Wat Phra Singh has always been an important Buddhist monastery located on the west side of the city of Chiang Mai. Since its founding during the 14th Century, it has always been a major monastery and an important temple that houses 700 friendly monks who often approach visitors to practice proper English. It now houses two medieval Buddha statues that continue to lure in pilgrims and tourists for a serene environment and a place for meditation.
The temple was as originally built by King Pha Yu in 1345 to hold the ashes of his departed father, King Kham Fu. It was also known to be the first monastery to have housed the Emerald Buddha, which was later housed in Wat Chedi Luang and is now enshrined at Wat Phra Kaew in the capital city of Bangkok. The temple is named after the Buddha image that it housed in 1396, the Phra Sihing Buddha or the Lion Buddha.
The temple fell into a state of disrepair as the population of Chiang Mai declined during the 18th Century. Restoration of the temple only began in the 19th Century under Chao Kawila’s ruling. Repair works continued under Chao Thammalangka, who was Chao Kawila’s successor and who also commissioned the construction of the Viharn Lai Kham.
The largest building known as the Viharn Luang or the assembly hall was rebuilt in 1925 based on the 14th Century original and was also extensively restored in year 2008. Visitors will be delighted by the three-aisle interior of the viharn with its round white columns supporting its high red roof. The Viharn Luang houses Phra Chao Thong Tip, a magnificent image of a seated Buddha cast in gold and copper from 1477.
The beautiful Viharn Kham or the Gilded Hall is a smaller assembly hall that was built at around 1345 and was renovated during the 19th Century. Considered a great example of the Lanna’s monastic architecture, the Viharn Kham houses the Phra Sihing Buddha or the Lion Buddha, which is an original 14th Century treasure. Unfortunately, the head was stolen in 1922 and was replaced by a fine facsimile. The walls of the Gilded Hall are covered with 1820s murals that illustrate Jataka tales and other stories.
Alongside the Viharn Lai Kham is the ubosot or a Buddhist chapel that was built in 1806. Its impressive decoration includes amazing abstract mandala designs as it also houses an ornate ku or Buddha throne.
Finally, a small monastic library built in 1477 is found inside the temple premises built on a stone base to protect the manuscripts from pests and flooding. It is finely decorated with devata or Buddhist spirit figures as well. Chedis surround the famous temple grounds with the largest dating back to 1345.
To get to Wat Phra Singh, walk along Rachadamnoen Road, which recently changed its name to Phra Singh Road. Just keep walking along the street until you see it, as you wouldn’t be likely miss the main entrance of the majestic temple. Once there, take a peek at one of the most important temples in Chiang Mai and get to marvel at its beauty.