1. Admire the Detail of Wat Lok Moli, 2. Relax at Wat Chiang Man, 3. Be Blown Away by the Scale of Wat Chedi Luang, 4. Visit Wat Phra Singh, 5. Walk Around Wat Suan Dok, 6. Visit Wat Umong, 7. Visit Khun Chang Kien During Thai Sakura Blooming Season, 8. Attend the Yi Peng Festival During Loy Krathong, 9. Be Amazed By the Grand Wat Ban Den Temple, 10. Discover Doi Pui Village. The once prosperous capital of the 700 years old Lanna Kingdom in the northern part of Thailand, Chiang Mai is an ancient city with a perfect blend of the laid-back north, incredible mountains, and an array of historically rich architectures and activities waiting for you to explore. Below are the best things to do in Chiang Mai, let's find out!
- Admire the Detail of Wat Lok Moli
- Relax at Wat Chiang Man
- Be Blown Away by the Scale of Wat Chedi Luang
- Visit Wat Phra Singh
- Walk Around Wat Suan Dok
- Visit Wat Umong
- Visit Khun Chang Kien During Thai Sakura Blooming Season
- Attend the Yi Peng Festival During Loy Krathong
- Be Amazed By the Grand Wat Ban Den Temple
- Discover Doi Pui Village
Admire the Detail of Wat Lok Moli
The first temple you will likely stumble upon on your first day in Chiang Mai is Wat Lok Moli, one of the oldest standing temples in the city built in the 14th Century. The temple is located just outside of the city’s wall to the north. The temple is known for its massive chedi that dominated the area. It was built in the 16th Century and it is still in a considerably great condition compared to what you would come to expect from a structure this old.
In front of the chedi, you will also find a Lanna-style temple built in teak wood and adorned with traditional Lanna-style wood carvings. This temple was actually built recently in 2003 in the process of restoration and expansion of the temple. Within the beautiful teak wood temple, you will find a large Buddha image seated at the opposite side of the entrance. The pillars and walls are painted in a dark crimson color, giving it its unique Lanna-style atmosphere that you can not find in central Thailand. The temple is open from 6 AM to 5 PM every day and you do not have to pay to enter.
Relax at Wat Chiang Man
Located not too far from Wat Lok Moli, within the city’s wall of Chiang Mai, you will find another impressive temple called Wat Chiang Man, the oldest temple in Chiang Mai that dated all the way back to 1296, the time of the founding of the city. King Mengrai, the founder of the Lanna Kingdom, decided to build his city on the spot and constructed Wat Chiang Man as the first temple in the city. The temple is comprised of an old large chedi and an assembly hall that holds the oldest Buddha image in Chiang Mai.
The chedi of Wat Chiang Man is one of the oldest remaining structures of the temple and it is called Chang Lom Chedi which translated to “elephants surrounding the Chedi”. The chedi is built in a beautiful mixture of Lanna style, as evidenced by the golden paint covering the top part of the chedi, and the Singhalese style originated from Sri Lanka which can be seen in the design of the bottom part of the chedi. The temple is open from 6 AM until 5 PM and admission is free again.
Be Blown Away by the Scale of Wat Chedi Luang
Just a little north of Wat Chiang Man, you will find one of the most iconic landmarks of Chiang Mai, the massive remaining chedi of Wat Chedi Luang, or as it is known the “temple of the great stupa”. It took almost a decade to complete this chedi. The construction started in 1391 and was completed in 1475, almost 85 years in the making. Back when it was intact, it is said that the chedi reached up to 85 meters in height and 44 meters in width, making it the largest old structure in the entire city.
Wat Chedi Luang isn’t just comprised of the great stupa, you will also find 2 temples within the courtyard, one is a huge and impressive building with a golden facade containing a large Buddha image called Phra Chao Attarot, and another, a smaller temple nearby which is as pretty temple as the large one. If you are curious about Buddhism and their lives, this is a good place to start talking to them and learning more about Buddhism. The temple opens from 6 AM to 6 PM and it is free to enter.
Visit Wat Phra Singh
The last temple you will visit within the vicinity of the old ancient wall of Chiang Mai is Wat Phra Singh, a temple built in the 14th Century that displays the stunning classic Lanna architectural style proudly with its blindingly gold chedi and several teak wood temples, all within the temple’s courtyard. One of the most prominent architectures is the huge golden chedi that reflects sunlight in all directions. It is so blindingly beautiful that you have no choice but to stare at it until your eyes are sore.
