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.
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.
Ascend up to the upper terrace to a tightly-packed complex of small shrines, bells, golden umbrellas and Buddha statues. Admire the stunning gilded-copper decorative umbrellas around the central chedi and murals showing scenes from the Buddha's life.
More about Wat Phrathat That Doi Suthep…
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.
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.
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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.
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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.
More about Wat Chet Yot…
Latest update: Chiang Mai Attractions: 5 February, 2019
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