The Only 6 Temples You Need to Visit in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai, a city located in Northern Thailand, is by far one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand thanks to the preservation of many historical structures and temples that give the city rich historical and religious charm.
Almost every traveler would agree that what makes Chiang Mai stand out from other cities in Thailand are the hundreds (literally 300+) of Buddhist temples spread throughout the city.
Most tourists have the “too many temples and too little time” problem when they visit Chiang Mai so a selection is absolutely necessary. To help you make the most of your upcoming trip, I’ve created this list of the The Only 6 Temples You Need to Visit in Chiang Mai and I have also included loads of information about each one to help you create a flawless travel itinerary.
1. WAT PHRA DOI SUTHEP
What is Wat Phra Doi Suthep?
Overlooking the city from its mountain throne, Wat Phra Doi Suthep is one of northern Thailand’s most sacred temples. The temple itself is a beautiful example of northern Thai architecture, and it is reached via a strenuous, 306-step dragon staircase.
I believe Doi Suthep is the best temple to visit in Chiang Mai if you want to observe worship rituals and learn about Buddhism. In addition to a fantastic cultural experience, the temple offers cooler temperatures (thanks to the higher altitude) and an incredible lookout over Chiang Mai.
There is also a small outdoor market at the base of the temple where you can grab a bite to eat and do some shopping.
How do I get to Wat Phra Doi Suthep?
A lot of people will tell you to rent a scooter and drive yourself. This is a cheap and fun way to get there but it can also be very dangerous. I would not ever suggest renting a scooter in Thailand if you don’t have prior experience riding one. The safest and easiest way to get to Doi Suthep is by simply flagging down a red taxi driver and asking them to take you.
There are red taxis (also known as a songthaew) or tuk tuks everywhere in the Old City and Doi Suthep is a very popular destination. Make sure you negotiate a good price and establish whether or not you want them to wait for you in the parking lot or if you will find another taxi back to the city.
Between 300-500 baht roundtrip is a fair price. Keep in mind that tuk tuks generally cost more than the red taxis.
How much time do I need to visit Doi Suthep?
Doi Suthep is open every day from 6 am- 6pm. It is roughly a 30 minute drive to Doi Suthep from inside the Old City although traffic can affect this. I would plan to spend 60-90 minutes exploring the temple, enjoying the lookout, and wandering around the markets at the base of the staircase. For most people, a trip to Doi Suthep will take 2-3 hours.
How much does it cost to visit Wat Phra Doi Suthep?
You have to factor in transportation which will probably cost you about 500 baht round trip. The admission fee is 30 baht for foreigners and an additional 20 baht if you want to skip the long staircase and take the elevator. (It’s advisable to double check these prices as they do tend to fluctuate.)
If you are not dressed appropriately then you can expect to pay 30 baht extra to rent a cover-up.
Tips for making the most of your trip to Doi Suthep
- The road to Doi Suthep is very twisty. If you suffer with motion sickness, I would suggest taking a tuk tuk which will give you more fresh air and allow you to face forward. If you decide to take a red taxi, you can ask to sit in the front so that you can be forward-facing. Keep some motion sickness medicine on hand just in case.
- The view from Doi Suthep is stunning if you can get there for sunrise or sunset. If you want to add a neat element to the trip, lookup the time for sunset/sunrise and plan your trip accordingly.
- I would suggest visiting Doi Suthep on a clear day if you can help it.
- A lot of tourist agencies will offer trips to Doi Suthep. I think these are overpriced and unnecessary because you can easily get there on your own at a fraction of the cost. You will save money and have a lot of added freedom if you choose to forego a formal tour.
2. WAT UMONG
What is Wat Umong?
Among the hundreds of Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai, the Wat Umong or “Tunnel temple” is unique because of its location in the forest and its system of tunnels. The serene and peaceful atmosphere at the 13th century forest temple near Doi Suthep mountain provides a welcome change from the much visited sites in Chiang Mai.
