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The largest city in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is home to literally hundreds of temples (wats). One of my favorite things to do in Chiang Mai is to walk around and explore new wats that I haven’t been to before, but the sheer number of them can be overwhelming to someone visiting Chiang Mai for the first time. To help you out, here are the best temples in Chiang Mai that you must visit, plus a list of other great ones to explore if you have the time. A map of all the temples is also embedded below so you can better plan your visits.
Related: There’s tons to do in Chiang Mai! Check out this comprehensive guide to Chiang Mai to see what there is to do, see, and eat.
The best temples in Chiang Mai
If you have limited time or just are not the biggest fan of temples, cut to the chase and just get yourself to these four wats. They’ll absolutely be worth your time.
- Wat Chedi Luang
One of the city’s most unique temples, Wat Chedi Luang’s most impressive component is its massive chedi. In many ways, the chedi reminded me of the ruins of Angkor Wat more than a typical Thai wat. The complex includes a number of temples as well as a large reclining Buddha. Chiang Mai’s city pillar is also housed here, though women are not allowed in the structure housing it. Admission is 40 baht.
You can also participate in monk chats here and converse with the monks who live and learn at this wat. The program helps visitors learn about Buddhism and helps monks improve their English.
- Wat Palad (Wat Pha Lat)
Called the jungle temple, this once-abandoned wat is tucked away in the hills outside of Chiang Mai, and it is absolutely stunning. A Burmese temple, this wat has both Burmese monks (they wear maroon robes) and Thai ones (they wear golden yellow robes) who live and take care of the grounds together. Here, there is a quiet calm that is interrupted only by the consistent trill of cicadas and the rush of the river nearby. Take your time to explore the many secret areas of the temple, including many old statues that are hidden behind or beneath overgrown vegetation.
You can drive up to the wat or hike up what is called the “monk’s trail,” which starts at the end of Suthep Road near Chiang Mai University. Here’s a guide to hiking that trail.
- Wat Phantao
Small in size and not as spectacular as some of its golden counterparts, Wat Phantao will nevertheless catch your eye as it is carved completely out of teakwood. The temple also used to be a palace for one of Chiang Mai’s many rulers.
- Wat Phra Singh
Possibly the most well-known wat inside Chiang Mai’s old city, Wat Phra Singh is a veritable treasure in gold. It’s hard to find something that isn’t in gold, in fact.
The complex is rather large and includes a number of smaller halls and areas, so take some time to explore the nooks and crannies of the place. The reflection garden is also a nice place to take a breather while reading the various proverbs and life lessons posted on the trees. (Examples: “Crying with the wise is better than laughing with the fool”; “Time and tide wait for no man.”) 20 baht is required to see the temple with the Phra Singh image, though the complex itself is free to enter. There are also opportunities to chat with monks here.
The most sacred temple in Chiang Mai
If you’ve done some research on the best temples in Chiang Mai, you might be surprised to see that Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (Doi Suthep) wasn’t on my list above. That’s because while it is arguably the most sacred and most famous temple in Chiang Mai, Doi Suthep actually didn’t impress me as much as the ones under the must-have list. It is certainly worth a visit if you have the time as the temple grounds are gorgeous and offer fantastic aerial views of Chiang Mai. To see those views, however, do know that you’ll have to climb a long flight of stairs guarded by two huge naga, or mythical serpent-like creatures. The alternative is to take a cable car up to the temple for a small additional fee.
Regular admission for non-Thais is 30 baht. To reach Doi Suthep, you’ll need a car or scooter to get here, or you can join a songthaew (red shared taxis) headed this way. There are multiple songthaews that wait for passengers near the north gate each day. They go up to Doi Suthep as soon as the songthaew is filled. Fares are typically 150-200 baht.
Other Chiang Mai temples to explore
If you have the time, I’d highly suggest exploring the following temples as well. They’re some of the most beautiful and unique ones in Chiang Mai beyond the ones already listed.
- Wat Buppharam
This temple mixes Lanna and Burmese styles and is especially gorgeous at night when it is all lit up. Admission is 20 baht.
- Wat Lok Molee (Wat Lok Moli)
One of the older ones in the city, this Lanna-style temple is also home to a giant chedi built in the 14th century.
- Wat Prasat
Another Lanna-style temple, this temple was not as impressive to me as some of the others, but it is home to multiple sala (sal) trees that have these beautiful flowers that the locals call “Buddha flowers.”
- Wat Rajamontean
Recognizable by its towering Buddha, this gold and maroon temple is beautiful to explore, especially in the early morning hours as the monks are sweeping the grounds and opening up the windows to let the light in.
- Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang
Gleaming in gorgeous gold and clay red, this temple had basically no other visitors and was a nice spot to slowly and quietly explore.
- Wat Sri Suphan (Silver Temple)
This gorgeous silver temple is a sight to behold. It’s actual silver in the most important places and then aluminum elsewhere, but it doesn’t get a top spot on my list because it costs 50 baht and women aren’t even allowed to enter the temple.
- Wat U-Mong
Unique in its shape, this wat is a network of tunnels where monks and laymen can come and meditate. Wat U-Mong is also a little bit out of the way so it is best paired with your visit to Doi Suthep and/or Wat Palad.
Dress codes for temples in Chiang Mai
As with dress codes elsewhere in Thailand and in other Buddhist countries in southeast Asia, temples in Chiang Mai require that visitors dress modestly and appropriately. Generally, this means no bare shoulders and no bare legs for both men and women. Capris and longer shorts that go past the knee are typically okay, but anything shorter will need to be covered up. You’ll also need to remove your shoes before entering the temples.
Thailand is often hot and humid though, and many visitors prefer to bare their shoulders and legs while exploring. As such, one of the most useful things to have, especially for women, is a sarong or large scarf. You can use it as a wrap around your shoulders, wear it as a skirt/sarong, or use it in many other ways to cover up so you meet the dress code. You can easily buy one at any of the markets and souvenir stands around the country, or you can bring one with you (I traveled with one like this that was multi-purpose across different climates in different countries). Many temples will also have sarongs to rent; typically they charge 10-20 baht.
Which wat captures your fancy? If you’ve been to Chiang Mai, do you have any favorites that you think I should consider adding to the list?
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