Chiang Mai was the principal religious centre around which coalesced the life and culture of a vast region streching as far as China. Quite naturally, then, Chiang Mai is a city of temples. Today there are 36 wats within the moats alone and more than 85 in the surrounding area. Notwithstanding the passing ages, most are still well preserved, signifying that through times the temples have been the center of care and attention of the congregations, generation after generation. Nowadays, many are still carrying on actively as the spiritual centers of Buddhist communities as in their founding days. Temple sightseeing remains a major tourist attraction in Chiang Mai.
Wat Phra Sing
Located on Sam Lan Road, this lovely temple dates from 1345 and enshrines the revered Phra Phutthasihing Buddha image, a focal point for the Songkran Thai New Year festivities on April 13-15. The temple compound includes the Lai Kham chapel featuring exquisite woodcarwings and northern-style murals; a magificent scriptural repository with striking bas reliefs, and a bell-shaped stupa.
Next to Wat Phra Sing is a tiny temple with beautifully carved windows, Wat Phapong. Right behind it is Wat Prasat, an interesting building in the old Lanna style, especially worthly of attention because the viharn is connected to the chedi by a tunnel, a very ancient architectural form.
Wat Suan Dok
The temple, on Suthep Road, was built in a 14th-century Lanna king's pleasure gardens and is most notable for its several white chedis, which contains the ashes of members of Chiang Mai's former royal family. Enshrined in a secondary chapel is a 500-year-old bronze Buddha, one of Thailand's largest metal images. Despite recent changes, the temple is spaciously laid out and very picturesque. It was once a fortified monastery, a wiang, build on the site of a royal garden. Tall ceremonial gates still mark the limits of the large compound. The main feature is a huge bell-shaped chedi built by king Ku Na, who had sponsored the famous monk Maha Tera Sumana to come from Ceylon and teach in Chiang Mai.
Wat Chiang Man
Located within the old walled city on Ratchaphakhinai Road, this is Chiang Mai's oldest temple, believed to date from 1296, when King Mengrai allegedly lived here while the new city of Chiang Mai was under construction. The temple is noteworthy for its fine chedi supported by rows of elephant buttresses and a beautiful chapel, while enshrined within are the ancient Buddha images of Phra Kaeo Khao, a tiny crystal statue thought to have the power to bring rain, and Phra Sila Khao. To the left of the chedi is a small library, recently rebuilt and painted in garish colours, and an old bot, a nineteenth century Lanna wooden structure containing a fine collection of bronzes, some Lanna, some Uthong.
Wat Chedi Luang
Here, on Phrapokklo Road , is the largest chedi in Chiang Mai, measuring 98m tall and 54m wide. It was originally completed in 1481 but partially collapsed due to an earthquake in 1545. Among other features is a magnificent Naga staircase adorning the chapel's front porch. Of great beauty is a tall gum tree which stands the best chance of survival among all its fellows in the valley: according to legend, the city of Chiang Mai will last only as long as this tree stands.Wat Chedi Luang is also notable as one of the temporary abodes of the Emerald Buddha, now enshrined at Wat Phra Kaeo in Bangkok .
Wat Ku Tao
Located near Chiang Mai Stadium, Wat Ku Tao is remarkable for its unusual bulbous chedi, shaped like a watermelon and thus prompting its Thai name. The shape is a result of Chinese influence. Propably built around the sixteenth-seventeenth century to contain the ashes of a Burmese ruler of Chiang Mai, or perhaphs a Chinese warlordThe structure is decorated with coloured porcelain chips and is believed to represent five monks' alms bowls.
Wat Chet Yot
Away from the town on the Super Highway north of the Huai Kaeo-Nimrnanhemin intersection, not far fr'om the National Museum. The chedihere is unique, quite unlike anything else in the North. It is actually composed of seven chedis erected on a rectangular laterite base which contains a barrel-vaulted room. The design was inspired by the temple at Bodhgaya, in India , the site of the Buddha's Enlightenment. According to the chronicles, it was built by King Tilokaraja in 1455 to house the Eight Buddhist World Council. The stucco decorations are the most enjoyable part of the structure.
Located on Suthep Road, this delightful meditation temple, founded in the reign of King Mengrai, is very different from Chiang Mai's other major temples and enjoys an almost bucolic setting. Its principal architectural feature is a 1arge ancient chedi with underground cells for meditation. Of the oldeest buildings very little is left to see above ground, although a few fragments of Nagas and Yaksas (guardian giants) hint at lavish stucco decoration in a style similar to that of Haripunchai. The chedi is a recent hybrid built above the old meditation cells. The cells contain traces of the oldest surviving painting of early Lanna style. Floral decorative motifs and Buddhas of the past are among the images.
Wat Saen Fang
This old temple, on Tha Phae Road facing the intersaction with Kamphaengdin Road, is approached by a Naga-flanked lane and incorporates part of a second ring of city walls, lending the temple a fortress-like appearance.
There is a tall Burmese-style chedi decorated with several Singha created in a spirited manner as well as golden parasols and a collection of old guns. The monks' quarters are in a large Burmese building, with arches and Victorian fretwork, while the viharn is a brightly painted Lanna-Burmese amalgamation.
Wiang Kum Kam
South east of Chiang Mai, between km 3-4 Chiang Mai-Lamphun road, this is the site of an ancient city built by King Mengrai prior to the founding of Chiang Mai. Uncovered by archaeologists are the ruined remains of some 20 ancient temples and other buildings. About 20 temples have been uncovered in the area, which lies between the Ping river and the Lamphun highway. The whole site was buried under ground by years of flooding, which apparently is the reason Mengrai eventually moved his capital to Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai National Museum
Chiang Mai National Museum is the Main regional museum of the north. Standing next to Wat Chet Yot and in modem Lanna style, the museum houses an interesting collection of northern arts and crafts. Open Wednesday to Sunday from 09.00 to 16.00.
Topic 1 : The natural and cultural background of the Lan Na Kingdom including the geology, ecology, geography and prehistoric settlement of the north.
Topic 2 : The history of the Lan Na Kingdom from the establishment of Chiang Mai city, the peak of its glory, to its being controlled by Burman from 1558 to 1769.
Topic 3 : The city of Chiang Mai under the Kingdom of Siam, From the time Chiang Mai regained its freedom from Burma, to the reestablishment of Chiang Mai city in 1782.
Topic 4 : Trade and economy of the Lan Na Kingdom from 1782 to 1939.
Topic 5 : The modern way of life and social development: agriculture and industry, banking, international relations, education and public health.
Topic 6 : The development of the Lan Na Art Style, and the history of art in Thailand from the Dvaravati period to the present day.
Not far away from the Chiang Mai National Museum is the Tribal Museum, which displays information on the history and culture of each hill tribe as well as their traditional handicrafts. The museum is open from Wednesday to Sunday, 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. (closed on National Holidays) Contact tel. 053 221328 for more information. Admission fee is 30 baht.
Insect and Natural Wonders Museum
On display here is a fascinating collection of domestic and foreign insects, as well as animal fossils, rocks and natural wonders from Thailand, all collected over a period of more than 50 years. The museum also carries other interesting items such as rare stamps, strange coins and other rarities. It is an interesting place to visit not just for children, but also for anybody who has an interest in the world of insects and natural wonders. The museum is located at 72 Nimmanhemin, Soi 12.