Wat Umong and its tunnels were built in the late 13th century as a serene escape from the growing city where monks could meditate in peace. In the 15th century, the monastery was abandoned and wasn’t used again until the 1940’s.
In 1948 the temple was restored and reopened as a center for meditation and Buddhist teachings. Today the Wat Umong is an active temple with resident monks.
How do I get to Wat Umong?
Wat Umong is about 2 kilometers off Suthep Road, just west of the Chiang Mai outer ring road. Unless you rent your own motorcycle, you can easily get there by private taxi, tuk tuk, or songthaew (red taxi). I advise booking a round trip and have the driver wait because the temple is a bit out of the way and it can be difficult to get a taxi back to the city.
How much will it cost to visit Wat Umong?
Round trip transportation to Wat Umong will cost you between 200-500 baht. At the time this post was written admission is free, but you may want to double check that this has not changed.
How much time do I need to visit Wat Umong?
The temple is open daily from 6 am- p pm. Depending on traffic, the drive is about 20 minutes from Old City. I would plan to spend 60-90 minutes at the temple and exploring the gardens. Visiting this temple should take about 2.5 hours.
Tips for making the most of your visit to Wat Umong
- Because of the overgrowth, Wat Umong can be an especially magical place just after the rainy season has ended, around early October or November. It is also a good place to visit on a hot day as the caves will offer a cooler climate.
- Wat Umong and Doi Suthep are roughly in the same vicinity and if you have a shorter stay in Chiang Mai, I’d plan to visit both temples in one trip. You can arrange a fair price for visiting both of these temples with a local taxi or tuk tuk driver.
- If you continue on the path on past the mound and the pagoda, you’ll eventually come to a garden with a small lake with many fish, birds and other wildlife.
- Monk chats are available at this temple Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 5:30pm-7:30pm. These chats are a great way to help monks practice their English while you ask them questions about their life, Buddhism, culture, etc.
3. WAT CHEDI LUANG
What is Wat Chedi Luang?
One of Chiang Mai’s most important temples is the Wat Chedi Luang located in the ancient walled part of the city.
They started building the temple in the late 14th century and construction lasted nearly a century. When the chedi was finally finished it was by far the largest structure of Chiang Mai.
In 1545, disaster struck when a massive earthquake destroyed about half of the chedi. The quake took off about 60 meters from the top of the chedi after which about 60 meters remained.
Like most of the ancient monuments in Chiang Mai, Wat Chedi Luang was in ruins when the city began its modern renaissance, but was restored and stabilized in the 1990’s.
How do I get to Wat Chedi Luang?
Wat Chedi Luang is located in the heart of the Old City on Prapokklao Road. The temple is just a short walk south from the intersection of the main east-west Rachadamnoen Road. This is about a 20 minute walk from anywhere inside the city or a 5 minute taxi ride.
How much will it cost to visit Wat Chedi Luang?
Entrance fee is 40 baht for adults. If you decide to take a red taxi to get here, it will cost about 20 baht per person from anywhere within the Old City.
How much time do I need to visit Wat Chedi Luang?
Wat Chedi Luang is open daily from 6am- 8pm. You can plan on spending 30-60 minutes here to admire the chedi and explore the surrounding temples.
Tips for making the most of your visit to Wat Chedi Luang
- There is little shade around Wat Chedi Luang so on really hot days I suggest visiting early in the morning or late at night. The lights on the temple at night are particularly stunning.
- If you want to attend the Sunday Night Market (I highly recommend it!), Wat Chedi Luang is located right next to the market and you could easily do both.
- One of my very favorite restaurants in Chiang Mai is located right across from the main entrance next to 7-Eleven. It’s called The 3 Sis Cafe and Restaurant and the front is decorated by a huge fake mango tree. I HIGHLY recommend their mango waffles with ice cream! I know, I know… kind of lame to recommend that someone eats waffles in Thailand but I promise you won’t regret it!
