Chiang Mai Attractions

At just 2.5 square kilometres the visually charming Old City of Chiang Mai is very easy to explore on foot.

After passing through one of the city’s five original gates – try the Pratou Tha Phae gate – you can stroll along a flower-bordered promenade, explore red cobblestoned sois (alleys) lined with fascinating old shophouses and visit some of the cities oldest temples.

The Old City boasts more than 30 temples dating back to the founding of the city, built in a mix of Burmese, Sri Lankan and Lanna Thai styles. Admire beautiful woodcarvings, Naga staircases, leonine and angelic guardians, gilded umbrellas and pagodas laced with gold filigree.

The most famous temple in Chiang Mai is Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, which overlooks the city from a mountainside some 13km away.

Chiang Mai is also a great place to experience Thai festivals, many of which take place between late December and April – don’t miss the ‘wet’ Songkhran Festival, Loy Krathong and the Chiang Mai Flower Festival.


Wat Phrathat That Doi Suthep

Climb the steep 306-step naga (sacred riverine snake) staircase leading up to the glittering Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – the holiest shrine in northern Thailand – and be rewarded with a close-up view of the majestic golden chedi as well as expansive views overlooking the mountain's idyllic forests and the city below.

Built in the late 14th century, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep owes its existence to a magic relic.

According to legend, a relic of the Buddha split into two equal parts just before it was enshrined at Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai.

Unable to decide on a suitable place to honour the second ‘miracle’ relic, King Nu Naone placed the new relic on the back of a sacred white elephant and released it into the jungle.

Eventually, the elephant climbed to the top of Doi Suthep mountain, trumpeted three times, turned around three times, knelt down and died. This was interpreted as a sign indicating an auspicious site, and so the king ordered the construction of the temple on the site.

The original chedi was built to a height of 8m, however subsequent kings doubled the size adding layers of gold and other ornamentation increasing the chedi to it’s present height of 16m. In addition, other buildings were added to the complex in honour of the Buddha and other patrons.

Initially, pilgrims had to hike uphill for five hours through thick jungle to reach the temple located at an altitude of 1300m on Doi Suthep mountain. In 1935, a road to the temple was built by local volunteers.

What to do and see

Ascend up to the upper terrace to a tightly-packed complex of small shrines, bells, golden umbrellas and Buddha statues. Note: Shoes must be removed and shoulders must be covered before entering this sacred area, which is enclosed by a frescoed cloister.

Admire the stunning gilded-copper decorative umbrellas around the central chedi and murals showing scenes from the Buddha's life.

Observe Thai believers as they kneel down and touch their foreheads to the ground three times in worship and devotees making offerings of flowers, candles, incense and small squares of gold leaf that are applied to a favoured Buddha or to the exterior of a chedi.

Watch as pilgrims ring several large bells that surround the temple's lower terrace and enjoy the magnificent views overlooking the city. On the northwest corner of the terrace stands a statue of the white elephant that carried the relic up the mountain.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is part of Doi Suthep National Park, a densely forested region that is home to more than 300 species of birds as well as the royal Phuping Palace and Mon Tha Than Falls.

The chedi can be reached by road from Chiang Mai. From the car park you can either climb the 300-plus steps or opt to ride the cable car for 50Baht. Visitors with exposed legs are offered a sarong at the entrance.

Wat Doi Suthep boasts Northern Thailand's largest celebrations of Maha Puja, the anniversary of the Buddha's sermon, and Visakha Puja, the Buddha's birthday. Both are marked with candlelit processions up the mountain to the temple.

Location: 15km from Chiang Mai; Admission: 30B or 70B (includes cable car); Half-day tour including Phuping Palace – 700B; Hours: Daily 7am-5pm.


Wat Chedi Luang

Explore the pleasant park-like grounds of the atmospheric Wat Chedi Luang, built around the partial ruins of a Lanna-style chedi (stupa) dating from 1411.

The temple complex once housed the famous Emerald Buddha (now at Bangkok's Wat Phra Kaew). Today, a copy made from black jade sits in the reconstructed eastern niche, which was financed by the Thai king and carved in 1995 to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the chedi and the 700th anniversary of Chiang Mai.

When the chedi was completed in the middle of the 15th century it was the largest building in the Kingdom of Lanna soaring to a height of 84m.

Historical narratives differ on what happened to the ruined upper section of the chedi: some say it collapsed after an earthquake in 1545, other stories say it was damaged by cannon fire in 1775 during the retaking of Chiang Mai from the Burmese.

What to do and see

Today, the ruined brick chedi soars to around 60m high from a base of 44m wide. Each of the four sides support a niche approached by a monumental stairway guarded by stone nagas (mythical snakes believed to control the irrigation waters in rice fields).

Elephants stand guard midway up the platform – only the sculpture without ears and truck in brick and stucco is original; the other four are cement restorations.

