One of Chiang Mai’s most important temples is the Wat Chedi Luang located in the ancient walled part of the city.
The Wat Chedi Luang, also known as the Jedi Luang and “The temple of the Great Stupa” initially consisted of two more temples named Wat Ho Tham and Wat Sukmin, that were all merged into one.
The massive Chedi
It’s most prominent feature is the massive and very impressive chedi (pagoda) dominating the area. The chedi was ordered by King Saen Muang Ma to enshrine the ashes of his father.
Construction began in 1391 and lasted almost a century. When the chedi was finally finished in 1475 during the reign of King Tilokarat it had reached a height of about 85 meters and a width of 44 meters, which made it by far the largest structure of Chiang Mai.
In the year 1545 disaster struck when a massive earthquake destroyed much of the chedi. The quake took off some 60 meters from the top of the chedi after which about 60 meters remained. In the 1990’s the chedi was partially restored.
All four sides contain large staircases flanked by guardian mythical Naga creatures. At the top of the stairs are niches, where Buddha images are enshrined. Just below the top of the stairs is a platform containing Sinhalese style stone elephants on one side emerging from the chedi.
The Emerald Buddha image installed in the temple
In 1468, the most important and revered Buddha image in Thailand, the emerald Buddha was installed in the Wat Chedi Luang. The image stayed here for almost a century , when it was moved to Luang Prabang, in current day Laos.
Today, the image is housed in the Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. To commemorate the 600th anniversary of the chedi a reproduction of the emerald Buddha was placed in one of the niches of the chedi.
The two viharns
The temple grounds contain two viharns. The first one is a large, impressive building with a three tiered roof and a front facade in golden colors. This viharn was built in 1928. The high red ceiling is supported by two rows of tall, round columns. This viharn contains a large standing Buddha image opposite the entrance, named Phra Chao Attarot. This image displaying the Abhaya mudra (the dispelling of fear hand gesture) dates back to the time when the Wat Chedi Luang was founded; it was cast towards the end of the 14th century.
The other much smaller viharn has a very elegantly decorated front facade with intricate wood carvings. The stairs leading to the entrance are guarded by large Nagas, mythical snake like creatures. Next to it is a small pavilion in Burmese style.
The Sao Inthakin or city pillar
A small building houses the city pillar or Sao Inthakin of Chiang Mai. The Sao Inthakin is believed by local people to protect the city. In the year 1800 the pillar was moved here from the Wat Inthakin where it was originally placed in 1296. Nearby is a small shrine built to house the guardian spirits who brought the Sao Inthakin over from Heaven.
Next to the Sao Inthakin hall there are three massive Dipterocarp trees, that are also believed to be protectors of the city. If the tree closest to the Sao Inthakin should ever fall, a great catastrophe will occur according to legend.
Other structures on the temple grounds include a small building containing a Reclining Buddha image and a bell tower. Another temple, the Wat Phan Tao, is located on the same grounds.
How to get to the Wat Chedi Luang
The Wat Chedi Luang is located close to the center of the old walled part of Chiang Mai. You will find it about half way Ratchadamnoen road that crosses the old city from East to West. The main entrance is opposite Phra Pok Klao road, just South of Ratchadamnoen road.
Entrance fee & opening hours
The temple grounds are open daily from 6 am until 6 pm. Admission is free.