Hidden away in the southern edge of Chiang Mai stands a ruined temple in the middle of a quiet lake.
Name: Wat Klang Nam
Where: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Location: 18.7565343, 98.9515879
What to do: View an otherwise unknown ruined temple built on a small island lake.
Getting there: The ruins can be reached by taxi, motorbike, or bicycle from the center city.
When discussing Thailand’s northern mountain city of Chiang Mai, temples and nature may immediately come to mind, but likely not islands. However, tucked away on the southern end of Chiang Mai is a ruined island temple hiding in the shadow of Chiang Mai’s revered Doi Suthep and ready to be taken in.
The Story of Wat Klang Nam
Still standing after centuries in the middle of Chiang Mai’s southern Serene Lake, Wat Klang Nam is neither popularized or even really known about. There is, unfortunately, no available history on Wat Klang Nam. The temple’s name means “temple in the middle of the water”. However, there are no accompanying informational signs at the site or mentions if it in the Chiang Mai National Museum.
This is the case with many of the ruins throughout the city. While a very large number of them have at least a small informational sign stating the name and perhaps a small backstory, a great number do not. This can leave you to piece together your own history based on descriptions you have found, but it’s not quite as nice as knowing for certain, particularly with one as unique as Wat Klang Nam seems to be. The ancient temple has quite obviously been there long enough to have fallen into ruins and bears the standardized brickwork of many of the other ruined temples throughout the Lanna region.
Influences of Hariphunchai Style & Wat Pa Daeng
The stupa of Wat Klang Nam, in particular, does interestingly show some similarities with Wat Pa Daeng, a very significant temple in the history of Chiang Mai. Wat Pa Daeng was the center of the New Lankawong or Sinhalese school of Buddhism, founded by Lanna monks who had studied in Sri Lanka. Conflicts between this sect and the already-established school of Lankawong (established at Wat Suan Dok by Sumanathera under the patronage of King Kue Na) occurred throughout the eras of Chiang Mai’s history, although they had mostly subsided by the reign of King Tilokkaraj.
Stupas at both temples (Wat Klang Nam and Wat Pa Daeng) stand on a square base with multiple arched niches on each site for Buddha images to be placed. This feature stems directly from the Hariphunchai style, which was subsequently absorbed into Lanna’s signature style after Mengrai’s conquest of the Dvaravati Hariphunchai Kingdom (modern Lamphun) prior to establishing Chiang Mai as the capital of Lanna.
Of course, niches in the side of stupas are not an uncommon sight in Chiang Mai or Lanna architecture. However, this type does originate from the older style of Hariphunchai found in modern-day Lamphun, specifically Wat Chammathewi, which in turn originated from the Sathmahal Prasada stupa in Sri Lanka. This feature can still be found in other notable temples in Chiang Mai, such as Wat Santitham or Wat Chedi Liam in Wiang Kum Kam. However, these examples maintain their niches and square base at every level of the stupa, while the stupas at Wat Klang Nam and Wat Pa Daeng only have them at the bottom.
Visiting Wat Klang Nam
Like many of Chiang Mai’s ruins, Wat Klang Nam has been slowly absorbed into the metropolitan area as it expands outward from Chiang Mai’s Old City. The temple ruins are located on a round island in the middle of a small lake. The nature of the lake is a bit uncertain, and if it were anywhere around my home city, I would suspect it as being a former quarry which has been filled in with water, in a similar manner to the nearby Chiang Mai Grand Canyon Waterpark. However, the fact that a centuries-old temple exists on a piece of land in the middle of it throws a wrench into this theory. It would seem highly unlikely that a massive quarry would be dug out around a temple ruin.
There are, however, built (or as of writing, being built) around the lakeshore a number of housing developments collectively known as Serene Lake. There is a gate to access this community, however, I never had any issue with being turned away when attempting to drive through on a motorcycle.
Upon arriving at Serene Lake, I was at the lake’s southern edge and directly to the north, dominated over by Chiang Mai’s signature mountain Doi Suthep, I could clearly see the island containing the ruined Wat Klang Nam.
Turning left, the road winds around the circumference of the lake until you finally come into view of the island to your right. A small pathway connects the island to the lakeshore (making it a peninsula?) and provides easy access to walk to the ruins.
Exploring the Ruins of Wat Klang Nam
The ruins of Wat Klang Nam are not expansive but encompass the standard layout of most small ancient temples found throughout Chiang Mai and the greater ancient Lanna Kingdom. The ruined base of a viharn (main assembly hall) and its accompanying boundary wall take up most of the island’s surface, and the whole structure was been visibly worn by weathering, with the surfaces warped and curved in a similar manner to the water damage seen at temples in Wiang Kum Kam.
