Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai is a metropolitan city of one million residents along the Mae Ping River in northern Thailand. It has over two hundred Buddhist temples reflecting its rich history since it was founded in 1292 by King Mengari as the new capital city of the Lanna Kingdom.

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1 Three Stone Elephants at Wat Chiang Man in Chiang Mai, Thailand

While King Mengrai, the first ruler of Chiang Mai, was building the Lanna Kingdom’s new capital city at the end of the 13th century, he commissioned the Chedi Chang Lom. This means the Stupa Surrounded by Elephants. These are three of the 15 life-size, stone elephants at the base of Wat Chiang Man, the oldest pagoda in Chiang Mai.

Phra Pok Klao 13 Ko. Alley, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
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2 Main Viharn and Chedi at Wat Chiang Man in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The main viharn at Wat Chiang Man houses the oldest Buddha statue in Chiang Mai with an inscription date of 1465. The prayer hall was built in a Lanna style with a three-tiered roof and renovated during the 1920s. On the left is a glimpse of the Elephant Chedi which was built around 1297. This is the first temple in Chiang Mai.

Phra Pok Klao 13 Ko. Alley, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
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3 Buddha Statues on Altar at Wat Chiang Man in Chiang Mai, Thailand

When you enter the main viharn at Wat Chiang Man, your eyes are drawn to the large gilded Buddha statue in the center of the altar and then the two that flank it. However, the most famous image is the one standing on the right holding an alms bowl. It dates back to 1465.

Phra Pok Klao 13 Ko. Alley, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
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4 Modern Vihara at Wat Chiang Man in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Inside this ornate prayer hall called the modern vihara at Wat Chiang Man are two famous Buddha statues. The Phra Sila or Marble Buddha dates back to the 8th century. Older yet is the Crystal Buddha called Phra Setangamani. It originated around 200 AD and was captured by King Mangrai, the founder of Chiang Mai, in 1296.

Phra Pok Klao 13 Ko. Alley, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
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5 Nāga Extreme Close Up at Wat Chiang Man in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Guarding the newest viharn at Wat Chiang Man is this golden nāga with a row of extremely sharp teeth, horns and a glowing red eye. The long, curving and scaled body of this mythological dragon winds up the staircase.

Phra Pok Klao 13 Ko. Alley, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
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6 Ramakien Mural at Wat Chiang Man in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The walls inside the newest viharn at Wat Chiang Man are decorated with beautiful paintings like this one that is a scene from Thailand’s national epic called Ramakien. Adopted from a Hindu story, this mural shows Sida’s son Mongkut (or Kusa) and his friend Lop (Lava) riding a white horse that was released by Rama. On the left is Hanuman, the God-king of apes and a monkey general.

Phra Pok Klao 13 Ko. Alley, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
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7 Ho Trai Library at Wat Hua Kuang in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Buddhist temples in Thailand usually have a ho trai that house the holy Tripitaka scriptures. Typically these libraries are very elaborate and this one at Wat Hua Kuang is an excellent example. The hornlike finials above the two-tiered red roof are called chofas which represent the garuda. Also notice the ornate, gilded windows and the ceramic relief of a Yaksha demon holding a sword.

Soi Sri Poom 4 Tambon Si Phum, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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8 Ho Trai, Chedi and Ubosot at Wat Hua Kuang in Chiang Mai, Thailand

There are over two hundred Buddhist temples within Chiang Mai so most tour books will only recommend a half dozen famous wats. But when you explore the old town on foot you can discover a hidden gem like Wat Hua Kuang. I was the only person there to admire these spectacular buildings. From left to right they are: the ho trai or library, a brick Lanna style chedi and the ubosot or ordination hall.

Soi Sri Poom 4 Tambon Si Phum, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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9 Lanna Folklife Museum in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The Lanna Folklife Museum features historic displays in 18 rooms regarding the Kingdom of Lanna which ruled parts of northern Thailand from 1292 until 1775. It opened in 2014 and is housed in a former royal residence and then a Municipal Court building on Phrapokklao Road in the Museum District.

Prapokkloa Rd & Ratvithi, Tambon Si Phum, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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10 Three Kings Monument in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Standing majestically in front of the former Provincial Hall and now the Art & Cultural Center in the Museum District are these statues known as the Three Kings Monument. They represent the kings Mengrai, Ramkamhaeng and Ngam Muang who collectively laid out the city of Chiang Mai when it was founded in the late 13th century.