Wat Chedi Luang remains an active place of worship and is especially atmospheric during the puja festivals, when monks and laymen walk around the huge structure carrying candles, flowers and incense.

Enter the large viharn (assembly hall) home to an impressive interior, with round columns supporting a high red ceiling and containing a standing Buddha known as the Phra Chao Attarot that dates from the time of the temple's founder, King Saen Muang Ma.

Don’t miss the ancient Lak Meuang (city pillar), enshrined in a small cross-shaped building next to a great Dipterocarp tree – one of three revered as protectors of the city. Legend has it that if this tree falls, a great catastrophe will follow.

Within the complex sits another temple, Wat Phan Tao, with a beautiful wooden viharn that once served as a royal residence. Admire the striking mosaic carvings of a peacock and dog above the main door and the 30-foot-long reclining Buddha.

Location: Prapokklao Road, between Ratchamankha and Ratchadamnoen Roads, Old City, Chiang Mai; Admission: Donations appreciated – suggested donation 20B; Hours: Daily 6am-8pm.


Wat Phra Singh

Ponder the Phra Singh (or Lion Buddha), Chiang Mai’s most venerated Buddha image. The 14th-century masterpiece is housed inside the 200-year-old Viharn Lai Kham (Gilded Hall), a wonderful example of Lanna-style architecture.

The interior walls of the viharn are covered in murals (dating from the 1820s) illustrating the history of Songthong (the Golden Prince of the Conchshell) and Suwanna Hongse providing an insight into the life of 19th-century Chiang Mai during King Mahotraprathet's reign. The wall behind the Buddha features a sumptuous lai·krahm (gold pattern) stencilling.

The large chedi was built in 1345 by King Phayu to house the cremated remains of King Kamfu, his father. Although the Buddha's head was stolen in 1922, the reproduction doesn't diminish veneration shown to this religious image.

What to see and do

Check out the impressive three-aisled interior, with its soaring red roof supported by round white columns. The viharn houses Phra Chao Thong Tip, a large image of the seated Buddha cast of gold and copper in 1477.

Also remarkable is the 14th-century monastic library that sits atop a decorative stone base designed to keep the fragile saa (mulberry bark) manuscripts elevated from flooding and vermin.

Admire the characteristic roofline with its four separate elevations and the graceful relief carvings of devata or thewada (Buddhist spirit) figures, depicted in both dancing and meditative poses, which are thought to have been made during King Muang Kaeo's reign in the early 16th century.

Close to Viharn Lai Kham sits the Ubosot, built in 1806 and featuring opulent decoration on its gables that include abstract mandala designs. Inside you can see an ornate ku (Buddha throne). The Ubosot contains two entrances: a south entrance for monks and a north entrance for nuns.

Wat Phra Singh is located in the western part of the Old City and is home to around 700 friendly monks.

Location: Samlarn and Ratchadamnoen Roads, Old City, Chiang Mai; Admission: Donations appreciated – suggested donation 20B; Hours: Daily 6am-6pm.


Wat Jed Yod

Head to the peaceful, green gardens of the Wat Jed Yod (or Wat Chet Yot), considered one of the most elegant temples in Chiang Mai.

The Temple of the Seven Spires was built in 1453 during the reign of King Tilokkarat (whose remains lie in one of the temple’s smaller chedis). In 1477, the temple hosted the World Buddhist Council, who convened to clarify the doctrines of the Buddha.

The temple incorporates architectural elements reflecting Burmese, Thai, Lao, Indian and Chinese influence and features seven spires, pattered after the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya, India, where the Buddha first achieved enlightenment.

Head to the peaceful, green gardens of the Wat Jed Yod (or Wat Chet Yot), considered one of the most elegant temples in Chiang Mai.

The Temple of the Seven Spires was built in 1453 during the reign of King Tilokkarat (whose remains lie in one of the temple’s smaller chedis). In 1477, the temple hosted the World Buddhist Council, who convened to clarify the doctrines of the Buddha.

What to do and see

Admire the magnificent, partially weathered stucco reliefs of 70 devata figures carved into the base of the chedi.

Inside, walk down a barrel vaulted corridor to see the Buddha statue, then climb up the narrow staircase to the temple’s roof. (Note: Only men are allowed to enter this part of the temple.)

Elsewhere on the expansive temple grounds, check out several more Lanna-style bell-shaped chedis set upon bases, with alcoves on four sides containing Buddha statues.

Wat Chet Yot is located northwest of the city centre of Chiang Mai along the Super Highway Chiang Mai – Lampang, north of the intersection of Huai Kaeo road and Nimmanhemin road.

Location: Superhighway 11, near the Chiang Mai National Museum (north of the intersection of Nimmanhaemin and Huai Kaeo rds., Chiang Mai; Admission: Donations appreciated – suggested donation 20B; Hours: Daily 6am-6pm.


Latest update: Chiang Mai Attractions: 1 June, 2022



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