Wat Srisuphan: Discovering the Silver Temple in Chiang Mai

A praying Monk inside Wat Srisuphan
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Wat Srisuphan: Discovering the Silver Temple in Chiang Mai

The best way to showcase a country’s beautiful past is by presenting artifacts and photographs and step back in time by promoting ancient structures that best represent the destinations colorful era. That’s exactly what I love about Chiang Mai. Apart from good food, nice shopping spots and friendly people, we were able to appreciate Thailand’s history and culture after visiting some of the famous tourist spots in Chiang Mai.

Wat Sri Suphan in Chiang Mai
Wat Sri Suphan By Michael Jenselius (The Silver Temple in Chiang Mai) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Exploring the old town in Chiang Mai is such a rewarding experience. It is a haven where quaint coffee shops next to traditional craft stalls can be found in hidden alleyways and where congregations of monks seem to appear at every turn. But this fascinating city can also make it easy to forget that an entirely different world can be found just outside of the ancient moat surrounding it.

Blue colored floor at the entrance of The Silver Temple
Blue colored floor at the entrance of The Silver Temple
For this reason and because we were seeking another adventure, our guide decided to venture away from the tourist crowds in Thapae Gate and to go in search of something lesser known and possibly a little more unique.
Silver and Gold inside Wat Sri Suphan in Chiang Mai
Silver and Gold inside Wat Sri Suphan in Chiang Mai
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Search for the Silver Temple

Through the southern gate of the old town and past a string of shops on Wualai Road, we found ourselves inside a temple complex where we finally saw “The Silver Temple”. The uncertainty didn’t seem to matter as it felt exciting to uncover something new and it only made the experience feel more like an adventure. Shimmering in the afternoon sun and complemented with so much intricate detail, my first sight of this magical Ubusot (ordination hall) felt unlike any other I had come across in Chiang Mai. Antiquated pillars and timber supports may have been all that remained since the original Wat was built but a stunning masterpiece was now standing before me and it was far more impressive than I expected it would be.

The Silver Temple of Thailand
The Silver Temple of Thailand

First constructed at the beginning of the 16th century, Wat Srisuphan is best known for being silver, of course, but the immense detail of this monastery was nothing short of incredible. Almost everything was made of silver and aluminium but once you get past the ordination hall surrounded by sema stones, remnants of the original wat, with its intricate designs, were astonishing. It was extremely striking but I would later find that the reason for all these impressive details was because the abbot-in-charge had decided to use local silversmiths to renovate the monastery as opposed to using the more common techniques. Looking at some of the designs that were carefully and artistically engraved in the walls of the Ubusot, I noticed that some of them have UFOs and some have comic illustrations.

Golden Buddha infront of Wat Sri Suphan
Golden Buddha infront of Wat Sri Suphan

Another of my favorite discoveries that afternoon was the Ganesha statue next to the ordination hall. There I learned that this intriguing character standing beneath the shade of an umbrella was actually a symbol for the change from Hinduism to Buddhism in Thailand.

Stepping back in time

However intriguing the statue may have been, arguably the most interesting and unique part of my experience at Wat Srisuphan was the soundtrack that came with the visit. A fully operational workshop finds itself next to the temple and the sound of artisans chiseling away brought a very enchanting feel to the atmosphere. While handicrafts were commonplace in the workshop, many of these artisans were actually working on the nickel and aluminum panels which covered the temple. They were working right before my eyes and this made it easy to step back in time; you can just imagine how the grounds might have looked back in the 16th century.

The Silver Temple of Thailand
The Silver Temple of Thailand

In fact, this was also what was so striking about Wat Srisuphan. The beautiful murals decorating the interior are a stunning tribute and example of the rich tradition for which the area is renowned. Incorporating all aspects of Zen, Buddhist, Theravada and Taoist traditions, the murals brought life to the building and seemed to illuminate the story of the Buddha in a way that I had never seen before. It was just incredible to imagine this the whole time and to think how two hundred years ago, the Ancient Arts Study Centre here was once a tiny silver-making community created by the Lanna King Kawila. Invited from the Salawin Basin in the west of Thailand, this small community was actually established just outside the city walls of Chiang Mai as a means of restoring heritage in what was once the capital of Thailand.

An adventure in Chiang Mai is worth it

Having explored the old town of Chiang Mai, it felt like stepping into the unknown – crossing the moat and leaving the city walls behind. But my trip to Wat Srisuphan was to be one of the best and most unexpected experiences. Lesser known and certainly a little more unique, The Silver Temple was a hugely surprising encounter and every bit worthy of an adventure in Chiang Mai.

Here are a few interesting things to know about Wat Srisuphan:

Females are forbidden entry

As inscribed at the entrance to the temple, it is forbidden for females to enter and a slightly polite notice can be found (as stated below) explaining why:

“Beneath the base of Ubosotha in the monastic boundary, many precious things, incantations, amulets and other holy objects were buried 500 years ago. Entering inside the place may deteriorated the place or otherwise the lady herself. According to this Lanna Belief, ladies are not allowed to enter the Ubosotha.”

Sema stones and remnants

The above-mentioned sema stones around the ubosot (ordination hall) mark the boundary for the original monastery built in 1502 and, aside from some beams inside, they are the only remnants of the original building.

Silver plated wall decor with intricate details
Silver plated wall decor with intricate details

All silver, all over

Work continues at The Silver Temple but, ideally, these renovations will conclude when the entire temple is covered in silver-plated panels, from the roof on top to the panels on the interior.

Silver Makers inside the Temple Complex
Silver Makers inside the Temple Complex

The temple is also a school

Carrying on from the original reason this monastery was built, there is a fully functional school onsite at Wat Srisuphan whose mission is to pass on the silver-making technique which has survived in the region for hundreds of years.

One of the monks from the Silver Temple
One of the monks from the Silver Temple

You can talk with Monks

As with some of the other temples in Chiang Mai, you can take part in “monk chat” here on Tuesdays, Thursdays or Saturdays, between 1730 and 1900. Essentially, this is an opportunity to learn about the life of a monk or the monastery itself.

Where is Wat Srisuphan?

You can find the Silver Temple to the south of the old city and not far from the moat. Address: 100 Wua Lai Rd, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50100

A praying Monk inside Wat Srisuphan
A praying Monk inside Wat Srisuphan

How to get to Wat Srisuphan

Although we had a service van courtesy of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, you can obviously take tuk-tuk or a songthaew to reach the Silver Temple. It is located in the same road in which the Saturday Walking Street market is held.

The first temple in the world made with silver and aluminium metal carving
The first temple in the world made with silver and aluminium metal carving

Walking directions

As soon as you pass through Chiang Mai Gate on the south end of the old town, continue walking straight down Wualai Road. When you reach Soi 2, turn right and keep walking until the first corner to the left. Take a left turn and you will find the site of the temple, which is around 120 meters down the lane.

Our recent Chiang Mai Media Fam Tour was made possible by Tourism Authority of Thailand (Philippines) and Thai Airways. Please bookmark this blog for more stories about our Bangkok and Chiang Mai Adventures. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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