Wat Chiang Man, also known as Wat Chiang Mai, is the oldest temple of the city and was the first one to be established here. The history of the temple dates back to 1296 which is when the city was first established.
Although not as popular among tourist as the Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Singh, this is definitely more than just a temple. Wat Chiang Man is a strong-standing witness of the several years that has passed by since the city was first formed.
The temple was built by King Mengrai. He built the temple on the very site which he used to supervise the fine construction of the city. It is known that Wat Chiang Man houses several old as well as new Buddha figurines and images.
Like in most Buddhist temples, the chedi is the oldest structure of Wat Chiang Man, and is known as the “elephant chedi” or the “Chang Lom Chedi”. The chedi sits on a square base and is surrounded by 15 elephants that look like they are emerging from the chedi, and hence the name “elephant chedi”. The architecture on the chedi is a mixture of Lanna and Singhalese style of architecture.
There are two viharns in the temple premises, one larger than the other. The larger viharn houses the principal Buddha statue of Wat Chiang Man, which also happens to be the oldest Buddha statue in the city of Chiang Mai. The Buddha is seen standing with an alms bowl in his hand, and as per the inscription the figurine is known to be constructed in 1465. The architecture of the viharn is as fascinating as the principal deity. The building has a three tiered roof and the front depicts Lanna style of architecture decorated with wood carvings in gold and ochre colors.
The second viharn, although smaller in size, is built in the same architectural style as the larger viharn and contains two Buddha figurines which are of high importance – the Phra Sila Buddha image and the Phra Sae Tang Khamani. The former figurine is believed to have been imported from Sri Lanka thousands of years ago and locals believe that the figurine holds the power of bringing rain which is why this statue plays a critical role during the Thai festival of Songkran. The latter however is associated with Chama Thewi, Queen of Haripunchai in the 8th century, and legends have it that when King Mengrai burned the city down, the figurine survived the fire and was therefore believed to hold protective powers. Both these Buddha effigies are kept on a throne like structure known as ku, which is located opposite the entrance behind the large central Buddha image.
The next important sight within the temple premises is the ubosot or the ordination hall. The key attraction of the hall is a stone stele located in front of it dating back to 1581 which mentions April 12th, 1296 as the exact date when the city of Chiang Mai was founded.
If you have more than one day in the city and like exploring old temples and cultures, then Wat Chiang Man should definitely be on your list.
The nearest airport is Chiang Mai which is connected to many cities and countries but it is a better idea to arrive at the Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport as it has better connectivity to the rest of the world. You can take a flight further from Bangkok to Chiang Mai or avail the night bus or train. The temple is located within the walls of the old city and on the streets where the weekly Sunday market takes place. Take a yellow songthaew which drops you just outside the gates and the Wat is a walking distance from there. You can also hire a scooter or bike to travel within the city and drive to the temple. The temple is located near the North East corner of the old walled part of the city. Enter the old walled part of the city through the Chang Puak gate in the North wall and take a left turn to Ratchaphakhinai 1 road. The temple will be on the right side after about 200 meters.