Intrawarorot Rd & Prapokkloa Rd, Tambon Si Phum, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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11 Viharn and Chedi at Wat Chai Phra Kiat in Chiang Mai, Thailand

This woman is walking out of the viharn or prayer hall at a small Buddhist temple called Wat Chai Phra Kiat. This means Temple of the Renowned Victory. On either side of her are guardian lions called singha. On the right is a white-washed chedi designed in the Burmese style. On top of this stupa’s golden spire is a bell. The wat is located in the old district of Chiang Mai on Ratchadamnoen Road.

Rachadamnoen Rd & Soi Rachadamnoen 6, Tambon Si Phum, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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12 Main Viharn at Entry of Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai, Thailand

This large, gilded viharn is the first building to greet you when you enter the Wat Chedi Luang complex in Chiang Mai. The prayer hall was built in 1928 making it one of the youngest structures in a Buddhist temple complex that dates back to 1391 during the reign of King Saen Muang Ma.

103 Road King Prajadhipok Phra Singh, Muang District, Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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13 Presiding Buddha at Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai, Thailand

This ornate Theravādin shrine at Wat Chedi Luang features the 14th century Presiding Buddha which is called Phra Chao Attarot. This standing mudrā with his right palm extended is the “Preventing Relatives from Fighting” position. The Lord Buddha was trying to silence relatives from a disagreement over limited water supplies. This posture also symbolizes “Peace to the World.”

103 Road King Prajadhipok Phra Singh, Muang District, Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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14 Brick Chedi Ruins at Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Construction of this enormous brick chedi began in 1391. It was the tallest building in the Kingdom of Lanna upon completion in 1475. This religious landmark was partially destroyed during an earthquake in 1545 and then fell to the Toungoo Empire a few years later. That Burmese dynasty was once the largest empire in Southeast Asia. Today, this giant stupa at Wat Chedi Luang is in ruins but is still impressive.

103 Road King Prajadhipok Phra Singh, Muang District, Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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15 Golden Buddha with Halo at Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai, Thailand

This golden Buddha with an elliptical halo sits below a parasol at the base of the ancient pagoda at Wat Chedi Luang. Its design is from the 14th century Sukhothai period. In the background you can see part of the southern staircase that leads up to the first platform. Although the brick chedi is much shorter than it was when it was finished during the 15th century, it still stands at an impressive 269 feet.

103 Road King Prajadhipok Phra Singh, Muang District, Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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16 Elephants and Naga on Chedi at Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai, Thailand

It took over 84 years to build the Temple of the Big Stupa which is the English translation for Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai. When the chedi was finished in 1475, it had the honor of housing the Emerald Buddha before this holy image named Phra Kaew was moved in 1551 to Luang Prabang in Laos. It is now at the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Still guarding the southern staircase is a row of elephant sculptures and a seven-headed nāga statue.

103 Road King Prajadhipok Phra Singh, Muang District, Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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17 Phaya Naga at Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai, Thailand

This Phaya Naga is one of two that guards the entrance to Viharn Luang, the main prayer hall at Wat Phra Singh. They are said to have guarded Mount Meru, which is the center of all universes. Others believe these giant serpent creatures still live in the Mekong River in Laos and occasionally billow large balls of flame.

Phra Singh Temple, Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
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18 Thong Thip Buddha at Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Inside the Viharn Luang, which is the first prayer hall you see when you arrive at Wat Phra Singh, is this enormous Buddha statue named Phra Chao Thong Tip. It was cast from gold and copper in 1477 and was crafted in a style called Chiang Saen.

Phra Singh Temple, Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
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19 Three Buddha Statues at Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai, Thailand

These three almost identical yet successively larger Buddha statues are on the altar below the huge Thong Thip Buddha at Wat Phra Singh. They are sitting in the “Calling the Earth to Witness” position which portrays the Lord Buddha shortly before enlightenment.

Phra Singh Temple, Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
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20 Viharn Lai Kham at Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Viharn Lai Kham is a classic Lanna style architecture that was built in 1345 at a Buddhist temple complex named Wat Phra Singh. Inside the ornate Gilded Hall is the famous Buddha statue called Phra Singh or the Lion Buddha. On the right is one of three, white-washed chedis that once contained royal funeral urns.

