Wat Phan Tao – One of the oldest temples in Chiang Mai


Wat Pan Tao is not one of Chiang Mai’s most famous wats but this small temple with its very attractive teak viharn is well worth a peek. Conveniently located next door to prestigious Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Pan Tao was originally built as an ancillary temple to the royal temple next door, thus having a similar late 14th century date to it, making it one of the oldest sites still standing today in Chiang Mai city.

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Wat Phan Tao, meaning “temple of a thousand kilns”, probably derives its name from the ovens used to cast Buddha images for another temple, the Wat Chedi Luang, which is immediately next to the Wat Phan Tao.

The viharn of the Wat Phan Tao was originally a Ho Kham, a throne hall for one of Chiang Mai’s Kings built in 1846. After a new King ascended the throne, the Palace Hall was most likely torn down to make way for a new Palace building. The wooden panels of the old structure were used to build the viharn of the Wat Phan Tao in the year 1876.

The teak wood viharn

The viharn is an all wooden building constructed from teak panels set on a stone base. It is one of the few remaining all wooden structures of its sort in Chiang Mai. It has a three tiered roof with golden colored chofah (roof finials) shaped as stylized Naga snakes on its roof ends.

Wat Phan Tao (via charmingpalacehotel.com)

The front facade of the viharn is particularly beautiful. The gilded pelmet over the entrance show intricately carved Lanna flower motifs. Over the pelmet is a gilded carving of a peacock over a crouching dog. Naga serpents and other mythological figures are also depicted. Both the pelmet and the peacock carving are gilded and inlaid with colorful mosaic glass. The dog in the motif represents the Zodiac figure of the Chiang Mai King who originally used the building as a Palace.

Inside the viharn large red painted teak pillars support the building. Long woven banners hang from the ceiling. Opposite the entrance is a large golden sitting Buddha, the Wat Phan Tao’s principal Buddha image. The interior of the viharn contains several interesting items. Among them are a number of old wooden boxes decorated with gold leaf containing old Dhamma texts. These are the Buddhist scriptures written on palm leaves. On the left hand side is an ornately carved wooden Ku, a Buddha throne used to enshrine important Buddha images.

Wat Phan Tao (via ourglobaltrek.com)

Other structures of the temple

The Wat Phan Tao temple complex also contains a large white chedi, a small bell tower and the monks private living quarters, or kuti. A small garden features a lineup of bells. A number of Burmese style lions (Singha in Thai language) on the outer wall guard the temple complex. A heavily decorated gate provides access to the temple grounds.

How to get to the Wat Phan Tao

The Wat Phan Tao is located close to the center of the old walled part of Chiang Mai just South of Ratchadamnoen road. The main entrance is on Phra Pok Klao road that runs North to South through the old city. The temple is located directly next to the better known Wat Chedi Luang. You can get there by tuk-tuk (agree on the price before leaving) or by rented bicycle.

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