I Travel for the Stars

55 Beautiful Temples in Old Chiang Mai

Last updated on February 25, 2024

The northern Thai city of Chiang Mai is one of the country’s most popular destinations, and it’s one that stole my heart. The city was founded in the 13th century as the capital of Lanna, a name you can still see all over town today, and has a lot of history to discover. Much of that history can be seen in the wats, or Buddhist temples, that are sprinkled all over – and they’re all so stunning.

Today, Chiang Mai is the name of a whole province in Thailand and the city is quite expansive. However, the old city is very neatly located in a square shape, surrounded by a moat and a partial wall. This blog post will focus on the wats I visited in and very close to the old town. I spent a few full days in Chiang Mai, and as the wats are quite close together, I got to see many of them.

Please note that there are over 100 wats in the whole city of Chiang Mai and probably hundreds in the province. Wats are everywhere in Thailand. I am only able to discuss the ones I went to.

A Note on Wat (Temple) Architecture

Wats are complexes that usually exist of at least 3 structures, so here’s a little bit on what you’ll see when you visit a wat.

The viharn is the main hall of worship. This is the place that’s most likely to be open. Here is where you go to pray in front of what’s usually a large statue of Buddha.

The ubosot is a smaller but more sacred space reserved for ceremonies. These are usually closed to the public.

Many wats also have a chedi which is the large spear-like structure you see that’s typically gold in color (but not always). These are used to house relics.

So when you visit a wat, you’ll notice that there are two or more different buildings that may appear very similar, and there are also other spaces on the temple grounds that have special functions. These are all part of the same wat. They’re usually all enclosed within walls so it’s easy to tell when you’re on wat grounds and when you’re not.

You will also hear the word naga and see these serpent-like creatures often flanking the entrances to wat buildings. The naga is a hybrid of a serpent and a human that wanted to become a monk, but couldn’t because it wasn’t fully human.

My Favorite Temples in Chiang Mai

Of the temples I saw, these were my favorites and the ones that stood out to me the most.

Wat Lok Molee

Wat Lok Molee, Chiang Mai Wat Lok Molee, Chiang Mai

This temple is so, so gorgeous. It dates all the way back to the 14th century, though there are parts of it that were built later. The entrance gate and viharn are carved so beautifully, but what stood out to me the most was the ancient chedi left in its bare form.

Wat Lok Molee, Chiang Mai Wat Lok Molee, Chiang Mai

If you visit Chiang Mai during the Yi Peng festival as I did, Wat Lok Molee is an absolute gem in the evenings. They have so many lanterns put up and lit up. It is just so beautiful and I actually almost cried from happiness at being there during the time.

Wat Phra Singh

Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai

Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai

Wat Phra Singh is arguably Chiang Mai’s most prominent temple. It houses the Phra Phuttha Sihing, which is a Buddha statue that has a lot of significance in Lanna (northern Thai) culture. It was seen to have great powers in Ayutthaya.

There are so many buildings that make up this wat and so many of them are stunningly carved and have an abundance of gold and gorgeous colors. I particularly loved all the red and gold. However my favorite part was the chedi, which is gilt in gold – very, very shiny gold – and has elephant statues lining it! It’s hard to miss Wat Phra Singh but you definitely need to put it on your list as it is gorgeous.

Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai

Another prominent temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Chedi Luang is a 14th century temple complex that’s quite huge. There are lots of impressive structures around the wat, including the City Pillar Shrine (which women can’t see – ugh). However the most famous part – and my personal favorite part – is the stupa. It’s a large, bare stupa with beautiful naga and elephant structures.

Even though the stupa is the highlight, Wat Chedi Luang also has a variety of viharns in different styles which are very gorgeous. It also has a reclining Buddha (though much smaller than the one in Bangkok). Wat Chedi Luang has an entrance fee but is absolutely worth seeing.

