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Wat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai Temples (Wats)
Throughout the long history of the northern Kingdom of Lanna Thai, succeeding rulers and people intently embraced Buddhism as the chosen way of life. Their intense devotion to the religion found vivid expression in the form of exquisite temples, built by the best available Lanna architects of the era. Not withstanding the passing ages, most are still well preserved, signifying that through times the temples have been the center of care and attention of the congregations, generation after generation. Nowadays, many are still carrying on actively as the spiritual centers of Buddhist communities as in their founding days. Visiting temples of Chiang Mai is another way to gain insight into the cultures and way of life of the genteel Northern people.

Wat Chiang Man (The oldest temple of Chiang Mai)
On Rajaphinkai Road, inside the old city wall the first temple of Chiang Mai built in 1926 A.D. By Chiang Mai's founder king, Paw Khun (King) Mengrai. Subsequent modifications have almost obliterated the original architectural style. But, the wat's chedi, with 15 stucco elephants serving as buttresses, is a splendid example of Lanna architecture, incorporating elephant motifs as an integral part of the traditional style. The wat also houses two rare Buddha statues: one is a small figurine, named Phra Setang Khamani, supposed to be vested with supernatural power to call upon rain in case of severe drought; the other is a marble Buddha's figure, named simply as Phra Sila, supposed to be carved in India over a thousand years ago.

Wat Chedi Luang (Temple with the Royal Chedi)
On Phra Pokklao Road Controversy is still simmering over the recent restoration of the principal chedi of this 14 th century temple. Once the tallest chedi up to the 15 th century, an earthquake toppled the upper section leaving the lower half with some of the elephant buttresses, still standing 60 meters high. The crumbled pile of the chedi was left as it was until recently, when the Fine Arts Department completely reconstructed the chedi base and repaired broken elephant stucco works. When finished, the whole work looked startlingly new. May townspeople, used to the centuries-blackened buick pile, came out to voice their dissatisfaction over the loss of the antiquated look. Still it is believed that time will heal the controversy, as stucco work quickly age in the open air and the reconstructed chedi should gain a respectable tive stain, in no time.

Wat Kootao (Temple with the Water Gourd Chedi)
Behind Chiang Mai sport Stadium, north of the city Built by a Burmese ruler of chiang Mai in 1613 A.D. This temple offers a delightful departure from the concentional Lanna architecture. The temple has a unique Burmese style chedi, shaped like stacked ice-cream balls one on top of the other, each one decorated with flowery patterns made up of colorful pieces of broken porcelain wares. The ball shape is supposed to resemble the water gourd carried by holy men.

Wat Umong (Underground Temple)
Suthep Road at the back of Chiang Mai University Built in a wooded area outside Chiang Mai walls in 1296 A.D, by King Mengrai, the Founder, with the main purpose of providing a peaceful temple for his revered Buddhist priests to meditate. The original temple and chedi crumbled with time. There remained only the chedi base, which was discovered with an underground labyrinth of meditating cells. The temple has now been fully restored and the founding purpose of the temple revived, the meditating cells again put to use. Still deep inside a wooded area, the temple is now considered the most respected Buddhist meditation institute of the North.

Wat Phra Singh (Temple of Phra Buddha Sihing)
Intersection of Singharaj and Raj Damnoen Roads Centrally located, the temple was built in 1345 A.D. and now houses the sacred Pra Buddha Sibing Buddha Image. Every year on April 13th, the traditional Thai New Year day, the image is paraded on Chiang Mai streets. The people will sprinkle scented water on the image, a traditional auspicious act. This signifies the season for the celebrated Water Festival in Chiang Mai when people bid "good wishes" to each other with water. The beautiful Lai Kam chapel, where Phra Buddha Sihing image is enshrined, is in itself an exquisite classical Lanna style building. The chapel walls are done in murals depicting typical, an cient northern folk scenes and customs with fine details such as the distinctive dressing styles of the North.

Wat Chedi Chet Yot (The Temple with Seven Spires)
On Super highway near Chiang Mai National Museum Built in 1455 to commemorate the 2,000th year of Buddhism, the design was a copy of a principal temple in India at Bhotagaya where the Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. The architectural ensemble consists of a main chedi surrounded by six small ones. Along the wall of the chedi's base are 70 relief's of angels in Sukhothai styles in the position of paying homage to the lord Buddha. The figures, supposed to be the royal family members of King Tiloka, who built the temple, are dressed in ancient northern court costumes.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Wat Prathat Doi Suthep is to Chiang Mai what St. Peter's Cathedral is to Rome. It's a must for visitors to go see. The temple is perched high on Doi Suthep Hill overlooking the whole city. The temple's golden chedi can be seen sparkling brightly with the reflection of the sun from the city down below. The depository of a sacred relic of the Lord Buddha, the temple is regarded as the holiest religious place of Chiang Mai.

The temple is 11 kms up Doi Suthep Hill at the end of Huaykeow Road. The monastery complex with the golden chedi is on a higher plateau about the height of a four storey building from the road level. A grand flight of stairs with the biggest naga balustrades in Thailand lead straight up to the temple. Climbing up the long 300 steps is not an easy feat. However, aged devotees take the stair as an act of devotion, even though there is a hill tram service nearby. Among the daily throngs of pilgrims climbing up the steep staircase, a good many are the old folks making the supreme effort. Atop, the temple and the golden chedi containing Buddha's relic stand on a wide, paved open space. An enclosure with ornate golden regalia surrounds the bright-gold sacred chedi. The regalia, gold parasols and exquisite motifs of angels and mythical characters on the bases are art treasures in itself. The common scene of worshippers praying in front of altar stands laden with fresh, fragrant flowers, lighted candles and scented joss sticks bespeaks a centuries old culture firmly based on Buddhism.

From the top one can have a bird's eye view of the expanding city of Chiang Mai below, now sprouting high-rises and condos everywhere, with rows of newly-built housing projects scattering about the city's outer fringes. It was back in the 14 th century, when Chiang Mai king, who built the temple, placed the sacred Buddha relic on a receptacle and put it on the back of his lead elephant. The king made a wish invoking divine guidance for the elephant to bear the relic to a suitable site where a fitting depository temple could be built. The elephant was turned loose, followed by court officials. Up went the elephant straight to Doi Steep hill and stopped at the site, circled around, trumpeted three times and knelt down on the ground with a final gesture. The Buddha's relic had come to the final resting place with divine guidance, apparently.

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