You’re short on time and on cash. And you want to go sightseeing. What can you do? Go on an independent Chiang Mai temple tour, of course!
Say you came to Chiang Mai to bathe the elephants. After crossing out the biggest item on your list, you’re down to your last 1000 baht. It’s not the elephants’ fault—you shopped too much at the night bazaar and the Sunday walking market, and that could not be avoided. But now it’s your last day in town and you don’t have anything planned.
How about a temple tour for just 500 THB? Just negotiate with a tuktuk or taxi driver before he revs up his engine and you’ll have him ready to zip you across town in the next 3 to 4 hours.
Chiang Mai dates from the 13th century and its walled Old City was filled by the rulers of the ancient Lanna kingdom with numerous Buddhist temples, a few of which you passed by on your shopping escapades. Without a doubt, Chiang Mai’s most famous temple is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep high up on a mountain overlooking the city, iconic for its gilded chedi (stupa). But close to the Old City or within it, there are still several remnants from the Lanna period to fill your imagination with images of centuries past.
This Chiang Mai temple tour crosses the city from east to west, starting midway between the night bazaar and Tha Pae Gate, ending just a few minutes away from the airport.
The temple’s distinctive two-storey Dharma Hall stands next to a sacred well. The chedi in Burmese style is a 20th century reconstruction, but the temple dates back to 1496. Keep your eyes open for some unusual statues in the garden.
Wat Chiang Man
Built in 1297 as the first temple within the walled city, Wat Chiang Man houses the Crystal Buddha and Marble Buddha. One of its main features is the gold-topped chedi surrounded by elephant carvings.
Three Kings Monument
At the heart of the city, in the square in front of the Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Center, stands the monument to the three kings who founded Chiang Mai. Pass by for a photo stop here and at the adjacent temple, the only one in the city standing in the middle of the road.
Wat Chedi Luang
Once a towering 90 metres, the brick chedi was damaged by an earthquake in 1545 but is nonetheless massive. Three temples make up the complex, which is spacious by Chiang Mai standards. The famed Emerald Buddha was housed here before its transfer to Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew.
Wat Phra Singh
Perhaps the most prominent temple within the city walls, Wat Phra Singh is most famous for housing the revered Phra Singh Buddha image. Although only a reproduction is on display here, it is still worth a visit for the murals of the Viharn Lai Kham.
Wat Suan Dok
Next to a large viharn in the Buddhist university campus, the golden Sri Lankan-style chedi and the whitewashed royal mausoleum glow under the sun. It’s a peaceful spot with the mountains in the backdrop.
- Wear modest attire covering your shoulders and knees.
- If possible, wear footwear that is easy to remove as it may be required to enter some temple buildings.
- Put on sunscreen.
- Don’t forget to hydrate!