- Monk Chats are held here daily from 9am-6pm, but monks are most abundant on Saturday & Sunday Mornings. Monk chats are a great way to help monks practice their English while you ask them questions about their life, Buddhism, culture, etc.
4. WAT BUPPHARAM
What is Wat Buppharam?
Wat Buppharam was built in 1497 by King Phra Muang Kaew on the site of a palace of King Thokarat his Great-Grandfather.
The architecture of the temple is completely different from the other temples in Chiang Mai, or in general, other temples in Thailand, for a specific reason. In 1561, when the northern part of Thailand was occupied by the Burmese, Wat Buppharam was used by Burmese monks who changed the temple’s original structure instead abandoning it.
The site of Wat Buppharam is of historical importance, as it is from here that in 1797 Chao Kawila took back the city of Chiang Mai after 200 years of Burmese rule.
How do I get to Wat Buppharam?
Wat Buppharam is located right outside the old walled part of Chiang Mai on Tha Pae road, just East of popular Tha Pae gate.
From anywhere in the old city you can easily get there by tuk tuk or taxi which should cost you 20 baht. If you are near Tha Pae gate you can easily walk to this temple in 10 or 15 minutes.
How much does it cost to visit Wat Buppharam?
Admission to this temple is free. A quick taxi ride will cost you 20 baht.
How much time will it take to visit Wat Buppharam?
This temple is open daily from 6 AM- 7PM. You will probably want to spend 20-30 minutes at this temple.
Tips for making the most of your trip to Wat Buppharam
- If you are a photographer, I definitely suggest visiting this temple between 6-7 PM. I think Wat Buppharam best shows its glory during sunset when the golden light enhances the warm colors.
- There is basically a straight line between Wat Buppharam, Wat Chedi Luang, and Wat Phra Singh (respectively). It would be fun and easy to rent a bicycle and ride from one temple to the next. Bicycle rentals are scattered throughout the Old City and it is much cheaper and safer than renting a motorbike.
5. WAT PHRA SINGH
What is Wat Phra Singh?
Wat Phra Singh is a very important temple in Chiang Mai as well as a major monastery currently housing about 700 monks.
The chedi was constructed in the 14th century by King Phayu to host the ashes of his father. Over time, more buildings were added and the temple was given its current name 20 years later when the holy statue of Phra Buddha Singh was taken there. The temple was then abandoned for a couple of centuries, during the Burmese rule, and completely restored in the early 1900s.
Some of the best examples of Lanna style and culture can be found throughout the complex. Near the entrance, on the right of the main assembly hall, you’ll see a library with a top wooden structure built on a richly decorated stone base. The top building is where ancient scriptures are still kept, high above the ground to protect them from any flooding.
How do I get to Wat Phra Singh?
The temple is located at the West end of Ratchadamnoen Road. (Ratchadamnoen Rd. basically bisects the old city, running from the Tapae gate all the way to the temple) From within the city you can easily get here by taking a red taxi/ tuk tuk. It is a short walk if you happen to be on the west side of the Old City.
How much will it cost to visit Wat Phra Singh?
You can walk around the temple grounds for free but admission to the main assembly hall is 40 baht for foreigners. Transportation will generally cost you 20 baht each way.
How much time do I need to visit Wat Phra Singh?
This temple is opening every day from 6 AM- 6 PM. It will take you 30-45 minutes to see all that this temple has to offer.
Tips for making the most out of your visit to Wat Phra Singh
- Next to the second entrance of the complex there is a small outdoor market where locals sell handmade goods and delicious street food. If you have some time, check it out! I love to walk around the temple and then grab a fresh fruit smoothie and some Phad Thai.
- If you go in the morning or at night you will hear a lot of chanting from the monks. They broadcast the chants on speakers throughout the temple grounds and it really adds to the experience.
- This temple is on the same street as the Sunday Night Market. If you don’t have a very long stay in Chiang Mai, I would suggest doing the market and the temple at the same time.
6. Wat Srisuphan- The Silver Temple
*Note this gold and silver Ganesha statue beneath a silver umbrella by the main sanctuary- one example of the crossover between Hinduism and Buddhism in Thailand.
