The Wat Chedi Luang or the Temple of the Big Stupa is a majestic ruined temple found in the center of Chiang Mai dating back to the 14th and 15th Centuries. Construction on the temple began in 1391 by instruction of King Saen Muang Ma primarily to hold the ashes of his late father, Ku Na. The building was expanded through the years by later kings until it finally achieved its final form in 1475. In time, it was given a great honor by housing the Emerald Buddha, which is the holiest religious object of all of Thailand. At this time, the temple had a height of 84 meters or 280 feet. Unfortunately for the temple, however, the Emerald Buddha was moved to a new home at the Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok.
A century after its construction, the severe earthquake of 1545 toppled the top part of the great temple. The Emerald was still kept in the chedi for another six years but was then moved to Luang Prabang, which is now known as Loas, by the king. Years later, the city of Chiang Mai fell to the hands of the Burmese. The temple was never rebuilt but it still remains the tallest structure in Chiang Mai. Several viharns or assembly halls were added to the temple in subsequent years with the largest viharn built in 1928.
The current ruined brick chedi of the temple now rises to about 60 meters in height with a base of 44 meters. With four sides, each having a monumental stairway guarded by mythical snakes called stone nagas, the chedi still has several prominent Buddha shrines inside. The temple is guarded by elephants midway up the platform and is considered an active place of worship frequented by Buddhist monks.
Next to the ruined chedi is the largest viharn built, boasting of an impressive interior with round columns and a red high ceiling. It houses the standing Buddha known as Phra Chao Attarot. This Buddha dates back to the time of the temple’s founder, King Saen Muang Ma, and is made of brass alloy and mortar.
Another great attraction to see is the great Dipterocarp tree found next to the entrance of the temple. The tree is said to be one of the three revered protectors of the city and legend has it that if the tree falls, a great catastrophe will follow. Also known to protect Chiang Mai is the city pillar or Spirit of the City, more commonly known to the locals as the Lak Muean. This pillar is enshrined in a small cross-shaped structure next to the tree and is known to be from the Wat Sadoe Muang in 1800. Finally, also sharing ground with the Wat Chedi Luang temple is Wat Phat Tao, another temple with its famous wooden viharn, beautiful carvings and a large reclining Buddha.
Wat Chedi Luang still sits as the most impressive temple in Chiang Mai. It soars high above the city and is thus very easy to find, so make sure to stop by such a remarkable and sacred monument of the region.