in which novice monks practice their English with tourists by answering any questions they may have about the religion and the inner workings of monastery life. It’s an amazing opportunity for an up-close look at Buddhism and allows travelers to dig deep into the culture with the locals. With so many temples around, we’ve noticed a number of travelers talk about getting “templed out.” We’ve called Chiang Mai home on and off over the past 5 years of traveling the world. After living in Chiang Mai for a year we’ve explored a number of Chiang Mai temples, both inside and outside of the Old City, and came up with our list of the top 10 that will leave you in awe.
Chiang Mai Temples Inside the Old City
The area of Chiang Mai with the highest density of temples is inside the moat or old walled city. Here you’ll find a temple on every street and usually more. If you want to take in a lot of culture and beautiful temples – this is one of the best places to start!
Wat Chiang Man
Wat Chiang Man is known to be the oldest of all the Chiang Mai temples. It was built in 1296 by King Mengrai, who stayed in this temple while overseeing the construction of the city. Like many of the other temples in Chiang Mai, the oldest part of the complex is the chedi – which refers to stupa in the local language – with 15 elephants carved into its base in a mix of Lanna and Sinhalese styles. We made sure to pay a visit to two of the most important Buddha images at this temple. The Crystal Buddha was believed to protect the city against disaster, and the Phra Sila Buddha – a standing Buddha which had the power of bringing rain – was believed to have come from Sri Lanka more than 1000 years ago. Wat Chiang Man also houses the oldest Buddha image in the Lanna Kingdom, dating back to 1465.
Address: 171 Ratchapakhinai Road | Opening Hours: 6AM-5PM | Entrance Fee: Free
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Wat Mo Kham Tuang
The stunning golden tiles on the walls of Wat Mo Kham Tuang drew us to this temple inside Chiang Mai’s Old City. As we approached the courtyard, a five-headed mythical serpent snaking around a large urn greeted us, and as we entered the temple, we saw walls covered in paintings illustrating the tales of the previous lives of Buddha, known as the Jakata stories. We landed in front of the main altar inside War Mo Kham Tuang and admired a golden Buddha perched behind gold curtains. Take note of the chedi here – the octagonal shaped golden stupa is of particular visual interest.
Address: Si Phum Road | Opening Hours: 6AM-5PM | Entrance Fee: Free
Wat Phan Tao
Wat Phan Tao is often overshadowed by Wat Chedi Luang because they are located right next to each other. But instead of skipping over this one, pair this temple with a visit to Wat Chedi Luang. Pass by the Burmese style lions that guard this temple complex and explore the small garden and the monks’ living quarters that make up the grounds of Wat Phan Tao. Enter a room of dark teakwood panels and you will be rewarded with a viewing of a golden Buddha statue. This temple was once part of a royal palace for the ruling family of Chiang Mai; nowadays, it is the venue for a number of religious holidays throughout the year.
Time your visit with the Loy Krathong and Yi Peng festivals, where you will be lucky enough to see the grounds of the temple complex lit up by a sea of candles, and the skies filled with floating lanterns. To celebrate the arrival of the new year, lanterns are also released from this temple into the sky on December 31st, to send off all the bad luck from the past year. You can also time your visit for February when thousands of tulips are in full bloom in the temple garden.
Address: Phra Pok Klao Road | Opening Hours: 8AM-5PM | Entrance Fee: Free
Wat Phra Singh
Named Temple of the Lion Buddha, Wat Phra Singh is one of the most celebrated temples in Chiang Mai and was built by King Pha Yu in 1345 to house his father’s ashes. The temple’s Gilded Hall was constructed around the same time and accommodates the original 14th Century Lion Buddha – except for its head, which was stolen in 1922. However, when the city’s population began to decline in the 18th Century, Wat Phra Singh fell into a state of disrepair. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 19th Century that restoration on the temple began; it is now considered one of the finest examples of Lanna style architecture.
Address: Samlarn and Ratchadamnoen Roads | Opening Hours: 6AM-5PM | Entrance Fee: 20 Baht/adult
Wat Chedi Luang
Built in 1441, this temple was once believed to be the biggest structure in the ancient Lanna Kingdom, with its stupa reaching a soaring 82-meters in height. Wat Chedi Luang was once home to the Emerald Buddha and was transferred to Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok in 1475, where it now stands. Today, a jade replica stands in its place at Wat Chedi Luang. There are a couple of theories as to why there is damage to the top of the temple’s chedi. Some say it was destroyed when an earthquake struck Chiang Mai in the 16th Century, while others believe the chedi was destroyed when the Burmese fought to capture the city by cannon fire in the 18th Century, but nobody can say for sure which event caused its destruction. With a rich history and convenient location in the heart of the Old City, Wat Chedi Luang is one of the most visited temples in Chiang Mai.
Tip: Go early in the morning and have the whole temple to yourself.
Address: Opening Hours: 6AM-5PM | Entrance Fee: 40 Baht/adult
Temples in Chiang Mai Outside the Old City
As beautiful as the temples are inside the old city walls, the temples of Chiang Mai outside the city are even more impressive. Most of the temples on this list are well know and you can use songthaews or taxis to reach them. Here are our favorite temples outside the city of Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Wat Suan Dok
Fittingly named “Flower Garden Temple,” Wat Suan Dok was built on the grounds of a former flower garden in 1373. This temple is outstanding because of the towering golden stupa built in Sri Lankan style that houses a sacred Buddhist relic – believed to be Buddha’s shoulder bone. It is one of two that are present in the city, as the relic was believed to be broken in half during its journey to the temple. Dozens of white chedi containing several generations worth of the ashes of Lanna Royalty surround the memorial garden’s golden stupa.
