The Tunnel Temple With a Unique Aura
Wat Umong is one of those special places that really draws out your sense of wonder and imagination. From meditation retreats to simply admiring its natural surroundings, this temple should not be overlooked.
A hill rises up from the forest with a bell-shaped chedi and brick tunnels. Paths weave around it as kutis are found along it; finally leading to a Buddhist museum.
One of the most captivating features of this temple complex is its network of tunnels. Lined with salvaged sculptures from other wats, but remarkably preserved despite their age and condition, these cool tunnels offer a quiet space perfect for contemplation and meditation.
Legend states that tunnels were constructed during the 16th century to keep a visionary monk from wandering aimlessly through the forest and becoming lost. Once, they were decorated with intricate murals of natural and supernatural scenes meant to stimulate his mind; unfortunately, however, over the centuries their paintings have faded and crumbled away.
Today’s tunnels are lined with crumbling stucco patches and exposed brick walls. While some original niches containing Buddha images remain in tact, visitors to Thailand will experience history like never before on a visit through these tunnels.
Wat Umong boasts not only tunnels but also various ancient shrines, statue ruins, stairs and an impressive big bell-shaped chedi worth visiting. Additionally, during rainy seasons moss grows abundantly over its temple structures creating a breathtaking scene which makes this site truly spectacular.
This temple stands out as one of Northern Thailand’s most exceptional religious destinations, providing visitors with a wonderful day trip outside of Bangkok. Combining nature, ancient architecture, and Buddhist practices make this an unforgettable visit.
Wat Umong tunnels are best explored early in the morning when temperatures are cooler and less crowded, when early sounds of nature, moss on walls and Buddha smiles can help relax and rejuvenate visitors. Donations are encouraged as a means of supporting Wat Umong as an active monastery – please remember this is not a museum! Donations to help maintain its many relics are welcome at any time and a donation box can be found near its entrance; Wat Umong complex can be found behind Suthep Road just 10 minutes by car from Nimman and 15 minutes from Old City.
Wat Umong’s main draw is its large Lanna-style stupa (chedi), perched upon an artificial mound. Its structural design symbolizes Buddha’s enlightenment. Atop this Lanna stupa is an image of an emaciated Gautama Buddha as a reminder of his time near death in Dungeshwari Caves before attaining enlightenment. Additionally, this area boasts level terraces – perfect for meditation or prayer!
The temple was first established by King Mangrai of Chiang Mai in 1297 and stands out as one of Chiang Mai’s most striking Buddhist structures. Situated near Doi Suthep, its serene grounds offer an interesting blend of nature and Buddhism; boasting an idyllic lake, abundant birdlife, small shrines and several small chedis for worshipers to make offerings and pray at. No major buildings other than its iconic chedi are present here; instead you’ll find several pavilions where worshipers can make offerings and pray at.
Wat Umong can be reached from the city center using songthaew, taxi or tuk tuk services; but for an easier experience we offer private tour options that include transport to and from Wat Umong as well as entrance fees.
Take a short stroll through the woods to reach this chedi, where you will be met by Buddha figures and statues in various styles crafted from recycled metal and scrap. While you might not find quite the same level of mystery at other Chiang Mai temples, you will still enjoy making merit at this special spot.
Visitors of the tunnels should make time to stop by the chedi, as its view offers stunning scenery from atop its mound. From its perch high up on top of a mound you will enjoy magnificent emerald green trees, tranquil sounds of jungle life in early morning, beautiful mossy walls and smile of Buddha himself will leave lasting memories of your experience at this incredible and mysterious temple.
Wat Umong’s beautiful gardens provide the ideal setting to unwind after exploring its tunnels, with several ponds with fish to feed and a canal where visitors can feed them themselves – it makes an excellent photo opportunity, and helps forget daily stresses away.
Visits to the garden offer visitors an ideal chance to learn more about Buddhism and meditation. Monks at the temple are welcoming and willing to answer any questions that you might have, while providing insights into their history as well as Buddhism itself.
The gardens offer an ideal place to unwind and experience some Thai culture, featuring benches where visitors can sit back, take in the breathtaking sights, or meditate. When feeling hungry there is also a small cafe near the pond where fish feeding takes place!
One of the most captivating attractions at Wat Umong is to view its historic meditation tunnels built by King Mangrai in 1297 AD to accommodate monks who found it hard to focus in noisy cities; these monks would venture through these passages while in semi-lucid states and could then be reached when needed for advice or counsel.
Today, the tunnels are used by a group of monks living nearby and serving at the monastery in the area. You are welcome to visit, but remember to show respect by taking off your shoes and not wearing clothing that reveals too much skin. Donations are welcome to help fund maintenance and electricity costs.
Wat Umong can be found to the west of Bangkok near Doi Suthep and is easily reached by private taxi, tuk tuk, songthaew or songthaew – however for an ideal experience book a private tour through your hotel as they will usually arrange it.
Wat Umong Temple Grounds feature several well-kept structures that blend in beautifully with their forest surroundings, with tunnels designed as places for monks to meditate alone in seclusion as its centerpiece. Beyond these tunnels are free roaming deer, ponds full of fish and turtles as well as trees adorned with thought-provoking proverbs adorning this unique wat.
Wat Umong’s history dates back over 700 years. Established by King Mangrai of Lanna Kingdom’s founding monarchy, monk Thera Chan found it difficult to meditate within city confines so sought refuge within one of Wat Umong’s tunnels for peace of mind and meditation. According to legend, Wat Umong was designed specifically to accommodate his needs as well as that of monks wanting a place to do their daily practice peacefully in seclusion. King Mangrai then ordered its construction so more monks could do their practices alone without distraction from city noise. King Mangrai ordered their construction so monks could meditate with ease in seclusion.
Wat Umong has long been a sought-after retreat for people seeking respite from modern life’s hectic pace, offering various half-day tours from Chiang Mai that include meditation wellness practices at its temple.
Wat Umong can be reached easily from both Chiang Mai’s city center and airport by driving or biking for about 15 minutes, although the best time for visiting would be early morning so as to avoid crowds and dress modestly when visiting this temple. Please also be mindful when dressing for visits like these – being respectful is key!
If you suffer from claustrophobia, Wat Umong might not be for you as its tunnels can cause anxiety. Otherwise, this temple should definitely make your list of places to see in Thailand.
Visitors can not only explore ancient tunnels but can also take part in Dhamma talks (monk chats) held every Sunday from 3 to 6 pm at the Chinese pavilion near the pond. These discussions usually take place in English and provide travelers with an excellent chance to ask any questions and learn more about Buddhism.