“Where do you stay?,” the Destination Chiang Mai agent asked us. “Behind Wat Mo Kham Tuang,” along Sri Poom Road.” He scratched his head. “Is that the wat with many horses?” I said, “No. It’s the wat with glitters on its front wall.” He got more confused. Everybody in the office now joined us as we plotted where Wat Mo Kham Tuang is. “Ah, there are just too many wats here in Chiang Mai.”
We laughed. We heard that line too many times the eight days we were in Chiang Mai. And the statement is true. There are more than 200 wats in Chiang Mai. Every soi in the old city has a wat. Aek explained that the wats were not just temples. They are also places that the neighboring community use for a variety of purposes, including praying and education. I never thought of it that way. I have always thought wats are temples used solely for religious purposes. One of the wats near Baan Ploy-In specializes in muay thai training. We did not visit all the wats in Chiang Mai, but here are the wats we were able to visit.
The wat we spent the most time in was Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, one of the most important temples in Chiang Mai. Doi Suthep is mentioned in many travel blogs and websites I read, including Renown Travel and Big Boy Travel and was also recommended by my SIL. We, however, did not plan on checking it out because the cost of going there would was 500 to 700baht if we don’t join a group. The songthaew fits 10 people. Luck, however, came when, while we were waiting for a songthaew along Sri Poom Rd., the songthaew driver offered us 400baht round trip to Doi Suthep. We were hesitant because it was not part of the plan, but since we realized we would not be back for sometime, why not? We agreed with the driver that he would be waiting for us for an hour. The drive to Doi Suthep was long and winding. I enjoyed the ride while still at the city but the winding uphill climb got me dizzy. Add to that another climb to the temple, which we actually forgo because we took the scary cable car with a group of Spanish tourists.
At the temple, it became crazy again because there were a group of Chinese tourists who were noisily looking for their other members. I am not sure if they understood the “Silence Please” sign plastered all over the temple or they just blatantly disregard those signs. Despite the noisy tourists, I actually enjoyed our time at Doi Suthep, mainly because the temple was filled with interesting things — things I have seen only for the first time.
One of those was the Buddhist columbarium. Another thing was the huge golden chedi that, when hit by the sun, would glitter more. Doi Suthep was a temple of interesting details, details which I know have meanings in Buddhism. What I also admire in Lanna architecture is that they blend well their history, heritage, and religion. We capped our Doi Suthep visit with a walk down the 300+ stairs decorated with huge snakes on both sides.
Other Wats We Visited
Doi Suthep was not the only wat we visited. Like the locals said, Chiang Mai has too many wats. We went inside five wats during our stay and we also enjoyed looking at the architecture of two wats — Wat Phra Singh Woramahawikan (Ratchademeon Rd.) and Wat Lok Molee (Manee Nopparat Rd.).
What made Wat Phra Singh interesting to me was the tram parked outside its gates. I asked the lady watching over it and the tram was supposed to go around the old city. I made her wait because I need to pee and she pointed me to go inside the wat because there were comfort rooms. I hurried but I had to untie and tie the shoelaces of my sneakers because it should be taken off when I got inside the toilet and by the time I got back to the front of the gate, the tram has left. According to Renown Travel, Wat Phra Singh is “the most beautiful temple in Chiang Mai” because it is made in classic Lanna style architecture. The wat dates back to the 14th century.
I got curious because the huge chedi from behind the main structure is very prominent from our side of the road in Sri Poom and the complex looked older than the other temples I have seen in the city. Wat Lok Molee is located along Manee Nopparat Rd., the road opposite Sri Poom. The chedi was from the 14th century but, according to Renown Travel, the wat was abandoned for a long time and all other structures got destroyed.
As a sign of courtesy, when in temples, please refrain from making noise because even though there is nobody in sight, there might be people praying in silence. Also, wear something decent (tops with sleeves and bottoms hitting below the knees), and remove your shoes when you enter the temple.