Phra Singh Temple, Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
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21 Phra Singh Buddha at Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai, Thailand

In the mid-14th century, King Mahaprom sent the revered Phra Singh Buddha from India to King Phayu who ruled the Mengrai Dynasty. During transport, the chariot broke down so a temple was built on the spot to house the golden Buddha statue. It sits in the lotus position in the middle of this altar in Wihan Lai Kham, a prayer hall at Wat Phra Singh.

Phra Singh Temple, Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
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22 Ku Huang Corner in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chang Mai was founded in 1296 by King Mangrai as the capital of the Lanna Kingdom. Because the “New City” was under constant threat of attack, it was fortified by a wall and moat. The core of the historic city is still defined by this ancient defense footprint. The five reconstructed gates remain as does the surrounding canal and portions of the walls like the Ku Huang Corner in the southwest.

Bunrueang Rit Road & Chang Lor Rd Tambon Phra Sing, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50100, Thailand
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23 Royal Cemetery at Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The Chet Ton Dynasty was founded in 1732 and comprised three neighboring states in Siam: Lampang, Lamphun and Chiang Mai where this royal cemetery is located. The ashes of several of the kings and princes who ruled until the early 20th century were gathered together and placed in these large, white mausoleums at Wat Suan Dok by the wife of King Rama V. The latest to be buried here was Princess Kokaew Prakaykavil in 2005.

Wat Suan Dok, Tambon Su Thep, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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24 Bronze Temple Bell at Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai, Thailand

This bronze, lotus-shaped temple bell is the largest of several around the perimeter of the Chet Ton Dynasty royal mausoleums at Wat Suan Dok. Called a bonshō, they are often seen at Buddhist temples in Thailand. They do not have a clapper but instead are rung with a mallet and in some cases are used to summon monks.

Wat Suan Dok, Tambon Su Thep, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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25 Golden Chedi at Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Inside this 157 foot, golden chedi is a relic of Buddha that mysteriously self-replicated itself during the late 14th century. The Sri Lankan style stupa stands majestically in the center of Wat Suan Dok, a Buddhist temple that was founded in 1370. Its name means “Field of Flowers” because the grounds once contained a huge garden within its walled fortifications.

Wat Suan Dok, Tambon Su Thep, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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26 Seven-headed Nāga Sculpture at Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai, Thailand

This seven-headed nāga sculpture stands guard over the gilded chedi at the Wat Suan Dok temple in Chiang Mai. This deity has various meanings in different Southeast Asia countries. In Buddhism, the nāga protected the Buddha during meditation. This mythical serpent is the enemy of the Garuda which is the symbol of Thailand and represents the power and authority of royalty.

Wat Suan Dok, Tambon Su Thep, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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27 Golden Female Dancers Relief at Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai, Thailand

These gilded, bas-reliefs of two female dancers decorate the exterior walls of the sermon hall called Sala Kan Prian at Wat Suan Dok. Dance has long been culturally important in Thailand. The two most common forms are Khon, which tell stories from the epic Ramakien, and Lakhon. There are also several regional dance variations throughout Thailand.

Wat Suan Dok, Tambon Su Thep, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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28 Viharn and Phra Chedi at Wat Jed Yod in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Wat Jed Yod is a royal temple in Chiang Mai. Its construction began in 1455. These are two of the structures in the large complex. On the right is a sermon hall with ornate roof ridges called chofas. On the left is the large stone Phra Chedi where the remains of King Tilokkarat are kept, the founder of this temple. He ruled the Lanna Kingdom from 1441 until his death in 1487.

Wat Ched Yot Hwy 96, Tambon Chang Phueak, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 31000, Thailand
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29 Buddha Statue Profile at Wat Jed Yod in Chiang Mai, Thailand

This close up of a gilded Buddha displays three facial features of statues commonly revered in Thai temples. The spiked crown is called an usnīs. The jewel in the forehead is the Eye of Consciousness which asks followers to see the world beyond physical things. And the long earlobes are symbolic of when the Buddha was weighed down by material processions. This Buddha is the largest one at Wat Jed Yod.

