Wat Chedi Luang rivals Wat Phra Singh for the title of Chiang Mai’s most important and prestigious city temple. Though it comes a definite second for local visitors, the two temples are probably neck and neck in terms of foreigners, though for sheer size Wat Chedi Luang has no competition.
The partially ruined chedi is huge and must have been huger before invaders and earthquakes took their toll, while the main viharn remains big we couldn’t get it all in a photo (at least, without a wide-angle lens). It must be said though that the temple grounds are not as spacious as Wat Phra Singh’s so as well as it being tricky to get an overall view it does lacks the latter’s pleasant garden surrounds.
Chedi Luang means “royal chedi” and this was the official temple of the Lanna kings situated as it was adjacent to the former royal palace. The wat was originally constructed in the 14th-15th centuries and has been partially restored more recently though the ruined chedi wasn’t reconstructed since apparently no-one is sure what it was supposed to look like.
The pristine new brick work of the main chamber contrasts oddly with the ramshackle upper section and the new elephant statues frankly border on the tacky but it is an interesting spot overall and if you’re ticking off important temples on a tour of Chiang Mai’s old city you can’t really miss this one out.
Some of the outlying buildings are interesting: see for example the smaller but attractive Lanna-style viharn or the impressive reclining Buddha image on the west side of the chedi.
There’s also a shrine containing the city pillar and, with a throwback to animist times, plenty of small shrines surrounding the complex containing ‘guardian spirits’. As with the standard Thai spirit house seen in any garden, or the equivalent Burmese nats or Khmer neak ta, there’s nothing particularly Buddhist about worshipping spirits or house gods that are associated with geographical locations.
Chedi Luang has a popular monk chat as well as a few token touts so, without being too cynical, beware of over-helpful locals.
How to get there
Wat Chedi Luang is located next door to Wat Pan Tao and is a short walk from Wat Phra Singh. There is one wat after another down Ratchadamnoen Road but these three are probably the most interesting if you don’t wish to visit too many of them.
By Mark Ord.