Wat Phra Singh is located in the western part of the old city centre of Chiang Mai, which is contained within the city walls and moat. It is situated at the end of the main street (Rachadamnoen road) of Chiang Mai. The road runs east from the temple, via Thapae Gate, and continues as Thapae road to the Ping River. Wat Phra Singh features in our Chiang Mai Temple Tour.
The Thai name of Wat Phra Singh is วัดพระสิงห์ which translates as monastery of the Lion Buddha. The temple’s full name is Wat Phra Singh Woramahaviharn. King Phayu was the fifth ruler of the Mengrai dynasty of the Lanna kingdom. He ruled from 1336 until 1355. He started the construction of Wat Phra Singh in 1345 to house the ashes of his father, King Khamfu, his father. Initially the temple was named Wat Lichiang Phra. Several buildings were added a few years later including a wihan. This is a shrine hall that contains the principal Buddha images. It is the assembly hall where monks and laypeople congregate.
It may have been the first monastery to house the Emerald Buddha, which later resided in Wat Chedi Luang. This buddha image is now enshrined in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. In 1367 the temple became the home of a Buddha image called the Phra Singh (Lion Buddha) and was renamed Wat Phra Singh.
From 1558 until 1775 Chiang Mai was part of a Burmese kingdom. After the Burmese were ousted the city was virtually abandoned until 1791. Wat Phra Singh fell into disrepair. In 1782 King Kawila became the first king of a new dynasty of Chiang Mai and started to restore the temple to its former glory by building an ubosot. This is the ordination hall and most sacred area of a Buddhist temple. Successors of King Kawila restored the Wihan Lai Kham and the elegant Ho Trai (temple library).
The whole temple complex underwent extensive renovations under the famous monk Khru Ba Srivichai during the 1920s. Many of the buildings were again restored in 2002. King Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII), the older brother of King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), gave it the status of Royal temple of the first grade in 1935. Every year, during the Songkran festival, the Phra Singh image is taken from wihan Lai Kham and carried through the streets of Chiang Mai in a religious procession during which the spectators pay respect to the image by sprinkling water over it.