The temple is comprised of the golden chedi, the main prayer hall, the Lai Kham prayer hall that contains the Phra Singh Buddha image from which the temple’s name was derived, and the Luang prayer hall that housed the revered Phra Chao Thong Tip Buddha image. The temple opens from 6 AM to 8 PM and you will have to pay 50 THB to get into the temple ground.
Walk Around Wat Suan Dok
Within the temple ground, you will find the 48 meters high golden Sri Lankan-style chedi that contains the relic of Buddha, and a large number of white pagodas containing the ashes of several generations of Chiang Mai’s royal family. It is like a Christian graveyard and so please refrain from taking selfies and fun photos within Wat Suan Dok and be respectful when walking around all the white pagodas. The temple is open from 6 AM to 5 PM and the entrance fee is free.
Visit Wat Umong
After Wat Suan Dok, continue west along the road and maybe stop by Han Teung Chiang Mai for lunch before continuing on to our next temple which is probably the most unique temple you will find in Chiang Mai. Wat Umong which translates to the Tunnel temple is, you guessed it, a temple built inside a system of tunnels deep inside a forest on the foothill of Doi Suthep, the looming mountain you can see towering Chiang Mai.
According to legends, Wat Umong was founded in the 13th Century under King Mengrai’s reign who is the founder of the Lanna Kingdom. As the city of Chiang Mai grew, monks found it harder and harder to meditate so the king decided to pick a new location for a temple and dug a series of tunnels to house shrines and Buddha images for the monks to meditate peacefully. At Wat Umong, you will find 3 entrances to a connected tunnel containing several Buddha images for devotees to pay their respect to the Buddha. Above the mound where the tunnel is dug, you will find a large bell-shaped chedi constructed in a Lanna architectural style that has recently been restored.
Visit Khun Chang Kien During Thai Sakura Blooming Season
One of the popular places the Thai like to visit during the blooming season (December – January) is Khun Chang Kien, a small mountain village up on Doi Pui mountain just behind Doi Suthep where you will find these beautiful pink-colored Himalayan cherry blossom bloom all over the town. Within Khun Chang Kien, you will also be able to buy souvenirs and fresh fruits like strawberries at an inexpensive price back in the market. Since the flower only blooms in late December and January, Khun Chang Kien is only worth visiting if you are there during that time.
Be careful with your timing if you want to visit Khun Chang Kien. The place is extremely popular among local tourists and the 7 km road into town is extremely narrow and can only fit the size of one car and a half. If you visit as early as 8 AM then you won’t have to share the road with many cars, but if you visit after that, the traffic will be horrendous as you will have to share the narrow road with other cars both going up and coming down. You can be stuck on the road for hours.
Attend the Yi Peng Festival During Loy Krathong
There’s so much happening at this event that it can easily occupy your hours to see them all. The local Yi Peng event usually starts at 6 PM and goes on until 11 PM. You can also go to the rivers and float your Krathong out into the water, which is how Loy Krathong is usually celebrated all over the country except that in the north, they also let go of the floating lanterns.
Be Amazed By the Grand Wat Ban Den Temple
The Wat Ban Den located North of the city is one of Chiang Mai’s most remarkable temples. All the architectures you find here are recently-built with extremely intricate details. From the scales of the colorful mythical creature statues to the murals carved out of a temple wall, you can see that a lot of money and hard work is spent building this temple.
Although the temple may look new from the outside, it is actually 100 years old due to the endorsement by the 10th King of Thailand followed by the influx of donations from several well-known local celebrities, the temple is expanding rapidly with more over-the-top architecture. If you are bored of seeing ancient architecture in Chiang Mai and would like to see some really over-the-top modern Buddhist architecture, this is the place to be. Wat Ban Den Temple’s opening hours are between 7 AM – 6 PM and there is no admission fee.
Tricks and Trips
Discover Doi Pui Village
This small Hmong village – Doi Pui Village, is admittedly more tourist-oriented than authentic. Yet there is a small exhibit of a traditional hill tribe home and information on the history of the many groups that have settled in the Thai mountains in past generations. If you’re feeling particularly touristy, you can dress up in ethnic garb for a photo shoot, and there are many small shops where you can purchase hand-woven textiles, handmade jewelry, tea, and other goods.
A sizable garden filled with a wide variety of plants can be explored, and the village offers stunning views. A steaming bowl of khao soi, Chiang Mai’s most well-known dish, should be ordered when stopping for lunch at one of the quaint eateries overlooking the lush landscape below. It’s a good idea to add this to your itinerary the same day you visit Doi Suthep since you only need to drive a bit farther into the mountains to reach Doi Pui.