Exploring Wat Umong in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The ancient Buddha statues at Wat Umong in Chiang Mai, ThailandChiang Mai certainly has its share of elaborate and ornate temples, such as Wat Phra Doi Suthep and Wat Phra Singh. However, if you’re in the mood to visit a temple with a different style, my new favorite wat in the city might be exactly what you’re looking for. Sobering Wat Umong, built in 1297 and located west of the Old City off Klon Chon Pratan Road, is a quiet yet large temple complex situated on a humble hill in the middle of the woods. Where it lacks in elegance, it makes up in historical significance and natural beauty.

A blessed tree at Wat Umong in Chiang Mai, ThailandAfter entering the gates and passing the bookstore on your left, follow the path through the woods, where you will see sayings, some in Thai and some in English, posted to trees. I took my time through here to contemplate each quote. One of my favorites was “One today is better than two tomorrows”, which I believe speaks directly to the Buddhist philosophy of being in the present moment.

A tree speaks at Wat Umong in Chiang Mai, Thailand - "Knowledge of what is possible is the beginning of happiness."The end of the path opens up to the complex of structures, some very modern-looking made out of cement and others clearly not from this century. Wat Umong has quite a collection of Lanna artifacts from theΒ last 700 years. The stone Buddha statues, arranged in rows, give the impression of a graveyard.

A rooster among the Buddha statues in Wat Umong in Chiang Mai, ThailandOne of the most spectacular aspects to Wat Umong is its tunnels, dating back to the 13th century. After removing your shoes, the air, which smells of spicy incense and humbling earth, becomes obviously cooler as you walk through one of the three entrances. Inside, there are a few Buddha statues in enclaves where locals will leave incense and flowers and pray.

Deep inside the tunnels of Wat Umong in Chiang Mai, ThailandUpon going deeper inside the cave-like tunnel, be sure to look up at the ceiling. Ancient drawings can still be seen and if you look closely you can make out patterns and even elephants. These ancient frescoes bring the historical significance of Wat Umong to light. I couldn’t help but let my imagination take me to hundreds of years prior to a time when these faded colors were vivid and colorful, as monks roamed the halls.

Golden stupa at Wat Umong in Chiang Mai, ThailandAnother fascinating aspect to Wat Umong is the rather large golden stupa that sits atop the ancient tunnels. I found this stupa rather photogenic in its simple and natural setting, especially against a blue sky. I particularly liked shedding my shoes and joining the locals walking around the stupa three times in a clockwise direction, giving me a more genuine and authentic experience at the temple.

The turtle pond at Wat Umong in Chiang Mai, ThailandIn my opinion, Wat Umong is already worth a visit just for the temple, the tunnels and the stupa, but the large pond replete with fish, turtles and birds was my favorite part. I crossed the bridge to the little island, where I saw monks feeding the birds. Covered in trees and sprinkled with well-placed benches, it’s a great place to relax a bit and watch the wildlife. If you would like to feed the animals, there is a place just before crossing the bridge where you can pick up food for only 10 baht. If you fancy a short walk, there’s a trail that will take you almost the entire way around the pond, passing the monks’ quarters as you go.

If you are interested in learning more about Buddhism in general, there is a monk chat at the beginning of this trail on Sundays at 3pm. A Western monk, who has studied and lived in Thailand for a long time, will answer any questions you may have about the religion’s ideologies and practices.

Sandcastle at Wat Umong in Chiang Mai, Thailand during SongkranYou never know what you might see at Wat Umong. Once, I visited during Songkran, when people made sand castles and put flags in it; another time I happened to show up on the day that at least 100 monks were getting ordained.

Monks being ordained at Wat Umong in Chiang Mai, ThailandStill another time, a visiting nun from outside of Bangkok smiled at me, striking up a conversation. She shared that in her 40 years of being a nun she learned of the importance of traveling inside oneself. As a dreamer of one day visiting every country in the world, this advice has stuck with me and I contemplate it every now and again.

Quiet bench at Wat Umong in Chiang Mai, ThailandHave you found a meaningful place while traveling?

12 thoughts on “Exploring Wat Umong in Chiang Mai, Thailand

    1. Mindy & Ligeia

      I really liked the paintings as well. I loved to try to pick out images. Next time you come to Thailand, be sure to check out the north as there are very lovely landscapes and you can learn about the Lanna culture here. πŸ™‚

    1. Mindy & Ligeia

      Hi Jemma,
      Ancient temples fascinate me too. The more places I visit, the more I take note of some of the similarities among temples despite their substantial distance apart. Places like the Chichen Itza, Tikal and Angkor Wat have aspects of their architectural design in common, leaving me to ponder what connections, if any, these ancient civilizations had. πŸ™‚

  1. Nicole Rossetti le Strange

    I love how people from ‘young’ nations view medieval structures as being ancient! LOL!

    Weirdly, even though we live in CM, Wat Umong is one temple we’ve never been to…. will have to remedy that! Thank you for another great blog post!

    1. Mindy & Ligeia

      Hi Nicole,
      It’s true, we think an item from the 1950’s in antique. πŸ™‚
      We learned today that there are two Wat Umongs in Chiang Mai so be sure to go to the forested one, which is just outside the city. Such a peaceful place. πŸ™‚

      1. Nicole Rossetti le Strange

        Oh, I had no idea that there are two – thanks for the heads up… remind me to get directions from you!

        On the subject of the 1950s being antique, when he was in Vegas a few years ago, Kevin came across an antique store… where nothing was more than 60 years old! 555!

  2. Sam

    Hi! Could you please give me directions to the forested Wat Umong? Is that the one where you can chat with the monks? I am seeing different directions online. I’m coming from Nimman/Suthep.
    Thank you!!

    1. Mindy & Ligeia

      Hi Sam,

      Thanks for writing. From Nimmanhaemin and Suthep, you’ll head west towards the mountain. Make a left (south) on Canal Rd. and at about 2kms make a right (cross the canal). There’s a brand new traffic light that’s been put up at that intersection, so it should be easy spot. You’ll follow this street as it curves to the left, pass a fussball field on your right, and then turn right on the next street. Follow that street until Wat Umong shows up on your left. Here’s a Google maps link: http://goo.gl/maps/Q2deD

      Let us know how you like our favorite temple in Chiang Mai!

  3. Iin

    Hey I am in Chang Mai at the moment and want to go to wat u Mong temple and stay there for a few days, it is suggested you write ahead of time and let them know, I can’t seem to get any contact details anywheres,any one know! And has anyone done this! ? Thanks lin

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