Chiang Mai is nestled among the forested foothills of Thailand’s mountainous northwest. Old City is dominated by temples and surrounded by a medieval wall and moat.
We immediately noticed that there are a lot of foreigners in Chiang Mai. What I noticed was the large number of North Americans and Europeans. It was only on the second day that I noticed the large numbers of Chinese and Koreans.
Above are the gate to Chiang Mai’s City Pillar Shrine and Wat Chedi Luang and the giant tree that towers over the walls. Below you can see the City Pillar Shrine, the nearest building. There is a small fee to enter this temple complex.
The City Pillar or Lak Mueang was moved here from Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang in 1800 by King Chao Kawila. I don’t know why this City Pillar is in the shape of a human figure, unlike those in Udon Thani and Ban Dung – or why women are forbidden to enter this shrine.
Among the Buddha images inside is Phra Chao Attarot (Eighteen-cubit Buddha).
Behind the wihan is Wat Chedi Luang. Construction of this temple started in the 14th century, but finished in the 15thn century. It was then 82 meters high and had a base diameter of 54 meters, at that time the largest building in the Lanna Kingdom.
In 1545, the upper 30 meters of the structure collapsed after an earthquake.
In the early 1990s the chedi was reconstructed, financed by UNESCO and the Japanese government. The result is somewhat controversial, as some claim the new elements are in Central Thai style, not Lanna style. The top was not reconstructed because no one knows what it looked like.
Some of the temple’s elephants were reconstructed.
From the chedi/stupa there’s more space to get a good look at the wihan.
The chedi is surrounded by impressive buildings and statues and such.
Wat Chedi Luang hosts monk chats daily. Tourists are invited to speak with monks (usually novices) and ask them anything about Buddhism or Thailand.
We had set out on a walking tour of Old City temples. City Pillar Shrine and Wat Chedi Luang are highlights of Chiang Mai’s Old City. They became our first stop because they were near our hotel, and too enticing to save for later.
With over 120 temples within the city walls it is important to prioritize. We had a route and a map, but I’d suggest reviewing each temple on any such tour to be identify the ones you most want to visit. Walking between sites is tiring in the Thai heat, and we spent a good amount of time at many of the temples sites we visited.
City Pillar Shrine and Wat Chedi Luang are a must-see in Chiang Mai.
Even though we left Wat Chedi Luang with new ideas about the length of temple visits, and knowing that it would be important to prioritize, we made it less than a block along Prapokkloa Road before we made an unplanned stop at nearby Wat Phan Tao.
Wat Phan Tao was founded in the 14th century. Like most of the temples of that time, it is constructed from teak with gold accents.
An especially striking teak and gold temple beckoned from Intrawarot Road. We didn’t realize at the time that this is Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang, the original home of the City Pillar.
Three Kings Monument is a bronze statue of and shrine to Kings Mengrai, Ramkamhaeng and Ngam Muang, who worked together in the late 1200’s to design and build Chiang Mai.
Less than a minute away from our next destination we were drawn into a small alley by the beauty of Wat Lam Chang. The gardens contribute nicely to the beauty of this small temple next to ruins of an old chedi.
Lam Chang means “shackled elephants”. King Mengrai kept his white elephants in the forested area here during the construction of Chiang Mai.
King Mengrai lived at the location of Wat Chiang Man during the building of Chinag Mai.
In 1297 he built Wat Chiang Man as Chiang Mai’s first temple. One of the standing Buddhas below is said to be the oldest intact Buddha in Chiang Mai. It has the year 1465 CE engraved on its base.
Chiang Mai was build to replace Chiang Rai as the capitol of the Lanna Kingdom. Chiang Mai means “New City”. The Lanna Kingdom became the Kingdom of Chiang Mai, a tributary state of Thailand from 1774 to 1899, and then the seat of a ceremonial prince until 1939.
Also inside the wihan is a display with 9 different Buddha statues, with signs suggesting appropriate prayers for 8 of them. Those 8 are each associated with a different day of the week, with Wednesday morning and evening separately represented. Depending on the day you were born, one pose will have particular significance for you.
Before my little Tukata explained further, I saw it as a gallery of the various Buddha statue poses. From left to right they are (above): Earth Touching Buddha, the most common pose found in Thai temples, Sunday Buddha is similar to Contemplation Buddha, and the pose suggests mental insight, and Protection Buddha (Monday).
Below middle: Reclining Buddha (Tuesday), Alms Collecting Buddha (with the bowl for donations – Wednesday morning).
Below: Buddha sitting with Monkey and Elephant (Wednesday evening), Meditation Buddha (Thursday), Naga Buddha (Friday).
There are more poses that appear in traditional Buddha statues. You can learn about them in more detail here.
The ‘Elephant Chedi’ is the oldest construction in the Wat Chiang Man temple complex.
There’s an outdoor shrine to King Mengrai.
I found the shrine below to be a very cool and innovative approach.
Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang (Wat Hua Khuang) is hidden away in the middle of an Old City block, and the buildings seem to be open to visitors at limited or irregular hours, but it’s one of my favorite temple complexes in Chiang Mai.
The area is crowded with structures, but full of spectacular detail.
There don’t seem to be many tourists here.
A Google Maps review suggests that some of the architecture may show a Burmese style.
The stupa would appear to be the oldest structure at the site.
Some reviews warn about the stray dogs. I couldn’t miss them, but they gave us no trouble.
Our walking tour of Chiang Mai’s Old City temples continued, but experience has taught me to limit the size of my posts. I’ll bring you the second half of our walking tour in my next post.
As always, Wikipedia was invaluable in providing information for this post.
Please enjoy the full gallery of 60 pictures below.