My favorite temples can all be considered ancient, and their grounds are laced with old brickwork and statues.
Chiang Mai is known for its hundreds of temples and shrines that are scattered throughout the city, in fact there are over 300 temples found in and around the city. After living here for just over half a year, it is safe to say that I have seen enough to last me a lifetime. However, whenever I have visitors from home who would like to see the temples through new eyes, there are a few that I like going back to and exploring with them.
I am not much of a fan of the recent Northern Thai temple architecture, which consists of shiny golds and reds and an overbearing reliance on the use of mirrors in the walls. My favorite temples can all be considered ancient, and their grounds are laced with old brickwork and statues, I love the character that each of these different temples have that stands them apart from the other 295 or so in Chiang Mai.
1. Wat U-mong
135 Moo 10 Suthep, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand (map)
This temple is perhaps my favorite to visit, and I do so frequently. The temple is set in the forests at the foot of Suthep Mountain, and the property is filled with huge old tress, on which different English and Thai proverbs are hung. The temple was built for an esteemed monk in the 14th century, and there are still quarters for the monks today that live there. The temple is unusual in that most of the architecture is found in underground brick tunnels that maze through the grounds.
2. Wat Jed Yot
Soi Wat Jet Yod, Superhighway, Chiang Mai 50300, Thailand (map)
The temple was built in 1455, and was the place of Eighth World Buddhist Council. There are a few different structures on the property, but most are made of beautiful old, crumpling stones and it is one of the only Thai temples to have seven spire roofs. King Tilokoraj was in power when the temple was built and he planted many sacred Bodhi trees, which are still there, and poles hold up the ancient spreading limbs. The temple also celebrates the year of the snake, and you will find hundreds of snake statues placed all around the walls.
3. Wat Phra Tha Doi Suthep
Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai, Thailand (map)
This is the most famous temple in Chiang Mai, and it made it onto my list mainly for the location rather than the temple itself. Although it was built in 1383, the architecture looks new and there are not any of the ancient stone temples that would normally be associated with its age. The story behind the temple is that King Kuena chose a white elephant to take a holy relic of Buddha to its final resting place, the elephant walked up to the top of the Suthep Mountain and lay down, this is where the temple was built. The drive up to the temple is incredible and the view even more so, but be prepared to climb the 309 stairs to get into the property.
4. Wat Chedi Luang
103 Phra Pok Klao Road, Phra Singh, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand (map)
This old stone temple was built in the 1400s and used to house the Emerald Buddha, however after earthquakes damaged the temple, the Buddha was removed for its safety. It is also one of the few temples with a life size statue of the monk who the temple was built to honor. In 1995 a copy of the Emerald Buddha was created and placed in the temple.
5. Wat Chiang Man
Ratchaphakhinai Road, Chiang Mai, Thailand (map)
Built in 1296 it was the first temple built in Chiang Mai. King Mengrai built it, and Wat Chiang Man houses two rare Buddha statues: the crystal and marble Buddhas. The beautiful old stones are used alongside newer work that was done in 1995 as part of a reconstruction process.
If you are visiting Chiang Mai, and temples are high on your to do list, then I would highly advise making the trips to see these 5 temples that are just a little bit more original and characteristic that most of the other temples you are likely to see.