Wat Chiang Man (the oldest temple in Chiang Mai)

Wat Chiang Man, Chiang Mai Wat Chiang Man, Chiang Mai

Wat Chiang Man, Chiang Mai

Wat Chiang Man is another popular temple in Chiang Mai. It’s actually the oldest temple in Chiang Mai, dating all the way back to the 13th century, which makes it very important. But aside from that, it’s actually quite a gorgeous temple!

The viharn is absolutely beautiful, but what stood out to me the most is the charming chedi. It’s partially gilt, partially raw, so you can see just how old it is but it also has a touch of pizzazz. But the elephants that line the chedi are what really drew me in. I spent a few minutes just looking at this beautiful structure. Definitely stop in!

Wat Buppharam

Wat Buppharam, Chiang Mai Wat Buppharam, Chiang Mai

Wat Buppharam, Chiang Mai

Wat Buppharam, Chiang Mai

Wat Buppharam looks really quirky when you enter because you’re greeted by a statue of Donald Duck – but that’s really where the quirk ends. With buildings dating from the 15th to the 20th centuries, Wat Buppharam is a traditional temple that has a lot to see.

In the main building, you can see the depository for manuscripts, which are housed in beautifully ornate boxes. This room also has interesting frescoes and beautifully carved wood shutters. Make your way up to the second floor and you’re greeted by an incredibly detailed, beautiful room in the viharn.

The exterior is a feast for the eyes, as well, with lots of sculpture and architectural details. With a color palette of red and gold – a stunning combination – Wat Buppharam is really stunning. It’s one of the only wats you have to pay to enter but is definitely worth the fee.

Wat Rajamontean

Wat Rajamontean, Chiang Mai Wat Rajamontean, Chiang Mai

Wat Rajamontean, Chiang Mai Wat Rajamontean, Chiang Mai

This next one is quite unique – Wat Rajamontean sits at the border of Old Chiang Mai and is an incredibly festooned temple. The main area is up a flight of stairs, at which you can access the beautifully festooned viharn or go see the large gilded Buddha.

The temple complex is more like one big building and has a dedicated color palette of maroon and gold. It’s not particularly my style but is certainly beautiful and one of the more interesting wats to see in Chiang Mai.

Wat Pa Pao

Wat Pa Pao, Chiang Mai Wat Pa Pao, Chiang Mai

Wat Pa Pao, Chiang Mai Wat Pa Pao, Chiang Mai

Wat Pa Pao stood out to me because it has very heavy European influences, making it a unique wat of Chiang Mai. The chedi is very traditional, showing its raw stone and surrounded by beautiful Buddhist sculpture. But the first viharn is clearly of European influence.

If you go inside, there are frescoes rather than the wood and lacquer you often see in Buddhist temples. It feels like going inside an old Italian church. Wat Pa Pao actually looks much older than it is – it dates to the late 19th century. It’s very beautiful and a more offbeat place to see in Chiang Mai.

Wat Fon Soi

Wat Fon Soi, Chiang Mai Wat Fon Soi, Chiang Mai

Wat Fon Soi is actually quite small compared to the tall temples that are so common in Chang Mai. However, its humble size is juxtaposed by its beautifully carved and gilt exterior. There are incredible sculptures all around the wat and so many colors that make it so visually impressive.

Even though the inside wan’t accessible when I visited, the exterior Wat Fon Soi was so beautiful I actually made a second journey back because I wanted to see it again.

Wat Saen Mueang Ma Luang

Wat Saen Mueang Ma Luang, Chiang Mai Wat Saen Mueang Ma Luang, Chiang Mai

Wat Saen Mueang Ma Luang, Chiang Mai

Wat Saen Mueang Ma Luang, Chiang Mai

Much like Wat Rajamontean, Wat Saen Mueang Ma Luang has a heavy color palette of maroon and gold. Wat Saen Mueang Ma Luang is a lot larger and has several more different complexes.

This wat stood out to me not only because of its size but because of the incredible decoration and attention to detail. Again, it’s not really my style, but definitely a big feast for the eyes and it has a lot of visual interest.

