Wat Chedi Luang: Facts, Highlights, History and Travel Info

Wat Chedi Luang: Facts, Highlights, History and Travel Info

By Chris QuanUpdated Aug. 12, 2021

The grand Wat Chedi Luang is one of the most important temples in Chiang Mai and is a hugely popular tourist attraction.

Damaged and as yet not restored, this temple ruin is more than 600 years old and is considered one of the most renowned temples in Chiang Mai.

This guide will take you through what you can expect when visiting Wat Chedi Luang, why you should visit it, and how you can get there.

Wat Chedi Luang Wat Chedi Luang

Facts about Wat Chedi Luang

  • Year of construction: 1391
  • Popular activities: daily interaction with monks
  • Suitable for: temple / architecture lovers
  • Time needed: 2–3 hours
  • Location: Ratchadamnoen Road, Chiang Mai
  • Timings: 6:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily
  • Location: center of the Old City, about halfway down Rachadamnoen Road
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Highlights of Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang Wat Chedi Luang

With a history that is over 600 years old, Wat Chedi Luang is a must-visit if you ever plan a trip to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand.

The name Wat Chedi Luang translates to the Royal Pagoda or the Great Stupa Temple in English. The chedi (pagoda) ruins and the daily monk talks are worth the visit alone, but there is so much else to see at Wat Chedi Luang.

Chedi Ruins

One of the most popular features of Wat Chedi Luang is the huge chedi (pagoda). The pagoda is not quite as massive today as it once was.

There are two theories as to when this chedi was destroyed — one theory is that it was destroyed during an enormous earthquake in 1545, and the other is that it was destroyed by cannon fire during the Burmese conflict back in 1775.

The construction of the chedi began in 1391, on instruction from King Saen Muang Ma, who wanted an ornate chedi to house the ashes of his father. It took nearly a century to construct and was eventually finished in 1475, under the reign of King Tilokarat.

At that time, Wat Chedi Luang was the most prominent structure in Chiang Mai, standing 85 m (275 ft) high and 44 m (140 feet) wide. At least 30 m (100 feet) was lost off that height either due to the earthquake or cannon fire.

On each side of the chedi are four staircases that are flanked by naga (serpent) creatures. At the top of each staircase are numerous Buddhist images.

Emerald Buddha Reproduction

When the construction of Wat Chedi Luang began, the king decided that this temple would also be the new home of Thailand’s most sacred object. For nearly a century, the famed Emerald Buddha was housed at Wat Chedi Luang.

It remained there until a few years after the partial destruction of the temple. It was then moved to Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, and was replaced by a replica that is still there today. The replica can be found in one of the niches at the top of a staircase.

Viharns

At Wat Chedi Luang, visitors can also admire two viharns (sermon halls). The largest of these is the most impressive and was built back in 1928. Featuring a three-tiered roof and gold ornate decoration, the viharn is a work of beauty.

As you walk to the entrance, you will be met with a Buddha statue called Phra Chao Attarot. The figure was made at the same time the original Wat Chedi Luang was constructed.

The other smaller viharn is also worth a look. It is also decorated in an elegant style, but with intricate wood carvings and two nagas that guard the entrance.

City Pillar and Dipterocarp Trees

A small building on the temple grounds houses the Sao Inthakin (Pillar of Lord Indra), also known as the City Pillar.

It was first built in 1296 and was moved from Wat Inthakin to Wat Chedi Luang in 1800. According to legend, Sao Inthakin was brought down to earth by spirits to protect the residents of Chiang Mai.

Located next to the building are three huge Dipterocarp trees. These are also said to help protect the city. Legend suggests that should they ever fall, a catastrophe will befall Chiang Mai.

Daily Monk Chats

Another popular activity at Wat Chedi Luang is participating in the famous monk chat club that is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The monks are friendly and are happy to chat with tourists as they get something out of it too.

They can practice their English language skills while tourists can learn more about the lives of Buddhist monks. They will talk to you about their lives as monks and their culture and religion.

History of Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang Wat Chedi Luang

It was King Saen Muang Ma who ordered the construction of Wat Chedi Luang as he wanted somewhere grand to bury the ashes of his father.

After 10 years, the development work initially stopped as the king passed away. His widow decided to continue the construction in the name of her late husband, but this was not an easy process.

In fact, despite having been started in 1391, it was only in 1475 that Wat Chedi Luang was finally completed.

It was only under the reign of King Tilokaraj that the construction work was finished. A few years previously, he had instructed that Wat Chedi Luang would be the home of the Emerald Buddha.

There are conflicting stories of what caused damange to Wat Chedi Luang to reduce it to its current ruined state. Some say that a devastating earthquake took place in 1545 that caused the damage.

Others, however, claim that it was damaged as a result of King Taksin firing cannons at the city to chase out the Burmese and reclaim the temple in the 1700s.

The earthquake seems to be the story that most tend to believe. The Emerald Buddha was rehoused at Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok in 1551.

The damage that the Wat Chedi Luang received knocked more than 9 meters (30 feet) off the upper section of the temple. To this day, the damage has not been restored.

The Japanese government, in partnership with UNESCO, did attempt to reconstruct Wat Chedi Luang in the 1990s, but the project failed to take off as they couldn"t agree on what it had initially looked like. Locals were left unimpressed with the work carried out as they preferred the ruins with overgrown vegetation.  

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Tips for Visiting Wat Chedi Luang

  • Be cautious of any over-friendly locals in the area. They are touts and will demand payment for any small piece of information that they give you.
  • Women are not allowed to touch a monk or walk in front of one.
  • Unfortunately, women are not allowed into the building that houses the City Pillar. This is because Buddhist culture, which derives from Hinduism, deems women to be unclean if they are menstruating. However, women are permitted to enter all the other buildings on the Wat Chedi Luang grounds.
  • Men will also be refused entry to the building that houses the City Pillar if not dressed appropriately. This means no shorts, going topless, or wearing tank tops.
  • Admission to Wat Chedi Luang is free for Thai people but will cost tourists 40 bhats. This is a minimal amount, and the temple is well worth it.

How to Get to Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang is situated in the middle of the walled Old City in Chiang Mai. Take a taxi or a tuk-tuk (three-wheeled passenger vehicle) to Ratchadamnoen Road.

The temple grounds can be found about halfway down that road with the entrance almost directly opposite Phra Pok Klao Road.

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What Else to Do Near Wat Chedi Luang

If you want to visit a few more temples on the same day as Wat Chedi Luang, we recommend Wat Phra Singh, Wat Suan Dok, and Wat Chiang Man. All three are close to Wat Chedi Luang, so you can visit them in half a day.

Start with Wat Chedi Luang before visiting Wat Phra Singh. Constructed in 1345, this temple is one of the focal points of the Songkran festivities each year.

You can then make your way to Wat Suan Dok, which offers some fantastic photo opportunities due to its gorgeous Lanna-style architecture. Finish the day off by visiting the oldest temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Chiang Man.

Explore Wat Chedi Luang with Us

We welcome the chance to help you plan your trip to Chiang Mai and all of the historic and magnificent temples throughout the city. Our knowledgeable staff will assist you in selecting destinations, accommodation, and activities that best suit your requirements.

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