Wat Phra Singh is a beautiful example of classic Lanna architecture. Here you’ll find steeply pitched roofs with lavishly carved eaves, mural paintings, red lacquered columns decorated with gold leaf stenciled patterns, stucco decoration, white chedi with an octagonal base, you name it.
But beyond the considerable aesthetic beauty, my favorite thing about visiting Wat Phra Singh is that it feels like an active and lively community center, not simply a hermetically sealed temple to be toured and photographed.
Throughout the year, Wat Phra Singh acts as the epicenter for Chiang Mai’s festivals, celebrations and events. Chiang Mai’s chief abbot lives here and more than 700 monks study here. It’s common to see monks strolling the grounds in their saffron-colored robes, chatting with visitors, and going about their daily activities. You’ll find families worshiping in the temples or casually relaxing around the spacious grounds under the shade of the tall trees. Vendors line walkways and school children can be heard studying in the temple school.
On our most recent visit we entered the complex to the sound of monks chanting in one of the side halls while a service took place in the main hall. We saw several visitors seated at tables with monks in the temple gardens, while other visitors explored and took photographs.
Construction on Wat Phra Singh began in 1345 when King Phayu had a Chedi built to house the ashes of his father King Kham Fu. In 1367, the statue of Phra Buddha Singh was brought to the temple and the temple complex received its present name. “Phra” is Thai for a priest or cleric and also used to refer to Buddha images. “Singh” means lion. During the Songkran Festival, the Phra Singh Buddha is mounted on the royal carriage for a procession around the city.
Wat Phra Singh may have also been the first monastery to house the Emerald Buddha, Thailand’s holiest religious object, which later resided in Wat Chedi Luang and is now enshrined in Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew.
You can find Wat Phra Singh at the end of the main street, Rachadamnoen road, in the western part of the old city within the moat.
Wat Phra Singh
Address: Samlarn and Ratchadamnoen Roads