Definitely one of Chiang Mai’s most unusual and interesting temples, Wat Umong, (or ‘tunnel temple’ – umong meaning tunnel in Thai), is set in forested grounds near the foot of Doi Suthep.
An artificial earth mound in the temple grounds covers a series of underground passageways whose purpose has never really been explained but which add to the temple’s mysterious air. Near the mound lie a collection of old Buddhist statues and oddities collected from abandoned temples or donated by worshippers, while elsewhere on the spacious grounds you’ll find woods, gardens, numerous trails and even a lake. It’s a popular spot at weekends, when locals wander or sit by the lake and feed the resident catfish and turtles. It’s excellent for spotting birds and butterflies too.
The temple itself dates from the 14th century but was abandoned for many years before being reoccupied in the 20th century, explaining the somewhat dilapidated parts of the temple and its rather, especially after the rainy season, overgrown look.
There are the usual wat buildings including a large, imposing brick stupa, and meditation areas where a Western monk even leads occasional meditation/instruction classes in English.
All in all an interesting spot to visit and a pleasant, tranquil site to while away some time. It’s a bit far to walk but only a 10–15 minute tuk tuk or motorbike ride from downtown and easily combined with a trip to Doi Suthep. (You could stop off at the fascinating Ton Payom Market on the way.) Tuk tuk’s will probably ask for 100 baht and you might want to ask the driver to wait since they’re few and far between in these parts. A little bit fiddly to get to by bicycle or motorbike so probably easier to grab a map rather than trying to explain.
By Mark Ord.
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