Looking for things to do in Chiang Mai? Admire the impressive metalwork — though women aren’t welcome inside.
It’s no surprise that Wally and I are a couple of magpies, drawn to the embellished and vibrant artistry of Thai temples. The province has a mind-boggling amount of temples and you’ll never hear either of us admit that we’re suffering from temple fatigue. Each structure has its own fantastical narrative, with artistic details dependent upon the date of its construction and in the case of Wat Sri Suphan, its reinvention.
Located amongst the narrow winding lanes of Thanon Wualai, south of Chiang Mai’s Old City, is the unconventional and impressive Wat Sri Suphan, also known as the Silver Temple. According to an inscription on the temple grounds, it was originally erected in 1501 by King Mueang Kaeo, the 11th ruler of the Mengrai dynasty. The ubosot shrine was consecrated in 1509 and contains holy relics of the Buddha.
The neighborhood was resettled during the 16th century by Shan refugees renowned for their silverwork who migrated from Kentung, a small village in Eastern Myanmar.
In December 1941, the resident monks were forced to evacuate when the temple compound was commandeered by Japanese soldiers, who used it as a military base throughout World War II.
As Wally and I approached the ubosot, we saw a shrine to the elephant-headed Hindu deity Ganesh seated beneath a silver parasol. Referred to as Phra Pikanet by the Thai and known as the remover of obstacles, it’s fairly common for Thai Buddhists to make an offering to the deity when seeking fortune and success. A pair of Kroncha (the mouse that Ganesh rides around on), one silver and one gold, stand at his feet offering him his favorite sweet, modak, a steamed dumpling filled with freshly grated coconut and palm sugar.
Wat Sri Suphan, like many temples under royal patronage, has been consecrated and renovated numerous times. But perhaps what makes it truly unique is the magnificent silver-colored bot constructed in 2004 under the direction of the abbot Phra Kru Phithatsuthikhun. The former base and original eight boundary markers, or bai sema, which designate the sacred perimeter of the ordination hall, were retained, along with the meticulous skill and handiwork of local silversmiths. The result is the shimmering ordination hall sheathed in intricately detailed three-dimensional repoussé work made using zinc alloy and aluminum panels with pure silver being reserved for the interior sanctuary.
The Wonder Walls of Sri Suphan
The main ordination hall is an elegant work of art, with panels and doors covered with intricately textured designs. The exterior includes the national emblem of Thailand, Phra Khrut Pha (Garuda as the vehicle of Narai or Vishnu), four lotuses indicating the four noble truths, Sankhapala, the Naga king, ASEAN countries, famous world cities, the king’s stories from the Jataka life of Buddha and the 12 Thai zodiac signs.
Because this is an active ordination hall, women are not allowed to enter due to the Lanna belief that their prescence may deteriorate the holy relics buried within — “or otherwise the lady herself,” as a sign out front reads.
The murals within the ubosot display the influence of Hindu, Mahayana and Theravada Buddhist elements. The primary Buddha image, Phra Jed Tue, is believed to be at least 500 years old. Behind the shrine is a chedi spire built in traditional Lanna style.
Sri Suphan Viharn
The viharn prayer hall was built around 200 years ago during the reign of Chao Kawiroros Suriyawong, the sixth prince of Chiang Mai.
Its main entrance is guarded by naga and dwarapala, fearsome snakes and giants, while its side entrance is guarded by singh lions and newt-like creatures called moms.
Inside, the walls illustrate stories of the Buddha.
The temple also has a sala pavilion with an onsite workshop, where this complex centuries-old heritage art is practiced by local craftsmen who apprentice under an experienced master silversmith to preserve this valuable tradition. You can watch villagers and monks working together on the beautiful designs that cover the ubosot. Embossed sheet metal is punched and hammered from the inside to produce a relief decoration. It’s first coated in oil and then worked facedown on a bed of resin. It was cool seeing these artisans in action.
If you’re in town on a Saturday evening, pair a visit to the temple with the nearby Saturday Walking Street Market, as we did. –Duke
Wat Sri Suphan
100 Wua Lai Road
Tambon Hai Ya
Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai 50100 Thailand