Literally meaning the “temple of tunnels” (umong is Thai for tunnels), Wat Umong is definitely if not one of the most popular then one of the most unusual temples in Chiang Mai province in Thailand. The temple is located at a strategic place with the famous Doi Suthep forests as the backdrop.
The temple’s full name is Wat Umong Suan Phutthatham, which translates to “Temple of the tunnels and Buddha Dhamma garden”. The temple gets its name from its underground tunnels. the purpose of which are not exactly known, but it gives the temple all the more reasons to retail its mysterious element. However, legends have it that the temple was built for a highly revered monk who was nonetheless a little “off”, which is why the tunnels were given a maze like structure to prevent the monk from wandering off.
Another version of the story involves a highly revered monk named Thera Chan whom the King regularly consulted. The monk used to meditate inside a tunnel in peace and quiet, however, as the city slowly began to get crowded and noisy, it became difficult for the monk to meditate in that tunnel. In order to accommodate Thera Chan. the King ordered the construction of a series of criss-crossed tunnels under a big man-made mound.
The temple was built in 1297 by King Mangrai of the Lanna dynasty. However, it was abandoned during the 15th century and it wasn’t until 1948 that the temple was restored. A year later, the temple was declared a site for meditation and Buddhist teachings. Most of the old temple has been restored, although most of the old paintings and statues have disappeared. On top of the mound is the huge Lanna style chedi which has been restored recently. Near the chedi, is a black effigy of Buddha who is very lean and denotes a fasting Buddha.
Also, within the temple premises is a replica of the Ashok Pillar similar to the one at Vaishali (India). Atop the pillar are four lions and a Dhamma Wheel. The four lion head is also the National Emblem of India and can bee seen on Indian currency.
Additionally, within the temple grounds, you can feed fish, turtles, and ducks and gain wisdom from the “talking Trees” which give words of wisdom in Thai as well as English.
“Nothing is permanent. Things go in and go out” ; “All things arise, exist and expire”; and “Detachment is a way to relax” are some of the Buddhist proverbs that hung from the trees.
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 very close to the Doi Suthep Mountain, in the west of Chiang Mai city and close to Chiang Mai university. It can be reached via private cabs, tuk tuks, and songthaews . Keep in mind, the temple is a bit out of the way so it may be a better idea to book a return trip as finding transport to return could be troublesome. Private taxis are the most easy and convenient way to visit temple and these can be booked via your hotel/hostel or you can negotiate with one of the many tuk tuks and songthaews parked all along the roads. A one way fare to the temple should cost approx. 250 BAHT depending upon the distance between your hotel and the temple. If you are on budget, then take a songthaew which costs around 70 Baht one way.