Sometimes I wonder if there’s an end to the temples in Chiang Mai. I’d say there were hundreds, but thousands is probably more correct.
While there’s not much reason to visit every temple in Chiang Mai, as many of them are quite similar, there are a few unique ones that stand out. Here are some of my favorites, located outside the crowded Old Town.
As these are Buddhist temples, make sure you’re covering your shoulders and knees before you arrive.
Wat Srisuphan – The Silver Temple
First-Class Royal Temple
This magnificent temple is often overlooked in Chiang Mai, possibly because it’s outside the Old Town and not easily visible. Yet the opulence of this temple surprised me more than any other in Thailand.
Most travelers are familiar with the White Temple of Chiang Rai. I haven’t been to that one myself yet, so I can’t compare. Wat Srisuphan, one of the few silver temples of Chiang Mai, consists of three main structures. The first is the stupa, a bell or domed-shaped building used to store artifacts or the remains of Buddhist monks. The second is the prayer hall, which was full of child monks in prayer when I went.
It was the ordination hall which blew me away. It’s covered in silver. Whether you want to call it luxuriant, extravagant, opulent or whatever, I simply call it gorgeous. Silver and lacquer coat every surface, and the detail is amazing. While the temple was built over five hundred years ago, the silver coating is a recent addition. Unfortunately, only men are allowed in the ordination hall, but the outside is just as beautiful.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Second-Class Royal Temple
This might be the most famous temple in Chiang Mai, even though it’s a half hour drive outside the city up on the mountain. It’s visible from the Old Town and affords a gorgeous view of the city.
You can rent a scooter to get to the temple, or you can get a songthaew (local taxi) from the Chiang Mai Zoo for 40 baht (about $1). I’d recommend getting there early before the day gets too hot, or in the evening (before they close at 6) for the sunset. Get ready for a bit of hiking – there are 309 steps to reach the temple.
This temple has the more common gold facade. The center stupa dominates the temple grounds, and around this are several praying stations. While it’s normally quite crowded with Chinese and other tourists, there are always monks walking around and others in prayer. In other words, this is definitely a fully functional and operating temple.
Wat Suan Dok (Wat Buppharam)
Third-Class Royal Temple
The Wat Suan Dok temple was built in 1370, and predates Chiang Mai itself!
This temple also has a 48-meter-high gold stupa (bigger than Wat Phra That) and lavish prayer hall. What I found the most interesting were the beautiful white mausoleums containing the remains of the royal lineage of Chiang Mai and other nobility in Thailand. I haven’t seen anything else like them in Thailand (or anywhere else for that matter).
The temple is located about a kilometer west of Old Town on Suthep Road. It’s not a common part of town to visit, but this temple should most certainly be on your list for Chiang Mai.
This post by no means attempts to list every temple in Chiang Mai (there are thousands). Nor does it list the best, as that is relative. However, these are the only three Royal Class temples in Chiang Mai, and my personal favorites.
You should also visit the temples within the square mile of the Old Town, which are located practically next door to each other.
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If you’re traveling with more than one person, I’d recommend using Airbnb. Some locations can be fantastic.
Couchsurfing is my favorite way to stay in a city. Chiang Mai can be a little more tricky to find hosts, but not impossible.
You can also find opportunities to volunteer in Chiang Mai via Workaway.