Constructed at the end of the 13th century, Wat Chiang Man is the oldest and one of the most important temples in Chiang Mai. This is due to the fact that it was the first temple to be established at the city’s founding in 1296 by King Manrai, Chiang Mai was to be his new capital. The temple was constructed on the site of a fortified village that had existed there previously. It was from there King Manrai planned the city he was to build.
The Elephant Chedi, as it is known is the oldest structure in the complex. It is ringed by life-sized Sinhalese style elephant sculptures as though the elephants are holding up the upper levels of the chedi. The upper bell-shaped top is gilded in bright gold.
An important feature of the main Viharn is its display of Buddha images on the altar, one of the standing Buddha images has 1465 engraved on it which would make it the oldest statue of the Lanna kingdom and also the oldest known depiction of a Buddha image holding an alms bowl in all of Thailand. The facade of the Viharn contains gilded carvings of Kirtimukha an ancient creature of legend with large fangs.
The Smaller Viharn of Wat Chiang Man holds its most important treasures. The first is Phra Sae Tang Khamani, or Crystal Buddha, a 10cm statue of clear quartz crystal. It is said to have been carved in the year 200 AD in Lopburi and brought to Chiang Mai by the king some 1000 years later. Its base and canopy were added around 1874 and are estimated to contain 6kg’s of gold worth over 200,000 USD. The second is the Phra Sila, a stone relief carving of the Buddha overcoming the elephant known as Nalagiri, an elephant sent to destroy the Buddha that he tamed with simply the touch of his hand. The relief dates from around the year 800 and is likely to have originated in Sri Lanka. It is said to have the power to bring rain and plays an important part in the annual Songkran festival in April. It is important to note that the due to the importance and historical significance, the images are only shown periodically and may not be available for viewing, if they are on display it is usually a Sunday.
Just to the south of the Chedi sits the temple library. Contained within are several important Buddhist Manuscripts. Also nearby is the Ubosot, on the porch of the Ubosot one can see a stone tablet. It is said that this tablet lists the date of Chiang Mai’s founding as April 12, 1296, at 4:00AM.
The Temple is open from 8am-5pm, and there is no admission fee, however, donations are very much appreciated. As with any Buddhist Temple, it is expected that you dress respectfully and keep your voice low so as not to disturb those who are praying or meditating.