Here is a small task for you before we begin our virtual tour today. Google up Chiang Mai and check the images. 99% you will come across a collapsed pagoda. If any of your friends have sent you a gift from Chiang Mai, likely that keychain or T-shirt or fridge magnet has this same pagoda. Widely acknowledged as the landmark of the city, this pagoda of Chiang Mai is a part of a beautiful temple called Wat Chedi Luang.
If the Doi Suthep temple is the holiest of all the Thai temples, the Wat Chedi Luang is the next important Chiang Mai temple. My visit here made me realize that there were a lot more significant stops to be made than just the Pagoda. This 14th century Chiang Mai attraction was quite a destination in itself. My virtual journey through this post will showcase all these things to see in the Wat Chedi Luang. However, first a quick flashback to its origin.
History of Wat Chedi Luang
Somewhere in the 14th century, the Thai King Saen Muang Ma started the construction of a chedi to honor the ashes of his father. The Chedi remained unfinished even after 10 years of its construction. After the King died and his widow took forward the task. However, owing to construction and stability issues, it was only in the 15th century during the reign of King Tilokraj that the “Temple of the Big Stupa” came into existence.
With a height of 82m and a diameter of 50m, the Wat Chedi Luang became the largest structure in the whole of Lanna. A famed Emerald Buddha was installed within the Chedi temple but was moved to Luang Prabang after the original chedi collapsed. It was the earthquake of 1545 that made the pagoda of the Wat Chedi Luang 30 m shorter.
There is a lot more history to the Pagoda and the temple grounds of Wat Chedi Luang. However, for that, you need to continue your journey of discovering these temple grounds. It just makes it more fun that way. 😉
Sao Inthakin or the City Pillar of Chiang Mai
The rain that drove us out of the Wat Phra Singh Temple miraculously stopped as we reached the Wat Chedi Luang Temple. Miraculous coz the two temples are just 5 minutes apart. Pleased nonetheless, I stepped in through the glorious doors of the Chedi Luang to feast my eyes on the shrine of the City Pillar.
The city of Chiang Mai is said to be protected by the sacred city pillar called Sao Inthakin. The Pillar was earlier located in a different place but it was in the 1800s that the King Chao Kawila brought it to the temple grounds of Wat Chedi Luang. The pillar is now enclosed in a shrine and I could only glimpse it from afar as women are not allowed inside this temple :-(.
A large statue of the Thai king stands outside the Shrine. Around the City Pillar Temple, were three gigantic Dipterocarp trees. I mention these for a legend has it that it supports the city pillar and keeps it safe. The day these trees fall, it would spell catastrophe for Chiang Mai. There were plenty of smaller shrines around the temple and the trees containing creatures from the Thai Folklore. They too are said to add protection to the City Pillar of Chiang Mai.
Miffed about not being able to get into the sacred temple, I turned my attention to the eye-catching, stupendous, massive Pagoda behind an equally beautiful Sermon hall or Viharn. It was time to get to the Pagoda of Chiang Mai.
The Pagoda of Chiang Mai
Hampi in India has always enamored me with the stunning beauty of its ruins. It is as if every crumbling wall is trying to tell you something. For me, the collapsed pagoda of Wat Chedi Luang felt the same way.
Though the earthquake was centuries back, there was little done to restore this grand structure. I guess it might have been difficult to build a beauty again. Some attempts were made on the Eastern side of the Pagoda in the last few years. It was here that I could see the incomplete jigsaw of what might have been on all sides.
Replacing the original Emerald Buddha was a Black Jade one in an arched shrine. Below this shrine, a tier of elephants protruded out of stone – quite akin to the golden ones of the Wat Phra Singh Temple. My guide informed me that these were on all sides and only the ones that I was looking at had survived the natural destruction.
I longed to climb the restored Naga staircase to have a closer look at the Jade Buddha. The same was out of bounds with its entry barred by a gorgeous Golden Buddha statue. The serene look on his face was like a polite but firm request to follow the rules. A little calming for my curious soul.
