In Thailand, the number nine is auspicious, and it permeates religious culture. Thai households often have a collection of nine pedestals on which they display their Buddha images and family heirlooms. Enormous alms-giving ceremonies may have thousands of monks, but you can be sure the advertised figure is going to be a multiple of nine. Thinking of hosting a housewarming or graduation party? Consider inviting nine monks to chant at the ceremony. The number nine is everywhere.
When Thai people want to make a day of temple-going, they visit nine temples. Every major city has its own official list of nine temples that must be included on any Thai itinerary. But you don’t have to be Thai or even Buddhist to join in. Locals are happy to see foreigners taking a respectful interest in Thailand’s temples and sacred sites.
However, if you go to a tourist office and ask, you’re likely to be given a different list of nine. These are going to be the nine temples that the tourist authority assumes you’ll be more interested in. Maybe they’re right, but there’s something irksome about visiting nine temples you know aren't the real set of nine.
So for those who want to engage in a temple-hopping endurance event, here’s a genuine list of the ‘Chiang Mai Nine’. If you’re serious about seeing all nine in a single day, do yourself a favor and hire a driver who knows the neighborhoods. It’s the only way you’ll have any time to admire the temples you’re visiting. The concierge at most hotels in Chiang Mai can help arrange this for you.
Wat Chedi Luang
You could make a case for this being the most important temple in Chiang Mai. It certainly rules the city proper. Built in the fourteenth century, it once housed the famous Emerald Buddha that is now on display at Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew. The replica that now sits in its place was commissioned by the royal family in 1995.
But the main attraction here is the ancient chedi (a Thai stupa or pagoda) that gives the temple its name. This temple also has a special and rare kind of Buddha image that is forged in a single day and believed to grant wishes very quickly.
Wat Phra Singh
Another fourteenth-century temple, Wat Phra Singh is classified as a royal temple of the highest order. The ashes of an ancient Lanna (Northern Thai) king are interred here. The Lion Buddha image (Phra Singh) housed here is used during the Songkran water festival in April.
Wat Meun Ngern Kong
This is one of Chiang Mai’s most important prosperity temples. The name couldn’t be more explicit, either. It translates as ‘ten thousand piles of money’. If you feel like you’re a few thousand piles short, paying respects here could set you back on the right path.
Wat Duang Di
Duang Di means ‘good luck’, and the benefits of making merit here are straightforward. Thai people believe that the luck produced here is especially well-suited for students, job applicants and others who are locked into a competitive environment. Wat Duang Di is centrally located in the old city, but it’s easy to miss if you aren’t paying close attention.
Wat Dub Phai
If things haven’t been going your way, a merit-run to Wat Dub Phai is in order. Dub Phai means to ‘extinguish misfortune’. People who make merit here believe that they’re putting out the flames of illness, bad luck and other sorry circumstances.
Wat Chiang Man
Chiang Mai’s oldest temple was believed to have been commissioned by King Mengrai, Chiang Mai’s founder. Two sacred and ancient Buddha images are housed here. One, a crystal Buddha, is said to be 1,800 years old. Given the age of this temple and the fact that man means ‘stable’, worshippers believe that making merit here grants longevity along with a stable life and career.
Wat Chai Phra Kiat
Centrally located in the old city, this medium-sized temple is easy to walk to from most hotels in Chiang Mai. The fine architecture and artwork here reflects how peaceful and prosperous Chiang Mai was when this temple was built. Paying respect to the central Buddha image grants a person plenty of kiat, or honor.
Wat Chiang Yeun
Yeun means ‘long-lasting’ or ‘durable’, and devotees make merit at this temple with the hopes of enjoying long life or a long-lasting career. This neighborhood of Chiang Mai was once dominated by the Shan, a Burmese ethnic minority. The temple architecture looks Burmese, and the merchants in the neighborhood still sell Burmese products.
Wat Meun Lan
Meun lan translates as ‘ten billion’, so you don’t have to think too hard to figure out what merit-makers are hoping for here: wealth with lots and lots of zeros attached. Many temples offer good luck to devotees, but Wat Meun Lan specifically promises materialistic luck. Of course, merchants outside the temple walls are ready to sell you a lottery ticket on your way out.
Wat Loy Kroh
This temple is a central landmark on Loy Kroh Road a short walk from the biggest Chiang Mai accommodation district. Loy Kroh means ‘release bad luck’, and devotees come here to shed excess misfortune. If you plan to visit this temple, come in the morning, as this street transforms into one of Chiang Mai’s rowdier nightlife districts in the evening.