- Wat: means temple in Thai
- Chedi/Stupa: terms used interchangeably to describe architectural structures that sit outside of Buddhist temples & contain relics.
Table of Contents
1. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is the most visited Buddhist temple in the Chiang Mai area. You’ll also see it referred to as Wat Doi Suthep. The temple is a golden color; which is commonly used on architecture & relics in Thailand. Buddhists believe that gold is a symbol of happiness, knowledge, enlightenment, and purity.
To get to the temple, you’ll have to rent a scooter, driver, or songthaew (a popular caravan-esque, public transportation method in Thailand). The temple is is situated on the top of a small mountain, and you’ll have to walk up 309-steps to enter its grounds.
There are various different buildings on the temple grounds; it’s a bit like a small village. The temple grounds are set at a high elevation, on top of Doi Southep Mountain, which provides a great vantage point to view Chiang Mai City from.
My favorite thing to do at Wat Doi Suthep, was to receive a personal blessing from a monk. Monks sit inside one of the buildings on the grounds and offer blessings on a daily basis. I found this to be a really special and unique way to experience the traditional Buddhist practice.
2. Wat Pha Lat
3. Wat Suan Dok
Wat Suan Dok is a special place to me. I went on the silent meditation retreat that’s offered at the temple and it was one of the most insightful experiences that I’ve had in my life due to the wisdom and authenticity of the monk that led the retreat. Beyond the meditation retreats/courses offered at the temple, its grounds are also worth a visit due to their beauty, structure, and history.
The temple is located on the outskirts of Chiang Mai city, near the University and Niman area. It was originally built to be a retreat center for monks in the 14th century and was later converted to be the temple & retreat center that it is today. Its name, Wat Suan Dok, means “flower garden temple.” When you arrive at the grounds, you’ll notice large stone monuments that are covered in floral offerings. It’s eerily quiet, considering that it’s next to the chaotic Chiang Mai streets. Next to the white stone monuments is the temple itself, where Monks hold daily practice.
4.Wat Chedi Liam
Wat Chedi Liam is one of the prettiest temples in Chiang Mai. The temple was built in the year 1287 and was originally a residence for the then king of Thailand. The five-tiered Chedi (white-structure located outside of the temple) is guarded by stone lions. There are 60 Buddhas sculpted into the Chedi, displaying various hand gestures. The Buddhas are said to commemorate the 60 wives of the King of Thailand.
A visit to this temple will be quite fast, as there are only a couple of architectural sites to see and not many activities to participate in on-site like with some of the other temples in Chiang Mai—but it’s well worth it. The temple has a unique story and is really beautiful to see in person. Visitors can plan to allocate about an hour into their itinerary for a visit to this temple.
5. Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang is one of the most historic temples in Chiang Mai. It’s one of those structures that you can look at and really feel the history when standing in front of it. The temple was built in the 14th century, by King Saen Muang Ma, 8th ruler of the Mengrai dynasty. Wat Chedi Luang was not originally meant to be a temple but rather, was built to house the ashes of the king’s father, Ku Na. A relic called The Emerald Buddha was housed on the grounds—making it a very important Buddhist landmark.
The monument was damaged in an earthquake in 1545. The emerald buddha remained in the temple for 6 years after the earthquake but was then transferred out for safekeeping. In the 1990s, UNESCO restored the structure and added elements to help preserve it in the future.
From 6-9 PM daily, visitors can experience a Monk Chat, under a tree on the grounds. Monk Chats are offered at various Buddhist temples throughout Thailand. In a Monk chat, guests can ask Monks questions about anything they’d like—ranging from questions about Buddhism, to what the Monks do in their day to day life.
6. Wat Phra Singh
7. Wat Pan Sao
Wat Pan Sao is one of the cutest temples in Chiang Mai. It’s a smaller temple and located a bit “off the beaten path”, so not as many tourists visit it. I found the temple and structures on the temple grounds to be more eclectic and varied than other temples in Chiang Mai, which I liked. The sights to see include: the temple, a Chedi, and gardens with cute and unique statues of various animals and Buddha’s scattered throughout. There’s also a cafe located in front of the temple that visitor’s like to chill out in.
It’s a simple temple, but I experienced it to be one of the best temples in Chiang Mai due to the serenity that I felt there due to the lack of other visitors and aesthetic, as well as the nearby cafe.
Temples accessible via day-trip from Chiang Mai
Below are my top 2 favorite temples that are not in the Chiang Mai region, but rather, accessible via day-trip from Chiang Mai. These are located in Chiang Rai and Pai, respectively, and are each about a 4 hour drive to/from Chiang Mai.
8. Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple)
Wat Rong Khun (also known as the White Temple) is located in the Chiang Rai district of Thailand. It’s quite far from Chiang Mai, but many like to visit the temple on a day-trip. The drive to/from Wat Rong Khum is about four hours each way when coming from Chiang Mai. The trip there is long but so worth, because the temple is unlike any other that exists due to its unique architecture and conception. It’s hands down, one of the coolest temples within driving distance of the Chiang Mai area.
The design of the temple is very intricate and different than what you’d expect to see at a Buddhist Temple. The temple was designed by a local artist named Chalermchai Kositpipat. The temple is inspired by the orthodox Buddhist teachings about heaven, hell, karma, and earthly sins. There are unexpected art displays woven into the temples design, such as hundreds of ceramic hands grasping out of the ground, as if they were hands of humans reaching up from hell and superhero icons hanging from the trees on the temple grounds.
The grounds contain nine buildings; which include a temple, a “hall of relics”, a meditation hall, an art gallery, and living quarters for monks. The site is currently active, like many of the temples in Thailand, and we saw several monks walking around the grounds while we were there.
9. Chedi Phra That Mae Yen
Chedi Phra That Mae Yen is in the Pai district of Thailand. Pai is approximately a 4-hour drive to/from Chiang Mai. Pai my favorite town in Thailand, and it’s worth considering spending a few days in the area if you have the time. If you’ve got a short itinerary, then a day-trip is do-able.
The temple sits on top of a large staircase. At the top of the staircase is an enormous white Buddha statue; which is visible from several parts of Pai. The best times to visit the temple are during sunset or sunrise. If you’d like to avoid the crowds, then sunrise is the best time to head to the temple so that you can enjoy the temple with great views, excellent natural lighting, and silence.
The temples listed on this page are what I consider to be the best Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai, Thailand and the surrounding area. There are hundreds of incredible temples in Chiang Mai and this list barely braises the surface but serves as a great jumping off point for all those that would like to explore these architectural and historical gems in Thailand.