by Bob James
Take timeout for a temple tour in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai has more Buddhist temples per square mile than any other place in Thailand, some of the temples in Chiang Mai are actually as old as the city itself, aged staggeringly at more than 700 years old!.
One of the most visited temples in Chiang Mai is the Wat Doi Suthep. It is also one of the most highly revered and important temples in the country. Pilgrims travel to the temple on the Buddhist holidays of Visaka Bucha Day and Makha Bucha Day every year. The temple can be found on Huai Kaew Road, just past Chiang Mai Zoo.
Perhaps what the Wat Doi Suthep is most famous for is the legend of its founding, which is believed to be back in 1368. Legend has it that a monk had dreamed of God telling him to look for a relic in Pang Cha. When he did, he found a bone that many claim to be Buddha’s shoulder bone. When King Nu Naone found out about the relic with magical powers, he requested that it be brought to him. During the monk’s journey to meet the king, the relic had split into two. Wat Suan Dok enshrines the smaller piece. King Nu Naone placed the bigger piece on the back of a royal white elephant and released it into the jungle. The elephant was said to have climbed up Doi Suthep, trumpeted three times, then died at the site. King Nu Naone then ordered for a temple to be built on the said spot.
Wat Suan Dok, which enshrines the smaller relic, is found along Suthep Road. King Keu Na had this built in honor of the visit by Sumana Thera, who is a revered priest. “Field of flowers” is the loose translation of the temple’s name. Wat Suan Dok is famous for its numerous pagodas, locally known as chedi’s, which are scattered around the temple complex. The small, white pagodas found in front of the largest pagoda in the complex contain the ashes of the members of the Chiang Mai royal family. This was requested by Princess Dararatsami back in 1909.
Wat Chiang Man, which is found along the north wall of the old city on Ratchaphakhinai Road. Built in 1296, it is actually the oldest temple in Chiang Mai. The temple was built on the campsite used by King Mengrai when he was supervising the construction of Chiang Mai. The standing Buddha statue enshrined in the larger viharn (sermon hall) has an inscription dating from 1465, which makes it the oldest Buddha image in Chiang Mai.
The tallest structure in Chiang Mai is Wat Chedi Luang, which is found on Phrapokklao Road. The chedi used to measure 86 meters high and 44 meters wide. owever, the chedi now only measures around 60 meters due to massive earthquakes. Construction of the chedi started in 1391, but it was not finished until 1475.
King Saen Muang Ma intended to house relics of his father in the chedi, but King Tilokarat was the one who managed to finish it. King Tilokarat made Wat Chedi Luang the home of Thailand’s most sacred cultural treasure, the Emerald Buddha. The Emerald Buddha remained in Wat Chedi Luang until it was moved to Bangkok to Wat Phra Kaew in the grounds of the Grand Palace.
Wat Phan Tao is a small temple that can be found near the grounds of Wat Chedi Luang, and a lot of times remains overlooked by the guidebooks. It is still a quaint structure, however, as it is made entirely out of teak wood with beautiful carvings to decorate it.
One of the most famous temples in Thailand is the Wat Phra Singh,which can be found in the western side of old city of Chiang Mai. It was built in the 14th century, when Chiang Mai was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom. The temple was originally named “Wat Li Chiang Phra”, but it was changed when the Phra Singh Buddha image was brought in. This Buddha image became a very prominent fixture in the Lanna Kingdom and even in modern Chiang Mai. During the Thai New Year or the Songkran Festival, the Phra Singh Buddha image is put on a royal carriage and is taken on a procession around Chiang Mai.
Aside from Wat Suan Dok, the other most prominent temples outside Chiang Mai are Wat Lok Molee Amphoe Muang and Wat U Mong. When the sixth Mengrai Dynasty Lanna King invited ten monks from Burma to teach their Buddhist practices to the Kingdom, they stayed in Wat Lok Molee. The temple used to house the ashes of the Mengrai royalty members and remained so until the end of the dynasty’s reign.
Also located on Suthep Road, is Wat U Mong. The spacious temple was built in 1296 under the reign of King Mengrai. It is unique temple with maze-like tunnels. The temple complex is still surrounded but lush trees and is an ideal place for meditation.
I would highly recommend that every visitor to Chiang Mai allow at least a couple of days or so to just soak up this most lovely city & take in as many temples as your feet will allow!.