Smaller Viharn of Wat Chedi Luang
There are actually two major Viharn (sermon halls) of the Wat Chedi Luang. One grand one that I saw in the front and circled back to at the end of the tour. The other one is a smaller one behind the Pagoda. Most people tend to miss them owing to them being hidden by the gigantic pagoda. However, they have their own beauty to share.
I particularly loved the brown and gold pillars that flanked the tall Buddha in one. The white entrances in contrast to the brown and gold interiors made a perfect backdrop for this idol.
Another Viharn had the idol of a hooded Buddha. When I saw this from the entrance, it was quite a picturesque scene. Almost symmetrical as the golden brown panel above its door crowned the hooded cobra within. Don’t you agree?
Reclining Buddha at Wat Chedi Luang
Between the two minor Viharns that I just told you above, lay a beautiful reclining Buddha. Unlike the other Viharns that were in closed buildings, this one felt a little open. I particularly admired the Buddha for the way its gleaming gold body shone against the dark wooden walls. I tell you, these Lanna folks are masters of contrast and art. And white you are admiring it, notice the creative pillows on which the Buddha is resting.
The Monk Chat Cafe at Wat Chedi Luang
One of the things that Nicky, my guide, told me about Wat Chedi Luang was the presence of a cafe where you could chat with the monks. The Monk Chat happens every day and you can ask them anything about Buddhism the Chedi or even Thailand. I believe they are a cheerful lot and the conversations are quite animated.
While you attempt to engage these peaceful people, don’t miss the beautiful White Buddhist Library or the Ubosot – that is next to the cafe. Quite a work of art.
Viharn of Wat Chedi Luang
In a way, it was quite thrilling to get back to where I started with the collapsed Pagoda. The secrets of the Grand Viharn of the Wat Chedi Luang awaited. I explored it back to front for the side facing the Pagoda had interesting statues of the various Kings of Thailand.
The official entrance to the Viharn was quite a majestic one with its gilded red and gold roof and the jeweled Naga staircase. A short climb took me to an impressive hall held up by similar golden brown pillars seen in the smaller viharn – except, in this case, the effect was magnanimous.
The first thing that Nicky showed me was a ribbon counter. Here based on your Chinese birth year, you could purchase a ribbon, write your name on it and hang it in the Viharn. Belief is that with that you leave your bad luck behind. Did I try it – ah well! Not really, after all – it was good fortune that I got to see all this 🙂
The Buddha image here is a 14th century Brass one called Phra Chao Attarot. Around this huge Buddha statue, were plenty of smaller ones that my guide told me were found at the site while digging.
While I was busy admiring the sparkling temple and its artistic doors, a monk sat on the side focusing on his inner self. I could tell that he was at peace from the look on his face. And with that expression, he transferred some of his calm to me. I turned around and exited the temple – not without that last glance of the collapsed Pagoda of the Wat Chedi Luang. Though you now know, there is plenty to see in the Wat Chedi Luang – the pagoda will always be the centerpiece.
I am pretty sure that you have added this to your list of things to do in Chiang Mai. Message in and let me know what your favorite part of this temple was. I would love to know.
- Chiang Mai is well connected to Bangkok by road, rail, and air. There are plenty of low-cost flights from Bangkok to this destination.
- Once in Chiang Mai – hire a bike or a cab to the old city. The Wat Chedi Luang Temple is quite central to this place. Click here to get it on your mobile.
- Irrespective of where you stay in Chiang Mai, you can get a Red Songthaew to this place.
- The Wat Chedi Luang opening hours are from 6 am. It closes at 6 pm every day.
- You need to pay 40 Thb as the Wat Chedi Luang entrance fees
- If you are here in May, remember to catch the annual week-long Intthakin festival here. You can see various Thai dances to celebrate the protector of the city (the city pillar)
- Please cover your shoulders and legs when visiting the temple
- You will only need to take off your footwear when you visit the Viharn
- The Monk Chat at the Wat Chedi temple takes place between 9 am to 6 pm every day.
- There are plenty of restaurants and public washrooms around the temple.
- Combine this trip with a visit to the Wat Phra Singh Temple. It is walkable from here.
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