Chiang Mai is the largest city in northern Thailand, former capital of the Lanna kingdom, and considered by many to be the cultural capital of the country. Last week I spent a few days on vacation in the “Rose of the North” and took in the sights and sounds of this beautiful little city – and of course with camera in hand, ended up with a ton of photos which I’ll need to split into several posts. This was my first time in Chiang Mai, and it won’t be the last – although next time I’ll opt for a cooler time of year, and hopefully be able explore the surrounding mountains and villages.
This first post will be all about Buddhist temples, or wats as the Thai call them. There are some 300 temples crammed into this relatively small city, so everywhere you turn there seems to be a wat or chedi (pagoda) near by. Seems like Chiang Mai and Bangkok is to Thailand what Kyoto and Tokyo is to Japan; one is traditional and very approachable, while the other is cosmopolitan and a little more impersonal. (Admittedly I have not been to Bangkok, but that will be rectified in about two weeks time 🙂 ).
As you can tell, I love temples. Each is a little oasis of calm and tranquility, away from buzzing mopeds and tuk-tuks, and absolutely beautifully ornate. And because there are so many of them, chances are that you’ll find one that you can have all to yourself for some quiet meditation with some monks. During my trip, I managed to visit four of the more popular wats.
Click on the photos for a larger version.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Locally known as simply Doi Suthep, this is the most popular and revered wat in Chiang Mai, and is on the must-do list for any visitor. As such, it is also the most touristy of the temples, with souvenir stalls lining the entrance and a mandatory “donation” fee for foreigners. It is located high on mount Doi Suthep about 30 minutes drive from the city center, and overlooks Chiang Mai. This temple is always busy with visitors and locals alike.
Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang is situated right in the middle of the Old City, and is an impressive structure. Part of the building collapsed in an earthquake in 1545. Despite its central location, the premises are surprisingly quiet and tourist-free, and is a great place to spend the early evening on a sunset stroll. At 5pm you can observe the monks on their evening prayer chants in the Great Hall.
Wat Buppharam is located just outside the walled city, east of the Tha Pae city gate. It’s a great place to take a break from the busy main thoroughfare leading into the Old City.
Wat Suan Dok
Wat Suan Dok (“Field of Flowers”) is located south of the old city, close by Chiang Mai University. This may well be the favorite of my temple visits – the grounds are very peaceful with few visitors, and the only sounds you hear are the gentle tingling of wind chimes in the breeze. The large prayer hall is open on all four sides, which is unusual. Next to temple is a cemetery that houses the cremated remains of Chiang Mai’s former rulers.