Wat Ched Yot Hwy 96, Tambon Chang Phueak, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 31000, Thailand
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30 Octagon Shaped Chedi at Wat Jed Yod in Chiang Mai, Thailand

There are three ancient stone chedis at the Wat Jed Yod in Chiang Mai. Most pagodas in Thailand are bell or domed shape yet this one was built as an octagon with niches containing images of Buddha. Typically, these structures contain ashes or relics of the Buddha, Buddhist teachers or royalty.

Wat Ched Yot Hwy 96, Tambon Chang Phueak, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 31000, Thailand
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31 Thewada Figure Lotus Position at Wat Jed Yod in Chiang Mai, Thailand

This stone, bas relief Thewada figure is one of 70 surrounding the outside walls of the Temple of the Seven Spires at Wat Jed Yod. They are considered to be celestial beings. This deva is sitting in a lotus position while others are standing. They date back to the late 15th century.

Wat Ched Yot Hwy 96, Tambon Chang Phueak, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 31000, Thailand
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32 Elephant Fountain at Entrance of Chiang Mai Zoo, Thailand

This handsome elephant water fountain is at the front gate of the Chiang Mai Zoo. The 200 acre park exhibits over 400 species of animals including koalas, penguins and giant pandas. The forerunner of the zoo was established in the 1940s by an American missionary who had a passion for rescuing injured animals. When Harold Young died in 1974, the local government converted his animal center into a zoological park.

Chiang Mai Zoo, 100 Huaykaew Rd, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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33 Asian Elephant With Mother and Child at Chiang Mai Zoo, Thailand

This Asian elephant with enormous tusks and a tattooed face is an official greeter at the Chiang Mai Zoo in Thailand. Although an average male stands nine feet tall and weighs about six tons, they have superior intelligence and a gentle disposition … perfect qualities to interact with this mother and her little girl.

Chiang Mai Zoo, 100 Huaykaew Rd, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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34 Giant Panda in Chiang Mai Zoo, Thailand

This giant panda at the Chiang Mai Zoo is Chuang-Chuang who was born in 2000. I assume his namesake is Chuang-Tze, a 4th century Chinese philosopher. This endangered species on loan from central China can reach 250 pounds and stand six feet tall. That’s a lot of bamboo which is his primary diet.

Chiang Mai Zoo, 100 Huaykaew Rd, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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35 Indochinese Tiger in Chiang Mai Zoo, Thailand

As its name suggests, the Indochinese tiger is indigenous to several countries in Southeast Asia. These magnificent cats are critically endangered because less than 400 remain in the wild and half of them live in Thailand’s forests. An adult male can reach nine feet and weigh 400 pounds. This Corbett’s tiger resides in the Chiang Mai Zoo.

Chiang Mai Zoo, 100 Huaykaew Rd, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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36 Temple Building on Terrace at Wat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, Thailand

This viharn temple building at Wat Doi Suthep is on a terrace that sits atop Mount Suthep. Its elevation of over 3,500 feet provides a spectacular view of Chiang Mai. Prior to 1935, worshippers had to walk up the hill through a dense jungle and then climb another 309 steps to reach the monastery complex.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Road Tambon Su Thep, Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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37 Golden Chedi at Wat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The centerpiece of the upper terrace at Wat Doi Suthep is this magnificent golden chedi called Phra That. It has seven layers representing the levels of meditation. The temple was founded in 1383 after a white elephant carrying a Buddha relic wandered up a mountain and trumpeted three times before dying. Then King Kuena proclaimed it as the location for building the monastery which is now the most famous in Chiang Mai.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Road Tambon Su Thep, Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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38 Buddha with Flame Halo at Wat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, Thailand

I thought the center Buddha image in the main shrine at Wat Doi Suthep was particularly interesting. Notice how its gilded, flame-like halo called a mandorla transforms into nāga serpents. The glow symbolizes internal radiance perhaps associated with reaching Nirvana.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Road Tambon Su Thep, Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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39 Lighting Candles at Wat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, Thailand

It is traditional among believers of Theravāda Buddhism to make an offering when they visit a temple. This is often practiced by lighting a candle, but can also include burning an oil lamp or incense. It is also customary to leave flowers or food. These acts during meditation and prayer honor the Triple Gem, namely the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Road Tambon Su Thep, Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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40 Golden Chedi at Nighttime at Wat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, Thailand

