Also known as the Temple of the Big Stupa, this amazing ruined temple in the heart of Chiang Mai dates back to the 14th or 15th century. King Saen Muang Ma (r.1385-1401) began construction on Wat Chedi Luang in 1391 to hold the ashes of his father, Ku Na. Then, it was then given the great honor of housing the Emerald Buddha, the holiest religious object in Thailand (which is now kept in Wat Phra Kaew at the Grand Palace in Bangkok). The temple continued to grow to a height of 280 ft until 1545 when a severe earthquake toppled part of the great spire. Even then, it remained the tallest structure in Chiang Mai until modern times.
The ruined brick chedi of Wat Chedi Luang now rises an impressive 60m in height and is still home to many Buddha Shrines. Although partly ruined, each of it’s four sides are guarded by stone nagas (mythical snakes) and elephants stand guard midway up the platform. This “Royal Pagoda” is currently being renovated and the work completed thus far is stunning. Be sure to take a walk around the entire structure as there is more to be seen on the back side, including donation boxes and bells for each Zodiac animal. According to ancient local belief when people die their spirit will stay in the chedi of their Zodiac animal sign. Although each sign has an official temple in Thailand, these donation bins allow visitors to pay homage to their sign without having to travel to their specific temple (which may be some distance away from Chiang Mai).
Next to the chedi sits a large assembly hall with round columns holding up a red ceiling above a Buddha known as Phra Chao Attarot. Dating back to the late 14th century, this large standing Buddha sits high above the crowd in the back of the hall. The entire area in front is a mesmerizing array of Zodiac banners purchased and placed by the faithful in hopes of bringing merit to themselves and their family. Outside to the left, visitors have the opportunity to leave a donation in turn for writing on a tile that will be placed on the roof of the structure. On the other side of the chedi is another pavilion housing a reclining Buddha statue.
Don’t miss the large Dipterocarp tree (gum tree) that by lore protects the temple and the city of Chiang Mai in the southeast corner. Legend has it that if the tree is to fall, a catastrophe will soon follow. Also standing guard is the ‘Spirit of the City’ pillar, enshrined next to the tree in a cross shaped building.