Wat Sai Moon Myanmar

Wat Sai Moon Myanmar, Chiang Mai Wat Sai Moon Myanmar, Chiang Mai

Wat Sai Moon Myanmar, Chiang Mai

Wat Sai Moon Myanmar stood out to me because, as the name would suggest, it is of Burmese style and thus very different from the other wats. Thailand is home to lots of refugees from Myanmar, so their presence is quite prominent. Here you can see their distinct style.

The colors are sparingly used but also very vivid. The art is also quite different – I want to say it looks a bit more geometric than traditional Thai art. This wat is very cute and definitely worth the stop in.

Other Temples in Chiang Mai

Don’t get me wrong – there’s no “bad” wat to see in Chiang Mai. They’re all very gorgeous. However the wats below just didn’t make the same impression on me as the aforementioned ones.

I feel you’re probably a little wat-ted out by this point (it’s a lot to read about 55 different wats, right?), so I’m just going to post the names of the wats and some short comments so you can make note of them.

Wat Umong, Chiang Mai Wat Saengfang, Chiang Mai

A place that stood out to me was Wat Umong Mahatharachan, not because it was particularly beautiful but because the grounds of the wat are very serene. It also has chedis and some ruins around that look quite old. Wat Saenfang was also quite cute and tranquil.

Wat Chetawan, Chiang Mai Wat Chetawan, Chiang Mai

Wat Muen Larn, Chiang Mai Wat Muen Larn, Chiang Mai

I really loved the Burmese elephants painted purple at Wat Chetawan. They stood out to me, and I liked the fun colors the wat uses.

Another more unique temple is Wat Muen Larn, because it’s made of just wood with paint that’s disintegrated a bit over the years. The other temples look like they’re made of metal with all the gilding but Wat Muen Larn is very raw, very much just wood. It also has a beautiful depository, not made of wood, that almost looks like a house.

Wat Ket Karam, Chiang Mai

Wat Ket Karam is a more tranquil temple that has interesting shrines made of toys. It’s across the river, which is a bit out of the way from Old Chiang Mai but it’s still near some other wats and worth a visit if you have the time to see it.

Wat Pan Ping is quite typical-looking but has a new structure with stained glass which makes it a bit more interesting.

Wat Sri Suphan, Chiang Mai Wat Muen San, Chiang Mai

Wat Muen San, Chiang Mai

Known as the “silver temple,” Wat Sri Suphan is a popular destination for tourists but I didn’t really like it. I guess I just like the wood and gold more and it’s personal taste. Also, Wat Sri Suphan is another temple that costs money.

Wat Muen San is a pretty temple that also has a silver temple inside the complex (even though it’s not the silver temple). It’s free to visit.

Wat Chet Lin, Chiang Mai Wat Chet Lin, Chiang Mai

Wat Chet Lin, Chiang Mai

Wat Chet Lin looks quite sad from the road. If you go in, it looks a bit nicer with the second viharn (I think it was?) and the chedi. However if you go back even more, you’ll see a cute fish pond with some fish food for sale. Be sure to buy a pack and then go feed the cute catfish!

Another place that’s prettier on the inside is Wat Ou Sai Kham, which not only has lots of painting and Buddha sculptures but a collection of different jade to see.

Wat Nong Kham, Chiang Mai Wat Phuak Hong, Chiang Mai

Wat Pan Sao, Chiang Mai

Wat Chang Kong is a another cute and tranquil temple, as is Wat Nong Kham. And I particularly liked the back garden with the chedi of Wat Pan Sao. You can find another interesting chedi at Wat Phuak Hong.

Wat Phan Tao, Chiang Mai Wat Phan Tao, Chiang Mai

Wat Inthakin Sadue Muang, Chiang Mai Wat Inthakin Sadue Muang, Chiang Mai

Wat Pan Whaen, Chiang Mai Wat Pan Whaen, Chiang Mai

Wat Phan Tao served as the throne hall for King Mahotara Prateth in the 19th century and is a simple wooden temple with a pretty gold peacock at the front.

Wat Inthakin Sadue Muang is a notable black temple that contrasts nicely with the beautiful gold and white statues. And I loved the stunningly carved chedi of Wat Pan Whaen.

