I couldn’t wait to trade the hustle and bustle in the city of Bangkok for the lush greenery and laid back vibes in Chiang Mai. Not to mention, the temples. Temples galore. When we arrived to our Airbnb, we could see three right from our window. It was an immediate breath of fresh air, literally. The air was crisp up in the northern hills. I immediately fell in love with this ancient city that’s history was as rich as its surroundings.
The first temple that took my breath away was Wat Chedi Luang, which means temple of the royal stupa. Buddhist stupas were originally made to House the earthly remains of the Buddha or other saintly people. In 1391, King Saen Muang Ma began building Wat Chedi Luang to bury the ashes of his father there.
The construction took almost a century to complete, and when it was done it reached a height of 85 meters and a base diameter of 54 meters, making it the largest structure in the whole Lanna Kingdom. The great Emerald Buddha was installed in the eastern niche of the temple in 1468, which is one of the most revered Buddha images in Thailand.
In 1545, disaster struck when a huge earthquake hit Chiang Mai, destroying much of the city. The quake caused 30 meters to collapse off of the great temple, and shortly after in 1551 the Emerald Buddha was moved to Luang Prabang in current day Laos. Today the image is housed in the Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. To commemorate the 600th anniversary of the Chedi, a reproduction of the Emerald Buddha was placed in one of the niches.
In 1990, Unesco and the Japanese government began restoration of the temple, stabilizing the monument and preventing further degradation. All four sides of this beautifully crafted Chedi contain large staircases protected by mythical Nāga creatures. A nāga is a deity that’s taken form of a snake, specifically a king cobra. They are considered fierce protectors in the Buddhist religion. The base of the stupa has five elephant structures on the southern face. Four are reproductions, but the elephant on the far right is the original brick.
Walking through the temple grounds, you will see there is much to explore here. The viharns, or sermon halls contain some gorgeous Buddhist art. You can also see the city pillar of Chiang Mai. In a wihan, or sanctuary near the entrance of the temple is the Buddha statue named Phra Chao Attarot (Eighteen-cubit Buddha), which was placed in the late 14th century. There are more statues and teak structures in the back of the property, including a huge reclining Buddha. I’m sure you won’t be able to miss the amazingly lifelike depiction of Chan Kusalo sits in a glass case in one of the buildings. He was the Abbot, or administrator of this wat before he passed away, and you will be able to tell he was a pretty big deal around here.
There is also a school within the compound, as well as the Lanna campus of the Mahamakut Buddhist University. You are sure to see lots of young monks walking around. Everyday, Wat Chedi Luang also hosts Monk Chat. This is a program put on by the monks of the temple, where anyone visiting can come and chat with the monks about their way of life. I think this is an awesome idea for people to gain knowledge about this ancient culture, and for us all to see the ways we relate to one another, even though we live much different lifestyles.
The temple grounds are open daily from 6AM-6PM and admission is free. If you are planning a visit to Chiang Mai, put this temple at the top of your list. There is enough to keep you occupied for hours here, and is a must see glimpse into the history of the Lanna Kingdom.
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Patrick & Kahala