Covered or mentioned in this post:
Trip Advisor ratings, Wat Phrathat Chomkitti or Chom Kitti, Wat Lok Molee, Wat Sri Suphan, Wat Mae Kaet, Wat Doi Saket, Wat Phan Tao, Wat Ket Karam, The Hilltop Wat and The Mystery Wat.
You will have noticed that I didn’t include any Wats, or temples, in my previous post My Chiang Mai Top 10 HERE. This wasn’t deliberate, they just didn’t end up on the list. I also had a friend write to tell me that I must be getting old because I didn’t include any elephant rides, tiger or ziplining! Thanks Phillip. Yes, I am getting older so I won’t be including any of the adventure activities. My blog is about living in Thailand and these tourist experiences, although great fun, aren’t part of the “real” Thai experience for me.
However to balance up any bad karma that may be building as a result of both putting a ladyboy show ahead of a Buddhist temple and the fact I was a bit derogatory about Chiang Mai’s favourite Wat – Phra That Doi Suthep, I have decided to share my top Wats with you today.
I have to say I can understand why the “Top 10” posts are so popular with bloggers. You can re-packed stuff you have already written and boost circulation! In my defence I have mostly written this blog from scratch 🙂
Once again you will find that some of these inclusions won’t turn up on the Trip Adviser top destinations although a few do, and that’s the way I like it. I am not against TA and have often found it very useful. Finding Chiang Dao Nest, the accommodation and restaurant I wrote about recently HERE, was as a result of a TA search.
However the TA top attractions tend to become locked in to the exclusion of possibly more interesting alternatives further down the list. People planning a holiday of a few days will tend to add the top rated attractions to their list of to-dos, and I completely understand why. With limited time it is a low risk way to maximise your enjoyment of the holiday. However if you are the type who gives feedback to TA if you only ever see two Wats, for example, your ability to provide a balanced rating of their standing in the 700 Chiang Mai Wats available to explore, is limited.
I am also not sure how the rating system works in TA. For example Chiang Dao Nest is rated number two in its accommodation category. The Nest’s final standing of 4 1/2 stars is based on the reviews of over 320 people. Number 1 in Chiang Dao is a five star rated place but based on only 11 reviews. Obviously people can make their own judgement based on the statistics as TA doesn’t hide them but I wonder how that calculation affects the rankings overall.
My list of favourite Wats doesn’t have a “Top X” number yet (now it does – see below). I am going to tell you about the ones I really liked and the number I end up with will be the number I add to title at the end! My Wat enjoyment rating isn’t necessarily just based on the Wat buildings themselves. Maybe the Wat had a lovely view, or was extremely peaceful or had a monk who was pro-active in sharing or giving a blessing. There is more to Wats than their architectural standing.
OK, thanks for your patience let’s get started. Once again these aren’t in any order – not even alphabetically. I have added them as I find them in researching through my posts.
Number 9 – Wat Phrathat Chomkitti or Chom Kitti
This one came up first because it was the photo that headed my Chiang Mai Top 10 post. The Wat is about an hour out of Chiang Mai on Route 1001 as it heads towards a small town called Phrao. Set in the hills on the right of the road as you head towards Phrao, the temple commands sweeping views over the whole plain this side of Chiang Mai from Mae Rim to Chiang Dao.
If you wanted a taste of the famous White temple in Chiang Rai, then this is the place to come because there is a building here that replicates the style that make the Chiang Rai temple so outstanding. Unaffected by earthquakes too, which unfortunately isn’t the case with the “real” one at Chiang Rai.
Set in the hills this Wat is peaceful and well maintained, often not the case in Thailand where interest wanes, the money runs out or the monks are just lazy. We didn’t even go into the Viharn, or main public building. The main interest here are the buildings, the setting and the views.
I also enjoyed the display of animals, which so often add a playfulness to Wats.
You can read the full post of our day out, which includes this Wat with more photos HERE.
Number 8 – Wat Lok Molee
You won’t have to travel as far for this one. It is situated just outside the Old Town moat in central Chiang Mai.
