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Chang Mai Street Photography and Buddhist Temples

Updated on August 14, 2012

Thailand´s Steadfast Appreciation for Beauty

Embellished street name sign, Chang Mai, Thailand.
Embellished street name sign, Chang Mai, Thailand. | Source

Northern Thailand

Sitting upon the north section of Thailand is a mountainous region beloved for its misty mornings, lush green forest, and unique cultural and natural attractions: cascading peaks and valleys that unit northern Thailand with the peoples and the cultures of neighboring Myanmar, Laos and southwestern China.

The fertile river valleys amongst these mountains were populated by traders and migrants from the Yúnnán province of China, which left a cultural legacy that still survives today and shows in traditional food, architecture and customs.

This ancient Yúnnán province eventually became the independent state known as Lanna Thai, or “Million Thai Rice Fields”, and established its capital in Chang Mai, a charming northern city rich in beautiful Buddhist temples.

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Folk Culture in Chang Mai

Handmade cloths vendor. Street photography at Chang Mai Night Bazaar, Thailand.
Handmade cloths vendor. Street photography at Chang Mai Night Bazaar, Thailand. | Source

Chang Mai

Chang Mai´s old city is a neat square bounded by a moat and the remnants of a medieval-style wall built 700 years ago to defend its people against Burmese invaders. Inside this old district, Chang Mai is a quiet world of family-run guest houses, leafy gardens, friendly smiles, Buddhist temples and popular folk culture.

A great way to get an overall idea of Chang Mai and Thailand´s general culture is to visit Chang Mai´s Night Bazaar (7pm to midnight), a direct descendant of the original Yunnanese trading caravans that stopped here along the ancient trade route between China and Myanmar.

Today, commerce in Chang Mai´s Night Bazaar sprawls over several blocks and includes itinerant vendor carts and covered buildings. The market offers a huge variety of northern Thai handicrafts, souvenirs, street food and lots of people watching and culture absorbing. It is also the stage for music festivals and other local activities that are especially enjoyable.


Ancient Traditions Prevail in Thailand´s New Generations

Thai girl dressed in traditional religious-related attire. Street photography at Chang Mai Night Bazaar, Thailand.
Thai girl dressed in traditional religious-related attire. Street photography at Chang Mai Night Bazaar, Thailand. | Source

Modern Westernized Thailand

Music and Dance Talent Show, Chang Mai Night Bazaar, Thailand.
Music and Dance Talent Show, Chang Mai Night Bazaar, Thailand. | Source

The People of Chang Mai

In general, Thailand has a split personality:

On the one hand, we have the highly westernized urban Thais in major cities like Bangkok and Chang Mai, and, on the other, the rural farming communities more in tune with the ancient rhythms of life.

Regardless of this divide, several persisting costumes offer a rough snapshot of daily life, which is tightly unified by the moral and spiritual values comprehended in their religious beliefs.

Alongside the national flag flies the yellow flag of Buddhism, specifically “Theravada Buddhism” (see yellow flag in the picture on the right, where a Music and Dance Talent Show for young Thais is taking place at the Night Bazaar). This yellow wavy symbol can be seen everywhere and reminds us how closely related is Buddhism to every aspect of Thais daily life. Country, family and mundane affairs are all married to religion.

Thai´s cultural ideals are based on Buddhist principles, called blessings, and include humility, gratitude and filial piety. These golden rules are translated into many social conventions such as “saving face”, a unifying element in many Asian cultures in which confrontation is avoided and people do their best to avoid embarrassing themselves or other people in public.

An important component of saving face is knowing one´s place in society: all relationships in Thai society are governed by conventions of social rank defined by age, wealth, status, and personal and political power.

To understand more about Theravada Buddhism and the way it influences and is present in every aspect of Thai´s culture, the article Buddhism in Thailand and How it Molds Thais' Personality goes further into this topic and has some great graphic examples in beautifully charming pictures.

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Chang Mai´s Old City Temples

Chang Mai´s primary attractions are the old city´s historic and holy temples that show off distinctive northern Thai architecture, which is a blend of Thai, Burmese and Yunnanese influences. A few standout features include:

  • intricate carved gables,
  • colorful exterior mosaics,
  • Singha lions guarding the entrances, and
  • octagonal high-based "chedi(s)" (an alternative term for a Buddhist stupa, mainly used in Thailand).

