Wat Sadoe Muang, the Temple of the City Navel

Wat Sadoe Muang, the Temple of the City Navel

There are a lot of temples in Chiang Mai vying for the attention of visitors. Wat Sadoe Muang isn’t one of them. Tourists are directed to The Three Kings monument, just across the street though. And the Chiang Mai City Arts and Culture Centre gets some press too; it is on its grounds that the remains of Wat Sadoe Muang can be found. Kinda, sorta. There is a sign for the Centre, there is none for the wat. And it’s on the other side of a narrow street anyway.

I finally had to resort to asking a monk for the temple’s name, which he informed me was Wat Inthakhin. Back at my hotel, Google made the necessary connections for me. But even that information was well-hidden; the world’s most popular search engine has little interest in the wat either and suggests your search for Wat Sadoe Muang was in error, that you instead were looking for info on Wat Don Muang.

Wat Sadoe Muang

Wat Sadoe Muang’s wiharn at night.

The English translation for Wat Sadoe Muang is the Temple of the City Navel. The ancient wat these days gets treated more like discarded afterbirth. But it once was a site of great spiritual and ritual significance. Though the exact date is unrecorded, it was here in the late 1200s that King Mengrai had Chiang Mai’s city pillar erected (hence the Wat Inthakhin moniker). The city pillar was relocated to Wat Chedi Luang in the early 1800s, a much more popular temple for visitors these days.

My first visit to the wat was an afterthought. A friend and I had been walking the streets of the Sunday Night Market and decided to head down Prapoklao Road to see the Three Kings Monument. Afterwards, we crossed narrow Inthakhin Road to catch the beginning of the market stalls along the side street. The dimly lit interior of an old wat caught my eye and we spent a few minutes checking it out. Inside, my friend made proper reverence to the Buddha statue while I snapped a few quick photos and noted that the Buddha had to be the ugliest one I’d ever seen. It wasn’t until a return trip to Chiang Mai a few years later that I revisited the wat and discovered its history.

Wat Sadoe Muang merit

Merit making bodhi leaf offerings at Wat Sadoe Muang.

The wat’s wood wiharn sits roadside, literally. There is but a small curb separating it from the asphalt. The chapel is not part of the original wat, it is a new structure built to house the wat’s Buddha. Behind it are two small brick chedi, one in an octagonal shape and the other round. Both are unimposing. This is all that remains of the wat built where King Mengrai, the first King of Lanna Kingdom, decided to build his city, Nopburee Sri Nakorn Ping Chiang Mai.

Perhaps to make up for moving Chiang Mai’s City Pillar to a new home, King Kawila, when he governed the town, had a large Buddha image, known as Luang Pho Khao, erected within the temple in 1794. This statue is probably the most compelling reason to visit the wat these days. It is a rather unique painted Buddha and the accompanying smaller images include the one I awarded the Ugliest Buddha in Thailand title to. Personally, between visiting Wat Sadoe Muang and the Three Kings Monument, the significance of which would not be realized by most tourists, I’d head over to the wat instead. Or better yet, take two minutes out of your busy day and visit them both.

Wat Sadoe Muang Buddhas

Wat Sadoe Muang’s Luang Pho Khao ( and the world’s ugliest Buddha).

While my second visit to the wat was during the day, and the gleaming gold finials on the temple evidenced much better upkeep than my previous nighttime visit had indicated, it is still but a small wat and offers little to entice with the exception of the old Buddhas. I would have headed off in search of a more impressive temple but caught a flash of saffron out of the corner of my eye. In a far more prominent location than the wat, the monks’ residence opens across a paved courtyard and at least one monk seemed to be at home. Wanting to find out the name of the wat, and possibly grab a Monk Shot! while I was at it I rushed over only to have missed the monk. Instead I found a pug dog lazing away the afternoon in the shade. Cute dog shots are almost as good as pictures of Buddhist monks.

Most dogs you run across in Thailand are soi dogs. Always listless, often missing legs, and almost always exhibiting signs of disease like mange, soi dogs do not encourage you to run over and smother one with kisses. Rather than provide a home to the abandoned dogs of the country, Wat Sadoe Muang’s monks have gone the purebred route. Within minutes the young monk reappeared and brought a pack of puppies with him.

pug ugly

Cute pug, but then I just realized he has a similar look to the world’s ugliest Buddha.

The novice monk’s duties at the temple included bathing the wat’s dogs and he set to giving a Basset Hound it’s bath while trying to speak English to me. The English part was a failure, but dog lovers of the world share a common language and through gesture and lots of nodding back and forth we spent a good half hour chatting. My question of, “What is the name of this wat?” finally got answered when I got rid of the useless words, and though his reply was garbled, I caught the ‘In’ followed by a ‘th’ sound that, along with its location by the Three Kings monument provided enough info for Google to do its job.

And Google does a better job of providing references to Wat Inthakhin than it does to Wat Sadoe Muang, though the former is more of a descriptive name (Inthakhin is a Pali word combination used to denote the city pillar). That search will also result in tons of sites about the annual Inthakhin festival, which is held at Wat Chedi Luang, the current home of Chiang Mai’s City Pillar. That most towns in Thailand have a city pillar (Bangkok’s is across the street from the Grand Palace, and in 1992, the Ministry of Interior ordered that every province should have such a shrine) just adds to the confusion so I’ve opted to use the Wat Sadoe Muang designation here.

Wat Sadoe Muang monk

Puppy love

Wat Sadoe Muang is not a must see for visitors to Chiang Mai, but if you are in the area it’s well worth dropping by for a few minutes. And if you’re lucky, you might get to play with the wat’s dogs, too.

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