Standing apart from the Lanna temples of Chiang Mai is the Wat Pa Pao, a Shan Burmese style temple located just outside the old city walls and moats.
The Wat Pa Pao was founded in 1883 by Burmese Shan during the reign of King Inthawichayanon, ruler of Chiang Mai. During the second half of the 19th century when Chiang Mai was one of the centers of the Thai teak logging industry, a great number of Shan Burmese workers migrated to Chiang Mai from the Shan states in North East Burma, and constructed their own places of worship.
On the courtyard surrounded by a one foot tall wall with arched brick entrance gates are a large chedi and a viharn, the temple’s assembly hall. Next to the courtyard are a more recent Shan style viharn and another smaller Burmese style building. The temple’s name translates to “grove of Pao trees temple”.
The 19th century wooden viharn was replaced with the current brick building, adorned with lots of stuccoed ornamentations. The viharn is topped with a very elegant five tiered Pyatthat roof decorated with colorful motifs, in turn topped with a golden ceremonial umbrella called hti. On each side of the low wall that surrounds the Pyatthat is a niche enshrining a figure displaying the showing respect gesture, the Anjali mudra or wai. Inside the viharn, which is usually closed to the public, are three large Buddha images. The building’s walls are adorned with murals.
Large bell shaped Chedi
Next to the viharn stands the large bell shaped chedi, adorned with small sculptures of mythical creatures. At each of its four corners is a large Qilin, a mythological creature associated with good luck, resembling a lion with the head of a dragon.
The chedi is set on several square tiers of diminishing size and a single octagonal tier. The large bell is topped with a golden spire and a very ornate multi tiered hti, a Burmese style ceremonial umbrella. At the center of each side of the chedi is a large niche enshrining an image of the Buddha. Leading to the niche is a stairway, the bodies of Qilin extending over the balustrades.
Annual Poi Sang Long festival
The Wat Pa Pao is the scene for the annual Poi Sang Long festival when Shan youths are admitted as novice monks. During the festival which lasts several days in early April a procession of Shan people, also known as Tai Yai, dressed in traditional clothes parades through the town.
How to get to Wat Pa Pao
The temple is located on Manee Nopparat road near the North East corner of the old walled city just North of the town walls and moat. Next to it is Wat Pa Pao primary school. The Wat Pa Pao is within walking distance from the center of the old walled town. Alternatively, rent a bicycle or hire a tuk tuk to get there.
Admission & opening hours
The temple grounds open daily during daylight hours. The buildings are usually locked. Admission is free.