Wat Umong – Chiang Mai, Thailand - Atlas Obscura

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Wat Umong

Buddha shrines hide within dark tunnels at this unique forest temple. 

In a city full of wats (Buddhist temples), Wat Umong is the most unique and least-visited in Chiang Mai. Tucked away on the western edge of town in the forested mountain foothills, this wat contains a network of centuries-old tunnels still used by Buddhist monks.

Local lore states that the wat was founded in the 13th century by King Mengrai. The king regularly met with a monk in Chiang Mai, who preferred to meditate inside of a tunnel. As the city grew and the monk found it harder to find quiet refuge in his subterranean sanctuary, King Mengrai ordered a system of tunnels be built on the forested edge of town.

Soon, this network of tunnels had sprouted into a fully functioning temple. Wat Umong remained active until the 15th century, when it was mysteriously abandoned. Thankfully, the temple didn’t succumb to the forest it lies within. It reopened to both practicing monks and curious visitors in 1948.

Today the wat is an active center, used by monks and locals. The tunnel system once again contains various shrines. There’s also a large, somewhat rare statue of the fasting Buddha sitting atop one of the tunnels and hiding among the trees. The forest is dotted with Buddhist sayings nailed to trees and old, decaying statues of the Buddha are scattered about the grounds. Visitors to Wat Umong will also find a pretty lake, a spiritual center, a small museum, and lots of chickens roaming around.

Know Before You Go

The wat is a few miles outside of the old town. You can use a taxi, songathew, tuk tuk, or bicycle to get there. If you pay someone to drive you there, arrange for them to wait while you explore the grounds, as this is not a popular tourist spot and return transportation will not be easy to find.

Please dress conservatively and act respectfully, in accordance with local customs, as this is an active wat.