If you're a fan of ancient Buddhist relics and idyllic monasteries dating back to the 13th century, then the city of Chiang Mai, Thailand is one stop that you absolutely have to put on your bucket list. You can find more than 300 temples in and around this ancient Northern hub near the tallest mountain in Thailand, Doi Inthanon. Map them out for yourself to see how many you can find!
Every day is an adventure when you go temple hopping around here, grabbing a Starbucks Frappuccino® in between stops for a little pick-me-up. The beauty of this city is that it's super-friendly to Western tourists, so you can pick up a few little comforts from home in between snacking on papaya salads and pad Thai noodle dishes. You could visit a new Buddhist site every day for an entire year, and some of them are so old that no one can even remember when they first came to life.
It's a whole new world here, and you can get some of the most incredible artistic, surreal photos from exploring this remarkable place where the lines between the sacred and mundane blur into one surprising experience after the next. Some of the best temples you must see include:
- Wat Phra That Doi Suthep on the hill above Chiang Mai
- Wat Chiang Man
- Wat Suang Dorg with its famous gravesites
- Wat Phra Singh
- Wat Suan Dok, which has free meditation classes and monk Q & A sessions if you're curious
- Wat Lok Moli
- Wat Chedi LuangIn the early morning hours, the peaceful monks go walking around the city, following the age-old tradition of begging their food for the day. Monks of all ages live here. Some are as young as 10 years old while others can be well past 80. As they stroll along the sidewalks, blessing the city with each step, you'll spot another beauty. It's pure magic watching the Thai locals practicing chi kung -- a moving, dance-like meditation -- in the public parks while the sun's first rays reflect off of the cloud-like mists rising off of the central Ping river that goes through the heart of the city.
Step back in time when you first set foot into these temples, which are architectural marvels older than anything you've ever seen in your life before. Just make sure to respect the local culture and remove your shoes at the door before entering!
Most entrances have carvings of temple-guardian giants or dragons, known as "yakshas," at their entrances. These fiercely benevolent creatures represent nature spirits introduced to Buddhism from Hinduism. They represent subtle forces that can drive away evil spirits. The tops of many temples -- or "wats" as they call them -- have golden-colored roofs and golden Buddha statues inside ranging from child size to superhuman sizes. At some of the larger "wat-temple" complexes just outside the inner city of Chiang Mai, some impressive Buddha statues are at least three stories high, surrounded by serene natural forests like the Wat Phra That Doi Kham. The best part is that sculptors made them in such a way that their eyes appear to follow you when you're right in front of them. Don't forget to mark out the location of each "wat" you see on one of the custom maps from Point Two Design to remember your unforgettable journey to Thailand, one of the most fascinating cities in the world.