Dozens of Buddhist Temples (Wats) are found in both the old and new cities and are the main tourist draw in Chiang Mai.
The famous Wat Phrathat, 3500 feet high on the slopes of Doi Suthep, is eleven miles from town but its large gold-plated chedi can be seen from the city on a clear day. Legend has it that the temple was built in 1383 after the site was chosen by an elephant sent to roam the mountainside to select a spot. When it found the site, it trumpeted, circled three times, knelt down, and died. The temple has remarkable views over the city and plateau. Visitors can either climb more than 300 stairs to the top or take a cable car. The International Buddhist Centre offers residential courses on Vipassana meditation here in English for tourists.
Inside the old city walls, visit the Wat Chiang Mun, which was built the same year the city was founded (1296) and is the oldest temple in the city. Its two Buddha images are said to be 1800 and 2500 years old and reflect the fine work of ancient craftsmen. Wat Phra Singh dates to the late 14th century and features beautiful temple murals and intricate gold patterning in the detail work. There are dozens more temples to visit as well, so consider seeing some of the ones off the beaten tourist track to get a better sense of daily religious life.