Within the old city walls located near the Chang Puak Gate lies Chiang Mai’s oldest temple, Wat Chiang Man. It’s known that the temple was built by the city’s founder, King Mengrai, some 700 years ago. The King lived inside the temple while he continued to oversee construction of the city of Chiang Mai, which was the capital of the Lan Na Kingdom then. It may be a small temple located nowhere near the main tourist trail, but it has been an important and sacred monument for centuries.
The temple houses one of the most treasured artifacts in all of Thailand, the Phra Sae Tang Kamani or the image of the Crystal Buddha. Although the origin of the carved image is unknown, it was first mentioned by King Mengrai himself when he ordered it to be brought to the city. A war was actually fought over the rightful possession of the image. Following its return to Chiang Mai, a ceremony was performed yearly since the year 1380 every April 1 to mark the occasion.
Another significant image found at the temple is the Stone Buddha known as Phra Sila to the locals. This image was known to have been carved in India at around 900 A.D. Legend has it that the city that has the possession of both Buddhas will thrive. However, the blessing only works if the city has another Buddha image in possession, the Phra Singh image. Although Chiang Mai has an image of the said Buddha, it was never known if the kept image was authentic or not. These Buddha images were also thought to have the power to produce rain over the land.
Several smaller structures and buildings surround the temple premises while a chedi is found behind the main prayer hall. The pagoda’s base is lined with 15 life-sized elephants crafted out of plaster. All the other structures are finely decorated in accordance with the Northern Thailand style of architecture, with red lacquer, gold leaf and many colored windows. The stair banisters are decorated with colorful naga dragons while the roof tips have beautiful nagas of colored glass and mirror tiles. You will notice a system of pipes, a pump and a basin found at the side of the altar: these are used to wash the images of Buddha in the yearly ritual held during the Thai New Year or Songkran.
A stone inscription found near the door of the ordination hall is dated 1581. It also includes the history of the town, its monastery, and the list of donors of the temple. It confirms that King Mengrai founded the temple and it was restored in 1471, 1558, 1571 and 1581.
You shouldn’t miss out on seeing the oldest temple in Chiang Mai and get to witness the Wat Chiang Man in all its glory. The old temple is located along the Ratchaphakhinai Road near the intersection of the Sri Phum Road. The closest landmark to the temple would be the Thai Airways Office located along Phrapokklao Road. Pace down the small street beside the Thai Airways office and turn left at the next main street. You will be able to see the temple on your left.