After sunset, the buildings in the Buddhist temple called Wat Doi Suthep are bathed in light. The most beautiful is this 65 foot tall golden chedi. Inside is a relic that was discovered in the late 14th century by a monk named Sumanathera. Legend has it that the Lord Buddha’s shoulder bone glowed and miraculously duplicated itself.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Road Tambon Su Thep, Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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41 Love Sign at Entry of Art in Paradise in Chiang Mai, Thailand

This little girl is sitting on a “love” sign at the entrance of Art in Paradise in Chiang Mai. Inside is a family-oriented art museum with over 130 optical illusion paintings. Visitors can interact with these giant, trompe l’oeil murals to create fun photos that appear three dimensional. Children will indeed love it.

Art in Paradise, 199/9 Chang Klan Rd, Tambon Chang Khlan, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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42 Women on Rickety Bridge at Art in Paradise in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Like a movie scene from Indiana Jones, these two women are clutching to each other while crossing a rickety wooden footbridge over a massive waterfall. This is just one of the 130, 3D murals at Art in Paradise. The interactive optical illusions include icons from Europe, Asia and Egypt plus winter and underwater settings. The art museum was founded by Jang Kyu Suk.

Art in Paradise, 199/9 Chang Klan Rd, Tambon Chang Khlan, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand
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43 Front Gate Detail at Wat Chai Mongkol in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Most Buddhist temples in Chaing Mai are located within the old city walls while other notable ones are west of town. But Wat Chai Mongkol – some sources call it Wat Chai Mongkhon – was built along the banks of the Mae Ping River during the 15th century. When you walk beneath this ornate front gate, you will find a small, tranquil temple that is home to only a handful of monks and rarely visited by tourists. It is delightful!

142 Charoen Prathet Rd, Tambon Chang Khlan, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50100, Thailand
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44 Full-size Dragon at Wat Chai Mongkol in Chiang Mai, Thailand

It is typical to see a mythical creature guarding the entrance of a Buddhist temple in Thailand but rarely do you see a full-sized dragon that is as ornate and colorful as this one outside of the viharn or prayer hall at Wat Chai Mongkol.

142 Charoen Prathet Rd, Tambon Chang Khlan, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50100, Thailand
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45 Burmese Chedi at Wat Chai Mongkol in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The Burmese ruled Chiang Mai from 1556 until 1775 and their mark is still visible in some places like the design of this chedi. During their occupation, this temple was called Wat Oop Pa Peng. In the 19th century, King Rama V renamed it Wat Chai Mongkol which means victory.

142 Charoen Prathet Rd, Tambon Chang Khlan, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50100, Thailand
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46 Yaksha Relief at Wat Chai Mongkol in Chiang Mai, Thailand

This colorful, ceramic relief is a yaksha who is holding up the balcony of the prayer hall at Wat Chai Mongkol. In Theravāda Buddhism, these mythical spirits are the guardians of Vessavana who is one the four Great Kings that rule the four directions on earth.

142 Charoen Prathet Rd, Tambon Chang Khlan, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50100, Thailand
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47 Thatched House on Mae Ping River in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai was founded along the 353 mile Mae Ping River in the late 13th century and is now a large metropolitan city with nearly one million people. Yet some residents still live in wooden, Thai-style homes with thatched roofs along the riverbank just as their ancestors did hundreds of years ago. You can frequently see them casting their fishing nets and washing their clothes in the river.

142 Charoen Prathet Rd, Tambon Chang Khlan, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, 50100, Thailand
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48 Phaya Naga at Wat Sri Don Chai in Chiang Mai, Thailand

This naga appears to be guarding the viharn at Wat Sri Don Chai. Perhaps this spirit did more to protect Pra Kruba Srivichai while he was falsely imprisoned here in 1920. After his release, the exonerated monk rebuilt over 100 temples in Thailand as well as schools and other infrastructure. These accomplishments earned him the name Engineer Monk. His most famous contribution was constructing the 18.5 mile road up the mountain to Wat Pra Thart Doi Suthep in less than six months.

Wat Sri Don Chai, San Sai, Saraphi District, Chiang Mai 50140, Thailand
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