The history of this Wat can be found HERE, if you are into the detail. I enjoy this Wat because the Viharn, or main building, is made from timber and that immediately sets it apart from the majority of other Wats and makes it have a softer and more settled appearance.
Inside is striking and if you are lucky there is a proactive old monk there sometimes who will give you a Buddhist blessing if approached. The benefit of having a Thai wife.
The huge chedi at the back is impressive, described as:
The massive chedi was built in 1527 when it must have dominated the area. It has been restored several times over the centuries and is in good condition. The chedi sits on a large square base. Each side of the upper part of the chedi has a niche that contains a Buddha image. The niches are flanked on both sides by thevada figures, a kind of celestial beings. The chedi contains the ashes of several Kings of the Mengrai dynasty, who ruled the Lanna Kingdom from the end of the 13th century until 1558 when the Burmese invaded the Kingdom.
The road that runs around the moat must be the busiest in Chiang Mai so to walk through the gates into this peaceful temple gives a lovely sense of contrast and one can feel the stress levels reduce immediately.
Number 7 – Wat Sri Suphan
I am always amazed that anyone finds anything in Chiang Mai using Google maps. Even if it lists an attraction more often than not it is in the wrong place. Many tourists will be seeing more of the city than they planned to. Wat Sri Suphan is a good example. Google it and this is what you get.
Travelfish have it correctly located on their map HERE or replicated below. It’s that centered squiggly thing just off Wualai Road to the left of the bed.
I have included this Wat because it is unusual with one of the buildings being made out of silver.
The main Viharn building is nothing special and from memory the site itself is a bit ramshackle but the “selling” point has to be the silver temple housing effigies of three monks as shown in the second photo below.
Inside the silver structure is even more impressive. Beautiful and complex reliefs provide a monochrome backdrop to the robes of the three monks permanently in residence.
The chedi at the back of the site is also worth a look.
Women aren’t allowed to enter this structure. As far as I know women can’t walk across areas where the remains of monks may be buried. I have Googled this but haven’t quickly come across an explanation. You will sometimes see signs in temples “women may not enter” such as this one in Wat Liam. I believe this is the reason for the exclusion.
In keeping with other spiritual paths us blokes have no such restrictions!
Number 6 – Wat Mae Kaet
This is a Wat that I don’t like at all! True.
The place is a bit of a mess although the temple building themselves are being refurbished, an unusual undertaking in Thailand. Hidden way in the backroads of San Sai it is well off the tourist trail so you’ll be the only farang visitors. I only include it because if you after an unusual experience of Buddhism this is the place to go.
Next to the temple area is this strange garden, strange because it is full of these weird, bloodthirsty and explicit statues. I presume the idea is to frighten people into doing the right thing. It is wired to be lit up at night but, as Gaun won’t go into the place in the daytime, it seems unlikely to be a big post-sunset event especially for the Thais. If I was planning a tour of Chiang Mai the unusual, this place would be at the top of my list.
Number 5 – Wat Doi Saket
This Wat is on the outskirts of Chiang Mai just before you leave the city heading to Chiang Rai on Route 118. The word Doi means hill in the North so any Wat with “Doi” in its name means it has some relationship with a hill i.e. views. As you can see below Wat Doi Saket is very much a hill based temple.
Every time we have been to this Wat it has been very quiet with few visitors, farang or Thai. It is a major Chiang Mai landmark so it must get patronage at some times. One of the reasons I have included this Wat is that the drive there, once you leave the 118, takes you through a very Thai village situated at the base of the hill, which is worth a wander in itself before you then wind up a lovely tree lined road to the top.
The two main buildings are the large chedi, which you can walk under and the Viharn building. This is a “working” temple and you will most likely see a few monks around. The Buildings themselves are photogenic from the outside and pretty well maintained.
What I especially like about this Wat is not so much based around the structures but that every time we have been there, and I think the last was our fourth visit, there has been at least one monk “on duty” to talk with or receive a blessing. We have almost got to know them by name!
