Wat Chiang Man

Chiang Mai's oldest wat

Photo of Wat Chiang Man, , Chiang Mai

What we say: 4 stars

Located inside the moat in the northeast corner of the old city, this is the oldest wat in Chiang Mai. Built in 1296 by King Mangrai, it originally served as home to the ruler but is now inhabited by monks.

The bot boasts classical Thai features, including huge ornately decorated teak columns supporting the roof. Although it contains an impressive Buddha image, the true 'prizes' of this wat -- two glass-enclosed Buddha statues -- are stored inside the smaller wihaan to the right. The larger of the two, Phra Sila, or Stone Buddha, is a stone bas relief imported from either India or Sri Lanka some 2,500 years ago. Its smaller counterpart, Phra Sae Tang Kamani, or Crystal Buddha, stands at a height of just 10cm and is thought to originate from Lopburi around 1,800 years ago.

The Crystal Buddha has a very interesting history and, like many of the revered statues in Thailand, has done plenty of travelling. According to legend, around 700 years after Buddha passed on, a disciple and hermit named Phra Su-Tae-Wa dreamed vividly of meeting a god who told him that the King of Lawoh needed Buddha relics for an image he was building. The hermit subsequently convinced the King to build such an image. Once it was completed, it was believed that whoever conquered its hometown should also possess the holy image.

Consequently, the statue moved location on a number of occasions. It initially rested in Hariphunchai, until King Mangrai destroyed the city and installed the image in his new capital of Chiang Mai. There the statue remained for 11 generations, eventually being spirited off to Ayutthaya by a monk of dubious character. When the King of Lanna found out the statue had moved there, he encircled the city with all his military might before the recalcitrant Ayutthayans agreed to return it. During the 16th century, the King of Lan Chang -- a kingdom which now comprises part of modern day Laos -- overpowered Chiang Mai and took off with the statue. It was not until King Rama I was at war with Laos 225 years later that the statue was finally returned. Since then, it has only moved for ceremonial display during the annual Songkran festivities.

More details
Ratchaphakinai Road
Opening Hours: Daily 09:00-17:00
Last updated: 25th September, 2013

About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
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Wat Chiang Man
Ratchaphakinai Road
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