Circling around the boundary wall, you end up at the east-facing entrance and can walk up the stair inside the ruins. The interior surface holds the bases where 6 wooden columns would have held up the rood. On the far end, opposite the stairs is the pedestal where the Buddha image would have resided, although that seems to have long since vanished.
In its stead, local worshippers have placed a small Buddha figure in the middle niche of the viharn-facing stupa. Here, they still make the commonly seen offerings of incense, food, flowers, and even red soda.
The remarkably intact stupa base is undoubtedly the most impressive part of the site, however. It’s unclear how extensive any restoration work was, if indeed any was done at all. It shows details unlike most stupas frond throughout Chiang Mai, and when taken with its scenery and intact surrounding temple, Wat Klang Nam is certainly worth the small trip out of the center city.
Serene Lake’s Other Ruins
There is also a second ruined temple located in the Serene Lake development, albeit much less impressive and more difficult to access. This ruined temple is only the exposed brick base of a former chedi/stupa and a few bricks of its boundary wall. This temple is surrounded and heavily overgrown with weeds and thick bushes. It is possible to reach by hiking through this dense overgrowth, however, it is more easily seen from the lakeside near the gate to the main road.
How to Get to Wat Klang Nam
GPS Coordinates: 18.7565343, 98.9515879
The ruins of Wat Klang Nam are accessible from Sompot Road, a major east-west divided highway running along the southern edge of the city nearing Hang Dong District. From Sompot Road, turn north into the Serene Lake gated community. Their policy regarding letting visitors in seems to be quite relaxed, but there is no way to know if this may change in the future.
Past the Serene Lake gate, you will immediately be facing the southern edge of the lake. From here, you can see the small island where Wat Klang Nam stands as well as the base of the second ruined temple much closer to the southern shore. Continuing a little over a kilometer down the main road, you’ll come to a spot on the lakeshore where you can park.
There is a small strip of land (isthmus?) connecting Wat Klang Nam to the lakeshore, allowing you to walk to the ruins. Nearest to the shore is the stupa and on the other side is the original entrance to the viharn, all of which is surrounded by the foundations of the temple’s originally boundary wall.
Thai word meaning “stupa”
City in northern Thailand and historic capital of the Lanna Kingdom founded by King Mengrai in 1293.
Mon-Burmese ethnic group based in modern Nakhon Pathom, Thailand. Responsible for the introduction of Buddhism (Theravada sect) to Thailand.
Dvaravati kingdom in northern Thailand centered in the modern town of Lamphun. Eventually conquered by the Lanna Kingdom.
Thai kingdom based in northern Thailand and northwestern Laos. Its capitals included Chiang Rai, Wiang Kum Kam, and Chiang Mai.
Final ruler of the Ngoenyang Kingdom (Chiang Saen) and founder of the Lanna Kingdom from 1291-1311 who established Wiang Kum Kam in 1286 and its successor Chiang Mai in 1293.
A 7-leveled pyramidal stupa from Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka. Its unique design appears to have influenced the architecture of several ancient Thailand kingdoms.
Buddhist monument used to enshrine sacred relics or memorialize important figures. Its dome, bell, or otherwise tower-like appearance is an architectural representation of Mount Meru, the cosmic mountain said to represent the structure of the universe in Hindu-Buddhist cosmology.
The main worship hall in a Buddhist temple.
Thai word meaning “temple”.
Iconic square-based stupa from the Hariphunchai Kingdom (modern Lamphun) which influenced many other similar stupas in Thailand. Also known as Wat Ku Kut.
Wat Pa Daeng
Temple in the west of Chiang Mai established by monks of the New Lankawong school of Buddhism.
Wat Suan Dok
“Flower Garden Temple”, a historic temple west of Chiang Mai built to by King Kue Na to house the Buddhist Relic from the Sri Lankan monk Sumanathera.
Wiang Kum Kam
The first city established by the Lanna Kingdom in the Chiang Mai valley. Abandoned after successive years of flooding to establish Chiang Mai.
- McDaniel, Justin. “Thai Buddhism.” Thai Digital Monastery, University of California (Riverside), 2008, https://tdm.ucr.edu/Thai_Buddhism.html.
- “Sinhalese Buddhism or Wat Pa Daeng (New Lankawong) from Lanka” display. Chiang Mai National Museum, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
- Violatti, Cristian. “Stupa.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 01 Sep 2014. Web. 24 Jan 2020. https://www.ancient.eu/stupa/.
- Williams, Benjamin. “Wiang Suan Dok: Ancient Chiang Mai’s Holy Outer City.” Paths Unwritten, 22 July 2019, https://pathsunwritten.com/suan-dok-chiang-mai/.