What is Wat Srisuphan?
Wat Srisuphan was founded in 1502, although little remains of the original temple except for some teak pillars and roof beams in the main sanctuary. The murals inside show an interesting mix of Taoist, Zen and Theravada Buddhist elements.
Although the temple itself has been around for quite some time, the most recent renovation began in 2004 under the direction of the abbot, Phra Kru Phithatsuthikhun. Rather than using standard temple renovation techniques, the abbot wanted to utilize the skill and make Wat Srisuphan a popular addition to Chiang Mai’s traditional silver-making district. Most of the work is carried out using alloy and zinc, reserving the precious silver for the holy images.
The temple also hosts a silver-working school, to help ensure that the tradition of the village is passed on.
How do I get to Wat Srisuphan?
Wat Srisuphan is located just outside of the city wall on of Wulai Road. If you are approaching from Chiang Mai Gate, head down Wualai Road and turn right on either Soi 2 or Soi 3 (both lanes will lead you there).
Because it is outside of the city wall, I suggest taking a taxi or a tuk tuk rather than walking. Just tell your driver to take you to the Silver Temple on Wulai Road.
How much will it cost to visit Wat Srisuphan?
At Wat Srisuphan entrance is free but donations are appreciated. Transportation will cost you 20-50 baht each way.
How much time will it take to visit Wat Srisuphan?
Wat Srisuphan is open daily from 6AM- 8 PM. I would plan on spending 20-30 minutes here.
Tips for making the most of your visit to Wat Srisuphan:
- Wat Srisuphan is located on the same road as the popular Saturday Market Walking Street. To avoid taking two trips to this area, I suggest visiting the temple and the market at the same time.
- Was Srisuphan is an active ordination hall so only men may enter the main sanctuary. There will be signs explaining this. Women are free to explore the rest of the temple complex.
- Monk chats are offered every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, from 5:30 pm to 7:00 pm. Monk chats are a great way to help monks practice their English while you ask them questions about their life, Buddhism, culture, etc.
- An introduction to meditation is offered on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday evenings from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm.
Buddhist Temple Etiquette 101
- Remove your shoes before entering if you haven’t already and dress appropriately.
- Don’t get in the way of local people who are actually there to worship.
- Back away from the Buddha statue rather than turning your back.
- Don’t touch sacred objects in the worship area.
- Do not raise yourself higher than the image of Buddha (e.g., sitting on the raised platform for a photo).
- Be respectful. Be quiet and avoid making a scene. Turn off phones and remove headphones. Do not take pictures if there are signs saying you should not.
- Women Don’t Touch Monks: Not in Thai Culture, including his own mother. Even doing so on accident (i.e., brushing against the robes in a crowded place) requires the monk to perform a lengthy cleansing process. At some temples women are not allowed to enter and there will be signs indicating this. Women CAN participate in monk chats, however, and this is a great opportunity to respectfully spend time with monks.
Things to Keep in Mind while touring temples in Chiang Mai:
- A trip to Chiang Mai (or Thailand in general) wouldn’t be complete without spending some time touring their temples. It will give you great insight into the culture and traditions of the Thai people.
- Your dress and appearance matters. I know it is extremely hot in Thailand but wear clothes that cover your shoulders, midriff, and knees on your temple touring days to avoid having to rent a cover up. This will save you time and money.
- It is customary to take your shoes off before entering a temple. Remember to wear inexpensive shoes that are easy to take on and off. I have NEVER had a problem with my shoes being taken, but then again, I always wear cheap flip flops. If you leave a $200 pair of shoes outside, you may run the risk of having your shoes stolen.
- Most of the temples I have listed are located in the Old City and within a 30 minute walking distance or a quick (and cheap) taxi ride. If you get lost or the taxi driver does not understand you, have a picture of the temple you are visiting on your phone to show someone. This will immediately break the language barrier and they will take you/show you where to go.