Wat Phra Singh

Wat Phra Singh

Chiang Mai’s most prestigious temple

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While it doesn’t hold a candle to Wat Doi Suthep in terms of scenery, Wat Phra Singh is Chiang Mai’s most prestigious temple and therefore is the epicentre of the Songkran festivities among the Buddhist faithful.

Travelfish says:

While there are an awful lot of temples in Chiang Mai, this is the big one—the main city temple and the most prestigious. If your temple saturation point is low then we’d suggest visiting both Wat Chedi Luang and here.

Classic lines. : Mark Ord.
Classic lines. Photo: Mark Ord

Wat Phra Singh pretty much ticks all the temple boxes: It has attractive grounds full of old trees, some old bits, new bits, Lanna-style worshipping halls, a prestigious Buddha image, a reclining Buddha, jade Buddha and gold Buddhas, giant stupa, saffron-robed monks, murals, prayer flags and last but not least, sticky rice and ice cream in the car park.

The temple complex houses no fewer than three viharn (worshipping halls) where Buddha images are housed, a large ordination/prayer hall (ubosot), an attractive Lanna-style library and a large main stupa or chedi, as well as numerous subsidiary buildings and smaller shrines and chedis. It’s a large complex, and a very pleasant and photogenic spot for a stroll.

Touching the earth. : Mark Ord.
Touching the earth. Photo: Mark Ord

The temple is said to date from the mid-14th century, built by the Lanna king Pha Vu to house his father’s ashes. Its name and prestige derive largely from a highly venerated Buddha image, the Phra Phuttha Sihing, which according to legend was presented to Chiang Mai by a king of Sri Lanka (dates and routes vary, though it is thought it may have passed through Nakhon Si Thammarat on the way).

Several copies were supposedly made of the image, so no one is now certain as to which is the original. With the sackings of Chiang Mai at various times by the Burmese, as well as Ayutthaya, the one now in Wat Phra Singh is highly unlikely to be the original. Another can be seen in the Bangkok National Museum, while a third is housed at a shrine next to the provincial hall in Nakhon Si Thammarat.

Be sure to explore the full grounds. : Mark Ord.
Be sure to explore the full grounds. Photo: Mark Ord

Singh means lion in Thai and it is thought that perhaps the image was based on a (now lost) statue based on the lion of Shakya which was housed in the Mahabodhi Temple in India. The viharn is in good condition, having been recently renovated, though the interior murals are badly damaged. A smaller shrine to the rear houses an attractive reclining Buddha image.

The main stupa itself is imposing but lacks in decoration, while the open-air shrine behind the stupa is a popular spot for worshippers. The pulley contraption is to allow adherents—or anyone willing to pay the 20 baht fee—to gain merit by pouring water over the normally out of reach chedi. (The same thing can be seen at Wat Chedi Luang and is possibly a Hindu hangover from the similar pouring of water over the sacred Shiva linga ceremony.)

Reclining Buddha at Wat Phra SIngh. : Mark Ord.
Reclining Buddha at Wat Phra SIngh. Photo: Mark Ord

Wat Phra Singh is placed near the centre of the old town, at the end of Ratchadamnoen Road, which is the one leading from Tha Pae Gate and home to the Sunday Walking Street market. There’s a 20 baht entrance fee to enter the main hall and, of course, please remember to dress respectfully.

Contact details for Wat Phra Singh

Address: Where Ratchadamnoen Rd meets Samlarn Rd
Coordinates (for GPS): 98º58'55.77" E, 18º47'18.53" N
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Admission: 20 baht to enter the main hall

Reviewed by

Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.

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