Chiang Mai is a tantalising combination of modern and ancient Thailand. The spaces between temples (wats) and ancient structures have been filled with modern houses and hotels, however they don’t detract from the city’s sleepy charm.
A trip to Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Centre will help you get to grips with the city’s wonderful heritage. Housed in a Thai-colonial building built in 1927, the museum gives you a whistle-stop-tour of the city’s history, detailing conflicts and battles, and displaying precious artefacts, arts and crafts as well as a delightful replica of a traditional Lanna village.
You will be spoilt for choice when it comes to wats and it is impossible to view them all on your trip to Chiang Mai. It is a good idea to make a list of wats that you particularly want to visit and settle for a “walk-by” viewing of the others.
Built in 1441, Wat Chedi Luang is thought to have been one of the biggest structures of ancient Chiang Mai, but the top of the temple was destroyed sometime between the 16th and 18th centuries. Until 1475, Wat Chedi Luang was the home of the famous Emerald Buddha (Phra Kaew), which is now located in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. However, you can view a jade replica, which was presented to the temple in 1995 by the King of Thailand, to commemorate its 600th anniversary. Ongoing renovation projects over the last two decades have seen the magnificent temple restored to at least part of its former glory and today the imposing structure with its vast grounds is a haven of tranquillity.
Wat Phra Singh is Chiang Mai’s most celebrated temple. Its revered status is evident in the immaculate upkeep; from perfectly manicured grounds, to gleaming mosaic-work and prosperous coffee stands. Tourists and pilgrims gather at Wat Phra Singh to take in its magnificent architecture and to pay homage to the Lion Buddha (Phra Singh), whose image is kept in the chapel, Wihan Lai Kham. The icon’s provenance is unclear, but it is said that it came from Sri Lanka to Thailand in 1367. Whatever its origins, the icon itself, the chapel that houses it, and the broader compound of the wat are simply exquisite and promise to leave you with unforgettable memories.