TRAVELING is a learning experience that provides itinerants a glimpse of life in a certain locality. Being there, present in that particular destination, we get to see firsthand things that reveal more of its history, traditions, cuisines, fashion, and even religion. All these – and more – help shape the culture and the people in that place.
My several trips to Chiang Mai, located in the northern portion of Thailand, exposed me to the various Buddhist temples, or wats, in that city. Many of them were built hundreds of years ago and a number of these wats reflect the Lanna culture and heritage in this part of Thailand.
Wat Phra Singh
Wat Phra Singh, or the Temple of the Lion Buddha, was built in the 14th century and was conferred as a Royal temple in 1935. Within the temple compound is a monastery that houses hundreds of monks. It has two assembly halls: Viharn Luang, which is the largest structure at the site; and Viharn Lai Kham, the smaller one, which reveals the marvelous Lanna architecture.
Beside the Viharn Lai Kham is the main chedi, painted in white. Other buildings in the compound are the ubosot, where monks are ordained, and the Ho Trai, or the temple library.
Wat Chedi Luang
The ruins of Wat Chedi Luang, or the Temple of the Big Stupa, have a certain allure. Constructed in the late 14th century and finished during the second half of the 15th century, Wat Chedi Luang used to stand as the tallest structure in ancient Chiang Mai.
Around that time, it housed the Emerald Buddha, the most significant image in Thailand, which is now enshrined in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. But the stupa was destroyed by an earthquake. Still, it is one of the magnificent buildings in Chiang Mai and looking at it gave me goosebumps.
Wat Lok Molee
What is special about this temple is that the main hall or viharn is made of wood. It has a wooden pavilion and intricate wooden carvings. Although this viharn was built in 2003, the original one, which was fully destroyed, was erected sometime in 14th century. Meanwhile, its impressive chedi at the back of the viharn was built in 1527.
Wat Chiang Man
Wat Chiang Man is the first and oldest temple in Chiang Mai that was built by King Mengrai when he decided to set up a new city, which was to be the capital of the Lanna Kingdom, in 1296. Similar to many wats, the chedi is the oldest structure in the temple grounds. Wat Chiang Man’s Chang Lom Chedi or Elephant Chedi is attractive because it has 15 elephant statues surrounding its base.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Perched on top of Doi Suthep (“doi” is a Thai word that means mountain) is the majestic temple called Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, which was established in 1383. Legend has it that a white elephant carrying a relic of Buddha’s shoulder bone was released to the jungle and it climbed Doi Suthep, thus, the reason why the location was chosen. At the temple grounds, there is a spot where you can have a spectacular view overlooking the rest of Chiang Mai.
Wat Buak Krok Luang
While the temple grounds of Wat Buak Krok Luangis is smaller compared to the other wats I have visited and though this one was built only in the early 19th century, it still has its own charm. The main attraction here is the murals found on the walls inside the viharn. They narrate the life of Buddha and depict the Lanna culture.
If ever you get to visit Chiang Mai, include these temples in your must-visit places and explore them for you to appreciate the Buddhist faith and the Lanna traditions better.
All photos are by this author. Claire Marie Algarme blogs at http://firsttimetravels.com. Follow her as @firsttimetravel on Twitter and Instagram and like her Facebook page First-time Travels.
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