Wat Suan Dok not only attracts history buffs but also a number of photographers, as it offers spectacular views of Doi Suthep, especially at sunset. This temple also runs a two-day meditation retreat at an affiliated location in the forest. Under the leadership of a monk, spend your day learning the importance of meditation and all of its variations. For a truly hands-on experience at one of the many Chiang Mai temples, check out the meditation retreat offered by Wat Suan Dok.
Address: Suthep Road | Opening Hours: 6AM-5PM| Entrance Fee: Free
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
You can recognize the golden rooftop of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep from any point in Chiang Mai, and the tale of how it was founded is so legendary that every school child has to learn it. Located just west of the city on Doi Suthep mountain, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of the most sacred temples in the north of Thailand. Before 1935, visitors had to go on a five-hour trek to reach the temple on top of this mountain, which has stunning views over the city. But thanks to the efforts of 1000 volunteers, a road was built, and the trip from Chiang Mai can now be completed in just 40-minutes by car.
The temple grounds are considered sacred because it houses the second of two shoulder bones in the city belonging to Buddha. The relic is believed to have been carried up to the temple by a white elephant, and a statue honoring the animal can be found at the very top of the steps of the temple. For a unique journey up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, join a mountain biking tour from Chiang Mai. And for thrill seekers, zip up the winding road on a motorbike. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of the most highly recommended temples in Chiang Mai, and a must for any visitor to the city.
Address: Opening Hours: 6am – 6pm | Entrance Fee: 30 Baht/adult
Wat Pha Lat
This secluded temple on the foothills of Doi Suthep is often overlooked by excited visitors hurrying up the mountain to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Admittedly, the temple of Wat Pha Lat doesn’t quite stack up in appearance compared to some of the other Chiang Mai temples, but what it lacks in presentation is made up for by its natural setting. Hidden in the trees and sitting next to a waterfall, it offers panoramic views over Chiang Mai. And because many choose to forgo this temple in favor of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Wat Pha Lat is free of crowds and souvenir stalls. Catch a cab from the city to this temple, or hike 45-minutes from the foothills on the rugged and rocky Monk’s Trail – you may be lucky enough to encounter monks trekking effortlessly through.
Address: | Opening Hours: 6AM-5PM | Entrance Fee: Free
Wat Sri Suphan
Built in 1502, what looks like a life-sized jewelry box outside of Chiang Mai’s moat is the highly decorated Lanna style Wat Sri Suphan, with every inch covered in silver and shimmering under the sun. While actual silver is only used on the temple’s holy images, the rest of the place is dressed in nickel and aluminum panels. Tucked down a quiet lane in Chiang Mai’s silver-making district, this temple shows off the skills of traditional Lanna silversmiths.
Because Wat Sri Suphan is still an active ordination hall, unfortunately, no women are allowed – this is stated outside the temple with a sign that reads “Women are not allowed inside due to the belief that they would deteriorate the holy relics — or otherwise the lady herself.” For a bonus activity, visit Wat Sri Suphan at night, when the nearby Saturday Night Market is in full swing and buzzing with activity.
Address: 100 Wua Lai Road | Opening Hours: 6AM-9PM | Entrance Fee: 50 Baht/adult
Legend has it that Wat Umong, the 13th Century “Tunnel Temple,” was built for the eccentric monk Thera Jan. Living in the dense forest, Thera Jan often wandered out of the complex and lost himself amongst the trees for days. To encourage him to stay within the walls of the temples, a network of tunnels was built and a number of Buddhist shrines were installed throughout. The experience of having to crouch and explore the area through a series of tunnels makes Wat Umong one of the most unique Chiang Mai temples. You’ll also notice the structures of the temple covered in moss and vines because it was abandoned after the 13th Century and wasn’t used again until the 1940’s.
Address: 135 Mueang Chiang Mai District | Opening Hours: 8AM-5PM | Entrance Fee: Free
More About Temples in Chiang Mai
With over 300 scattered throughout the city, there’s no shortage of temples in Chiang Mai. Built by kings in their day as a display of wealth, these places of worship also once served as schools and hospitals. Today, they remain a looking glass into the past and tell the tales of the ancient Lanna Kingdom, when Chiang Mai stood at its center as the capital. Over the centuries, these Chiang Mai temples remained sacred spaces and have become must-sees for travelers to the city, so please respect the grounds by dressing modestly and covering up your shoulders and knees with loose fitting clothing when visiting.
Chiang Mai Temple Tours
One of the best ways to see as many Chiang Mai temples as possible in one day without getting lost a million times is jumping on a temple tour. There are several different temple tours in Chiang Mai from all day, half day, private, etc. Here are a few tours we recommend:
Recommended Chiang Mai Hotels
If you’re wanting to visit a bunch of temples every day we suggest staying in the Old City. 99 Heritage Hotel has been a favorite among our friends visiting from the states.
- 99 Heritage Hotel | Agoda | Booking.com | Trip Advisor
- The Dhara Dhevi Hotel Chiang Mai| Agoda | Booking.com | Trip Advisor
- Phusanfah Resort| Agoda | Booking.com | Trip Advisor
If you’re staying for several nights or like the comforts of a house consider renting an Airbnb, there are tons of Airbnb’s in Chiang Mai from a little as $10 a night and up. Many of the apartment buildings we lived in had listings on Airbnb for around $35-50 a night for a one bedroom condo.
Airbnb first-timers, if you sign up through my referral link you get $40 credit when you book your first trip! –>> sign up here!
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