Wat Chedi Luang: Temple of the Great Stupa in Chiang Mai

by Tsvete Popp
Wat Chedi Luang Temple. Chiang Mai

Wat Chedi Luang, the Temple of the Big Stupa, is an impressive ruined Buddhist temple in the centre of Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. The temple is dating from the 14th and 15th centuries and is one of Chiang Mai’s most important attractions as well as one of the most noteworthy temples in the city.

We visit the temple during our Chiang Mai Temple Tour. It was definitely worth visiting the 600 years old temple – Wat Chedi Luang is one of the must-sees when you are staying in Chiang Mai.

! Did you know that ...
The name of the Chedi Luang Temple gets translated alternatively as the Royal Pagoda, or the Great Stupa. “Luang” means large in the Northern Thai dialect.

Wat Chedi Luang Temple. Chiang Mai
Wat Chedi Luang Temple. Chiang Mai
Wat Chedi Luang Temple. Chiang Mai

What to See: Wat Chedi Luang

The current temple complex originally hosted three temples — Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Ho Tham and Wat Sukmin. Nowadays the ground of Wat Chedi Luang are still large and there is definitely a lot to see during your visit. On the temple grounds, you’ll find the most prominent building Chedi Luang and two viharns (sanctuaries or prayer halls).

The first vihar is a large building with a golden facade which was built in 1928. This vihar is famous for its large standing Buddha named Phra Chao Attarot. This Buddha image, made of brass alloy and mortar, dates from the time of the temple’s founder King Saen Muang Ma (late 14th century). The smaller vihar is aesthetically decorated with wood carvings and its entrance is guarded by large Nagas (mythical snake-like creatures).

In addition to the main viharn, the temple complex hosts a smaller building called Wat Phan Tao. The small vihar has beautiful carvings around the door and contains a large reclining Buddha. The second building has the city pillar (Sao Inthakin), which is believed to protect the city. The pillar was moved here from its original position at Wat Sadoe Muang in 1800. The city pillar or “Spirit of the City” is kept in a tiny building next to the Dipterocarp tree. This tree is one of three protectors of the city.

Wat Chedi Luang Temple. Chiang Mai
Wat Chedi Luang Temple. Chiang Mai
Wat Chedi Luang Temple. Chiang Mai

! Did you know that ...
Legend has it that if the Dipterocarp tree falls, a great catastrophe will follow.

The most significant building in the complex is, of course, the massive Stupa of Chedi Luang. For nearly a century the chedi housed the most sacred object in Thailand, the holly Emerald Buddha which is now in Bangkok. The Emerald Buddha was moved to Wat Phra Kaew in 1475 (in 2018 the Emerald Buddha can be found in the Grand Palace). Nowadays, Chedi Luang is home to a replica of the Emerald Buddha which was a presentation by the King to the city of Chiang Mai.

Wat Chedi Luang is about 60m high and its base is 44m wide. The ruins still have 4 sides, and each side has a staircase guarded by stone serpents (mythical snakes called naga). On the south base of the chedi, five elephants stand guard midway up the platform. At the top, there are several stone images of Buddha, and the eastern side of Chedi Luang is home to a replica of the Emerald Buddha.

Chedi Luang was mostly destroyed during the massive earthquake in the 17th century. Yet, it has been partly renovated because nobody is sure what the spire really looked like.

! Did you know that ...
The City Pillar and “Why Can’t Women Entry the City Pillar”: Women are prohibited to enter because they menstruate. Due to some believes the women are unclean because of their periods. It is also believed that any disobeying of the rules will cause social instability.

Wat Chedi Luang Temple. Chiang Mai
Wat Chedi Luang Temple. Chiang Mai
Wat Chedi Luang Temple. Chiang Mai

The History of Wat Chedi Luang

Chedi Luang is one of the oldest Temples in Chiang Mai. The construction began in the late 13th century, during the Lanna Kingdom and the reign of King Saen Muang Ma. He constructed the great pagoda of Chedi Luang in the centre of Chiang Mai in 1391 to bury the ashes of his father. But the chedi wasn’t finished until the reign of King Tilokaraj in the 14th century . At the time Chedi Luang was the tallest (82m high and 54m base diameter) and most impressive temple in Chiang Mai.

Nowadays, you can see that the chedi is kind of destroyed and there are two main theories explaining why. The first one blames an earthquake that happened in 1549. The second one argues that King Taksin fired cannons on Chiang Mai to win back the city from the Burmese in the 17th century.

In the early 1990s, Chedi Luang was reconstructed during a project partly financed by UNESCO and the Japanese government. The main goal was to stabilize the site to prevent further damage. The top was not reconstructed because nobody really knows what it originally looked like before the destruction. Quite a few locals didn’t like the new look of the chedi. They think it looked better before the reconstruction, overgrown with vegetation. Like a real ruin.

Wat Chedi Luang Temple. Chiang Mai Wat Chedi Luang Temple. Chiang Mai

Things to Know Before You Go

Wat Chedi Luang is located inside the walls of the old city on Prapokklao Road, which runs between Chiang Mai Gate and Changpuak Gate. The main entrance is located south of Ratchadamnoen road. Chedi Luang is easy to spot since it is one of the tallest structures in Chiang Mai. Any songthaew (red trucks that act as shared taxis) can take you to the temple within the old city for around 30 THB per person.

As with any other temple in the city, keep in mind to dress respectfully – shoulders and knees should be covered.

Official Name: Wat Chedi Luang

Address: 103 Prajadhipok Road Si Phum, Chiang Mai

Opening Hours: Wat Chedi Luang is open every day from Monday-Sunday – 6:00 am to 6:00 pm

Tickets: 40 THB for adults and 20 for children (free for locals)

Hotels Near Wat Chedi Luang: Find the best deals here!

Wat Chedi Luang Temple. Chiang Mai

! Did you know that ...
every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. you can attend a monk chat that happens at Wat Chedi Luang. English-speaking monks are waiting on the north side of the temple grounds. During a monk chat, you can find out more about the culture in Thailand and Buddhism.

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