With over 300 Buddhist temples dotted all around Chiang Mai, you’re sure to be ‘Wat-ed’ out quite quickly. Make sure you don’t miss out on the most spectacular ones with our Top 5 Temple Guide!
Some temples are very easy to get to, some you will stumble upon, some are hidden in the depths of alleyways and others you have to hike up, what seems like a million stairs at the time. But, no matter ‘what wats’ you decide to see, they will ALL, hands down, be interesting and beautiful!
Every article you read will have a different opinion about which temples are worth visiting and which ones you should skip. Below are our top five (in no particular order) of which ones we think are really worth seeing if you only have a short amount of time here. If you have more time, then see these five and go crazy with more!
1. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (Open 6am – 6pm)
This Wat is located further West than the city walls, up the mountain named after the temple ‘Suthep Mountain’. It takes some time to get to but it’s so worth it! The temple is located within Doi Suthep National Park which is a beauty in itself, with waterfalls sprinkled amidst the forest, traditional hill tribe villages dotted around, and many viewpoints overlooking this beautiful city, you can be sure to spend quite a chunk of your day here!
To get here, you can either grab a red songthaew (red taxi with benches either side – the Thai name literally means ‘two benches’), which will only set you back around 200 THB return (approx $6 USD) or explore the winding roads yourself by biking up. And when I say biking I mean via motorbike! You can opt to cycle if you are feeling very active – unlike us! (Although riding up by motorbike up it’s an amazing experience, I wouldn’t recommend it if it’s your first time riding as the corners can creep up on you unexpectedly!)
Whichever way you decide to make it up the mountain, it will probably take you about 40-45 minutes to get there… It seems like a long time, but much better than the original 5-hour hike it would have taken before 1,000 passionate volunteers built the road in 1935!
A winding road and 306 steps, (lined with mosaic serpents), later you will arrive at the temple itself. Gaze in awe at the impressive architecture and the giant golden pagodas that protect the main temples. , plus the even better views from the top of the mountain which extend across the whole city and lush green countryside around…
It’s 30 baht entry to Doi Suthep and the actual temple is open from 6am – 6pm. Once, you’ve finished exploring the temple, you can take yourself outside and look out on the wonderful city of Chaing Mai from this mountain throne at 1,676 metres.
2. Wat Chedi Luang – (Open 7am – 10pm)
This temple is located in the heart of the city walls and looks like no other temple, due to the fact that it dates back to 1441. (This isn’t the oldest Wat in Chiang Mai however, this prize goes to Wat Chiang Man, which dates back to the founding of the city, 1296.)
The Chedi was actually destroyed slightly at the top, yet nobody seems quite sure how this actually happened. Locals believe it was either a) a 16th-century earthquake or b) cannon fire in 1775 during a Burmese invasion.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is 40 THB to enter and is home to another two temples inside, one of which women are not allowed to enter, which is believed to be due to the fact that they menstruate.
Side note from the female editor: Not a fan of this rule folks! There’s respecting religion and there’s also questioning when we think certain outdated customs may be wrong. Although I’m not telling women to barge their way into Wat Chedi Luang, I would ask people who visit to question the guards at the temple as to the reasoning of this rule, and perhaps this will help to change perceptions of female menstruation being ‘dirty’ or ‘unholy’ – but that’s just my opinion! Let us know what you think in the comments below…
3. Wat Sri Suphan – (Open 6am – 9pm)
Just outside of the city walls, lies a hand-carved masterpiece covered in pure silver – well, actually its aluminium, with only the delicate parts being made from real silver. But did you know? Wat Sri Suphan is actually the world’s first ever silver temple!
Unfortunately, women are not permitted to enter the inside of this Wat, however for all us poor females, there’s a cheeky shot of it as the header photo of this article…
Inside, the ornaments, decorations and shrines are all decadently decorated in pure silver whilst the floors underneath you are made of contoured blue marble. All of this creates such a dazzling spectacle that you may want to leave your sunglasses on when you enter!
This Wat is a must for those looking for something a little out of the ordinary within the realms of Buddhist culture…
4. Wat Inthakin – (Open daily)
Right next to the Three King’s Monument, not far from Thapae Gate, Wat Inthakin is a temple right in the heart of the city that many people just happen to stumble upon. With its impressive detail and opulent aesthetic, this Wat resonates beauty from every corner with its glistening statues and black walls draped in gold. The temple is right next to the ‘Inthakin Museum’, which gives travellers an interesting insight into Lanna culture and daily life. Even if you’re not such a culture vulture, it’s a decent detour as you navigate your way through the centre of the Old City.
5. Wat Phra Singh – (Open 6am – 8pm)
Located slightly to the West side of the city, still within the city walls, Wat Phra Singh is largely celebrated as the most attractive temple in Chiang Mai. It is dominated by three main structures, all stunning with their winged rooftops, luxurious carvings on the external walls and beautifully decorated paintings lining the inside. The 20 THB entrance fee is 100% worth it to experience the magnitude of this divine Buddhist temple.
And one extra… 6. Wat Umong – (Open daily)
(We couldn’t resist just one more!) Lastly, although just missing out on appearing in our top five list, Wat Umong is definitely one to look at if you’ve got time as it’s unlike any others that you will see.
Built over 700 years ago into the forested foothills of Doi Suthep, visiting this temple that’s also known as the “Tunnel Temple” makes for a unique experience as you crouch your way through the small, rather claustrophobic tunnels within the temple itself.
As we mentioned, there are loads more temples to see and experience in Chiang Mai (294 to be precise!), but we believe that these 5/6 should be on your itinerary!
P.S. Make sure you always cover your shoulders and knees when entering the temples to show respect and remove your footwear. Temples will not allow you in if you don’t follow their rules – so don’t have a wasted trip. (Read more about respecting cultures in SE Asia here.) And chat with the monks if you get the chance, they’re so friendly and love to practise their English!
About the writers: Luke and Abbie have been travelling around Southeast Asia now for a considerable amount of time, documenting their adventures and all the while learning how to make the most of their journey on a budget. You can view their Instagram at @wanderlustlab or visit their website Wanderlust Lab to read blogs documenting their journey.