Searching for temple ruins in Wiang Kum Kam

Hunting for remnants of centuries old wats in the city of Wian Kum Kam

If you fancy yourself as an urban explorer, modern day Indiana Jones and you’re into “ancient ruins” you should check out Wiang Kum Kam if you’re ever in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I stumbled across this area quite by accident. I had just gotten back to my room after my afternoon dental appointment and needed to get my mind off the nagging discomfort. I had pretty much walked everywhere around the hotel and it was time I ventured further. A quick Google search of temple ruins (or something along those lines led me to Wiang Kum Kam.

With only the knowledge (from Google) that Wang Kum Kam was the previous capital of the Lanna Kingdom before being abandoned and moved to present day Chiang Mai due to adverse river conditions and war.  Then in the 1990’s ruins of temples were being discovered in the jungles and excavated from under mud deposits. So I booked a Grab taxi for $150 TBH and off I went to the Wat Chang Kam, I thought this was the only one of note that was excavated and preserved.

The taxi driver arrived at Wat Kan Thom, I got so excited because I saw ruins as well as newer structures so this must be the place, right? Well, kind of but at first glance the name is different.  The driver stopped the car and asked me to wait, he came back after speaking to someone and told me the Visitor’s Center was about 5 minutes away, sounds like an important place to go even though I really wanted to stay. The parking lot of the Visitor’s center was pretty big and there were plenty of horse carriages and really long, golf cart looking tour vehicles. Inside the Visitor’s office (this is the only structure you can walk into) I was met with surprise (I was the only non local person there). I was quickly given a map and ushered into a room where I watched a 5 minute video on the history of Chiang Mai / Wiang Kum Kam. The video was pretty interesting, a bit too short for a history “lesson” I thought. Anyways, when the video was done, I was ushered back outside and asked which mode of tour transport I preferred and I told them I preferred to walk. The look on their faces should have tipped me off there was an issue but since there was a language barrier, I just thanked them and left.

Statue of King Mangrai founder of Wiang Kum Kam and subsequently Chiang Mai

Free map of Wiang Kum Kam from the Visitor’s Center

In hindsight I should have taken one of the tour vehicles I can’t remember the cost but it wasn’t much. I just really preferred not to be rushed when looking at stuff. Do yourself a favor and take the ride. By walking, you will not be able to see everything, not by a long shot. I walked 3 hours (including photography time but excluding travel time to get to the first wat) and only found 3 wats/ruins each day (I actually didn’t know I was in Wiang Kum Kam twice until I was looking for photos for this post). I had Googled for old/ancient wats in Chiang Mai after my dental visits and took a Grab taxi to the nearest one that I hadn’t been to yet (as usual, I’m just winging it, haha).  Anyways, there are 29 dots on the map that I got from the visitors center! So even by cycling I don’t think you can get to all of them, they are quite far apart even though it doesn’t seem that way by looking at the map. Although I’m not the greatest map reader, I’m pretty sure I’m not that bad either but for some reason somethings just weren’t adding up. I found “extra” roads, couldn’t find some roads etc. Also, some wats have more than one name and the name on the map might not be the same as whats on Google maps so I couldn’t really use that either and thus making my adventure all the more fun. If uncertainty isn’t enough to make things interesting, how about a bit of danger? You’re walking around in a neighborhood you’ll find no sidewalks most of the time, forested/jungle areas, farms with horses, chickens and dogs. There are lots of dogs! Some friendly, some not so much. Some fenced in and some aren’t. On more than one occasion while walking I had to fend of some not so nice dogs with my 1/2 extended tripod. Those buggers followed me about a block before coming in closer for the bite. I’m relatively sure I would have gotten bitten if I didn’t swing my tripod at them (I didn’t hit the dogs but could have, they were that close). On other occasions while setting up my tripod for a selfie at one of the ruins, there were a couple dogs right next to my leg and I didn’t know until I stood up, ready to get into my shot. Even though some of the ruins weren’t much to look at (if you’re just looking) but for me, being there, seeing it and imagining what it was like, was pretty cool. Plus there are info signs for you to read at the site and some even have a QR code you can scan for more info.

If you’re not into wat’s and religious/cultural history then this excursion probably won’t be for you. But for me, I had a lot of fun. If I ever get back to Chiang Mai, I’ll definitely go back and take the tour ride and then find a way (most likely Grab taxi) to get to any wat/ruin I find more interesting.

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