See photographs below for examples of these northern Thailand´s architectural features.

Buddhist Chapels at Wat Chedi Luang, Old City Chang Mai

Beautiful chapels within the Buddhist temple and compound of Wat Chedi Luang. Notice the lovely facade embellishment, carved gable, wooden roof and guarding nagas. Chang Mai, Thailand.
Beautiful chapels within the Buddhist temple and compound of Wat Chedi Luang. Notice the lovely facade embellishment, carved gable, wooden roof and guarding nagas. Chang Mai, Thailand. | Source

Chang Mai Buddhist Temple “Wat Chedi Luang”

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Wat Chedi Luang main temple. Chang Mai old city, Thailand.Detail of the main Buddhist temple´s staircase, gigantic "naga" (serpent deities in Hindu and Buddhist mythology). Wat Chedi Luang, Chang Mai, Thailand.Buddha sculptures at an improvised altar in Wat Chedi Luang. Chang Mai, Thailand.Sculpted elephants at the top of the main chedi. Wat Chedi Luang, Chang Mai, Thailand.
Wat Chedi Luang main temple. Chang Mai old city, Thailand.
Wat Chedi Luang main temple. Chang Mai old city, Thailand. | Source
Detail of the main Buddhist temple´s staircase, gigantic "naga" (serpent deities in Hindu and Buddhist mythology). Wat Chedi Luang, Chang Mai, Thailand.
Detail of the main Buddhist temple´s staircase, gigantic "naga" (serpent deities in Hindu and Buddhist mythology). Wat Chedi Luang, Chang Mai, Thailand. | Source
Buddha sculptures at an improvised altar in Wat Chedi Luang. Chang Mai, Thailand.
Buddha sculptures at an improvised altar in Wat Chedi Luang. Chang Mai, Thailand. | Source
Sculpted elephants at the top of the main chedi. Wat Chedi Luang, Chang Mai, Thailand.
Sculpted elephants at the top of the main chedi. Wat Chedi Luang, Chang Mai, Thailand. | Source

Some of Chang Mai´s Old City Buddhist Temples


  • Wat Chedi Luang contains the restored ruins of a huge chedi dating from 1441 that was partially destroyed. The venerable Emerald Buddha, now housed in Bangkok´s Wat Phra Kaew was housed here in 1475. Today, the temple´s main attraction is the "làk meuang" or city pillar, believed to house the city´s guardian deity.


  • Wat Phan Tao a very pretty temple constructed entirely of moulded teak panels fitted together and supported by 28 gargantuan teak pillars. The wíhǎan (Buddhist monastery)also features naga (serpent deities in Hindu and Buddhist mythology) as well as bargeboards inset with colored mirror mosaics. 


  • Wat Phra Singh is the star amid the old city´s treasured temples and is a perfect example of Lanna architecture. Established in 1345, it houses the city´s revered Buddha image, Phra Singh, which is the focal point for the religious festivities of “Songkran (Thai New Year / Water Festival) in mid April.


Buddhist Temple "Wat Chiang Man"

The characteristic “chedi” and sculpted elephants, distinctive of northern Thai architecture. Wat Chiang Man, Chang Mai old city, Thailand.
The characteristic “chedi” and sculpted elephants, distinctive of northern Thai architecture. Wat Chiang Man, Chang Mai old city, Thailand. | Source

Colorful Exterior Mosaics Characteristic of Northern Thailand Architecture

Detail of huge exterior mosaics in Buddhist Temple of Wat Meh Thang, Old City Chang Mai, Thailand.
Detail of huge exterior mosaics in Buddhist Temple of Wat Meh Thang, Old City Chang Mai, Thailand. | Source


  • Wat Chiang Man is the oldest Buddhist wat within Chiang Mai´s city walls and was erected by King Mengrai, Chang Mai´s founder, in 1296. Two famous Buddha images are kept here: “Phra Sila” and “Phra Satang Kamanee”or the Crystal Buddha, which is believed to have the power to bring seasonal rain. Wat Chiang Man has acharacteristic “chedi” and sculpted elephants, distinctive of northern Thai architecture.
  • Wat Meh Thang is one of a kind amongst the many Buddhist Temples of Old Chang Mai. It comprises a religious complex rich with colorful chapels, stupas and mythological sculptures that portray all the beauty that the Buddhist spiritual world can inspire. This particular temple has examples of the colorful exterior mosaics, scrupulously sculpted gables and Singha lions guarding the entrance of religious buildings, all three characteristic features found in northern Thailand´s temples.