Having the monks in view and actively involved with the people is a lovely grounding experience and gives you a moment of connecting in a little way to the essence of what the structures are all about. The monks are genuinely friendly, helpful if you have a Thai speaker of course, and after the ceremony have chatted away with Gaun wanting to know where we were all from and pointing out things we should see in the Wat. Once the monk got up to show us some aspect in the chedi.
If you head to the back of the Wat on the lower level you will get glimpses over Northern Chiang Mai back towards the city, which is worth a look.
Number 4 – Wat Phan Tao
Wat Phan Tao, meaning “temple of a thousand kilns”, probably derives its name from the ovens used to cast Buddha images for another temple, the Wat Chedi Luang, which is immediately next to the Wat Phan Tao.
This is a Wat located in the centre of Chiang Mai and is well and truly on the tourist path. I like it because it is another teak timber building and inside has that dark slightly brooding feel that I think should be a must for all spiritual places! The history of this Wat can be found HERE.
Rachadamnoen Road/Alley is the main street from Thapae Gate and Thapae Road into the Old Town, so easy to find.
If visiting make sure you make a small donation 20 THB is fine or more, and collect a cup of coins to place in these rows of bowls. You can make a wish for each one or just focus on not missing any!
It is a nice relaxing way to sort of participate in something within the temple building. There are 99 bowls I think, 9 being a Buddhist lucky number. Don’t forget to give this guy his coin or you’ll blow the whole operation.
Time your visit around lunch because you are in an area of the greatest concentration of cafes and eating places in Chiang Mai so get out there and fill up.
Wat 3 – Wat Ket Karam
Almost on the river this is a neat and interesting Wat not just for the Buddhist structures but it also includes a wonderful quirky museum, which is well worth seeing combined with the Wat. My original post HERE.
I first came across this temple when we were on the hunt for nine temples to visit as part of Gaun’s birthday back in May – post HERE. If driving from the city out on the 106 take that turn on the right you can see just above the 106 marker in the photo above. It will take you to the front of the Wat and you can park under trees inside. The 106 at this point has NO parking as it is barely even two lanes.
The next two Wats don’t have names, well maybe they do but I haven’t yet found out what! they are.
Wat 2 – The Hilltop Wat
Although still within the outskirts of Chiang Mai off Route 118, this is a Wat that you will most likely have to yourself. It is set in the countryside on top of a hill with probably the worst road in Thailand to get to it. I love it because there is a slight sense of adventure to get there, the views over Northern Chiang Mai are spectacular and the monk in attendance is very proactive and friendly. The buildings are nothing special.
We have been here three times and each time the monk comes out to say hello and is happy to show you around. The viewing platform is the main event but the temple building is very “local” and the monk will open up if it isn’t already. He is also happy to give you a blessing if you want. I always give a 100 THB for a blessing. It is how they make some extra money for their Wat so don’t be stingy.
Ladies, remember that you never touch or give anything directly to a monk. Place the money on the donation cloth in front of them or give it to your guy who can pass directly to the monk. Very often there will be envelopes provided for donations. Write on the envelope the name of the person you want the blessing to be directed. Many monks can manage English and they might check the pronunciation with you.
If you have a GPS the location of this Wat is N 18.54.821 E 099 07.246
My final Wat and maybe my favourite is one without a name.
Number 1 – The Mystery Wat
I wrote about this Wat as part of my post HERE A Day Out in Mae Rim. It is more of a Wat by invitation as the monk heading it is trying to establish a place for internal reflection rather than promote it. If you read my blog post you will see that he has some challenges achieving that.
The Wat itself couldn’t be more basic…….
……and yet I have a feeling Buddha himself would have appreciated this structure more than any of the ones I have written about above.
Well I have counted up and as you can see from the numbering just added I have included seven Wats in my favourite list. I am sure I have another two I can find, which would make up that lucky nine number – most appropriate considering the topic. I might get back to you on that as we are just about to head off to the local Sunday markets followed by a beer.
UPDATE: Back from the markets and reinvigorated so have added two Wats that deserve to be on my list of Top Chiang Mai Wats so the total is now a lucky NINE – yay.
For all of the best wats in Isaan, the region in the north east of Thailand, that I have visited please read my recent (Sept 2017) post HERE
Thanks for reading.