Wat Chang Kong

Other wats that didn’t particularly stand out – in the northwest quadrant of Chiang Mai,

  • Wat Prasat
  • Wat Chai Phrakiat
  • Wat Kuan Khama
  • Wat Dubphai
  • Wat Mo Kham Tuang

In the northeast,

  • Wat Chiang Yuen
  • Wat Lam Chang
  • Wat Chomphu
  • Wat Dokkham
  • Wat Dokeung
  • Wat Sam Pao
  • Wat Chai Sri Phoon

In the southwest quadrant of Chiang Mai,

  • Wat Si Koet
  • Wat Phra Chao Meng Rai
  • Wat Phuak Taem
  • Wat Puak Pia

In the southeast quadrant,

  • Wat Chang Taem
  • Wat Mahawan
  • Wat Up Khut
  • Wat Loi Kroh
  • Wat Puak Chang
  • Wat Mueang Mang
  • Wat Thatkam
  • Wat Pha Khao
  • Wat Muentoom
  • Wat Saimoonmueng
  • Wat Phan On
  • Wat Phan Tong

Again, this doesn’t mean that these temples aren’t beautiful or don’t have a stunning amount of detail. But with so many wats, these just didn’t have anything that was “special” to me.

Honorable Mention: Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

It isn’t anywhere near the old town, so Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (or just Doi Suthep) is more an honorable mention, but I can’t discuss the wats of Chiang Mai without mentioning this beautiful gem. It’s one of the most sacred temples that houses a splinter of Buddha’s bone, and it’s absolutely stunning to see. It’s also up a mountain and has sweeping views over Chiang Mai.

It takes about 45 minutes to get there via if you drive. If you don’t have a car, many of the red car taxis in town are willing to take you to the top, and advertise that they go there.

The Wats of Chiang Mai: FAQs

These are questions I had or saw about the wats before I visited.

Are you allowed to visit wats? Yes! Not during ceremony times, but you are able to visit the inside of wats during opening hours. Thai Buddhists are very open and welcoming of their religion. Of course, always be respectful, which brings me to my next question…

Is there a dress code for wats? Yes, there is a strict dress code. For women, shoulders, cleavage and knees must be covered. No tight-fitting clothing like leggings and no crop tops. Depending on the wat, men are asked the same. As many of the Thai people I met put it, no sexy! You must also take off your shoes before entering a wat. Many women take a shawl to cover themselves up.

Some wats I visited enforced the dress code on the entire wat grounds (i.e. as soon as you step through the gate, even if you’re outside) and others only enforced them for entering buildings.

Is visiting wats free? It depends on the wat. In Chiang Mai, most wats are free. There are a handful of wats that cost a few baht, but the highest price point I saw was 100 baht (about $2-3). In contrast, most wats in Bangkok cost money.

That being said, there are always donation boxes for you to give as you please. It’s said that giving to the wats and monks will bring you good fortune or karma.

Why are there so many wats in Chiang Mai? Thailand is filled to the brim with wats because Buddhism is such a huge part of their culture. Chiang Mai has several hundred years of history, or several hundred years for these wats to have been built.

Is Chiang Mai walkable? Old Chiang Mai, yes. Traffic in Thailand is a bit hectic, so watch out for cars, and to walk from one end of the old city to the other takes about half an hour. If you’re brave enough to rent a motorbike you can easily explore the vast area surrounding the old city. If not, there are many tuk tuks and red car taxis available.

The Final Word

Chiang Mai is so worth visiting, not only because it hosts an incredible amount of beautiful temples but because it’s a great base to explore northern Thailand. I highly recommend a trip to this gorgeous, ancient town and at least a few days to see the temples.

I know this blog post was long – sorry! – but I hope it helped you plan what wats to see, especially if you’re more limited on time. And if you visit Chiang Mai, I hope you like it as much as I did!

If you’ve been to Chiang Mai before, be sure to leave your favorite wat in the comments!

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55 Temples in Chiang Mai 55 Temples in Chiang Mai 55 Temples in Chiang Mai

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