Singha Lions Guarding the Entrance to one of the Buddhist Chapels of Wat Meh Thang in Old Chang Mai

Singha lions are one of the characteristic features of northern Thailand architecture featured at Buddhist Temple “Wat Meh Thang” in Chang Mai, Thailand.
Singha lions are one of the characteristic features of northern Thailand architecture featured at Buddhist Temple “Wat Meh Thang” in Chang Mai, Thailand. | Source

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Map of Thailand

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A markerChang Mai -
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B markerBangkok -
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Buddhist Art in Chang Mai

A tour through Chang Mai´s Old City will enable you to have a glimpse of all the many art forms having to do with Buddhist religion developed in the northern region of Thailand. From timeless architecture, sculpture, paintings and decorative arts, to fleeting artistic offerings made with flowers and other transient elements, every one of them has an interesting aesthetic and is worth having a look at.

If you are interested in Buddhist art, you can also compare northern Thailand´s architectural and design features with the ones developed in Bangkok by taking a look at the following article, which covers the capital´s main Buddhist Temples: Buddhist Art in Thailand, Bangkok´s Main Buddhist Temples.

Otherwise, the streets of Bangkok also offer an open air museum in which to experience folk culture, submerge and absorb how ancient traditions have mingled with western influences and globalized modernity to create what Thailand is today.


Chang Mai: Festivals, Buddhist Temples, Nature and Traditions

Comments on "Chang Mai Street Photography and Buddhist Temples"

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    • Claudia Tello profile image
      Author

      Claudia Tello 5 years ago from Mexico

      Hi Irka, thanks for your flattering remark! :) There are some very inspiring things to look at in Chang Mai and that inspiration makes me work with passion and love, I guess that shows in the article.

    • profile image

      irka winniczuk 5 years ago

      Wauw, what an incredible beuatiful hub?

    • Claudia Tello profile image
      Author

      Claudia Tello 5 years ago from Mexico

      Hey Tyler! I am glad you found my pictures of Chang Mai enjoyable, Thanks for your nice comment. I really do recommend Thailand as a great place to visit, everywhere you look there is something captivating!

    • Tyler Bracken profile image

      Tyler Bracken 5 years ago from Berlin, Germany

      Amazingly colourful pictures! I really have to visit Thailand, soon!

    • Claudia Tello profile image
      Author

      Claudia Tello 5 years ago from Mexico

      Unknown spy, thanks so much, you are very kind! I really appreciate the feedback. Thanks for dropping by to see this Chang Mai street photography session. Thailand´s beauty is inspiring to me and it's a great place to go and visit as a travel and photography lover.

    • unknown spy profile image

      IAmForbidden 5 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

      Hats off to this amazing beautiful hub Claudia! great shots

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 5 years ago from Essex, UK

      Nice page of beautiful images Claudia, and useful information about what to see in Chang Mai - the temples and the culture. I've been to Thailand 6 times (subject of several hubs) but my visits have been to Bangkok, the islands, and to the region around Udon Thani. Chang Mai might be my next port of call. If it is, I will definitely return to take another look at this page! Voted up.

    • Claudia Tello profile image
      Author

      Claudia Tello 5 years ago from Mexico

      Jennzie, it is, Thailand is one of my favorite countries for its hospitality, rich culture and beauty. Buddhist temples are always a great attraction in every village or city, and Chang Mai has plenty of them. I deeply concur with Thailand´s regard for beauty and that is another thing that makes it special in every little detail.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave this comment, I really appreciate it :D

    • jennzie profile image

      Jenn 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Beautiful pictures and great information! Thailand seems like it would be an interesting place to visit.

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