In a country where 95% of the population follows Buddhism, it is not surprising that there are thousands of temples spread across Thailand. There are more than 40 thousand of them and more than 400 temples in Bangkok. Therefore, it is natural not to know which temples to visit. In this post I bring you the 10 best temples in Bangkok that you need to put in your itinerary.
In a universe of more than 400 temples in Bangkok, it’s natural to have some doubt about which temples to visit. In fact, walking around the city we observed a profusion of them. And new temples are built every day.
The reason is that in Thailand, temples develop roles that go beyond the religious sites. Temples work like Buddhist schools, cultural centers, museums and support for the poorest populations.
Tips for visiting a Buddhist temple
As temples are religious places, there are some rules of behavior to not disrespect local habits. These are simple rules and very important to be followed.
- In most temples men can wear knee-length shorts. However, at the Grand Palace (where Wat Phra Kaew is located), visitors can only enter with their legs fully covered. It will be common for you to find street vendors selling Thai trousers at the door of the temples for 200 Bahts, but at Khao San Road they cost 100 Bahts.
- Women should cover their shoulders and knees before entering the temples. As I said above, at the Grand Palace women must also cover their legs.
- Always remove your shoes before entering the temples and this rule applies to residences as well.
- Never sit on the floor pointing your feet at Buddha images, this is one of the biggest signs of disrespect.
- Never touch a Monk and some Buddha images should not be touched either.
- Many temples prohibit their interior from being photographed.
Bangkok’s 10 best temples
- Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew – Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
- Wat Pho – Temple of the lying Buddha
- Wat Arun – Temple of Dawn
- Wat Saket – Golden Mount
- Wat Ratchanatdaram
- Wat Traimit – Temple of the Golden Buddha
- Wat Benchamabophit – Marble Temple
- Wat Suthat
- Wat Mahathat
- Wat Phra Dhammakaya
Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew
The Grand Palace is not necessarily a temple, but a huge palace that has several temples in its complex such as Phra Ubosot, Phra Wiharn Yod, Phra Siratana Chedi and of course, the most famous of them, Wat Phra Kaew. This is where the Emerald Buddha is located, which is considered the most sacred in Thailand.
However, a story that no one tells is that this Emerald Buddha was looted in Laos and brought to Thailand. After World War II, the idea was for Thailand to return the Emerald Buddha as a gesture of “friendship”, but the Thai government sent a replica to Laos.
The Grand Palace was built in the 18th century to be the residence of the Thai Royal Family, however the palace no longer serves as the home of the monarchy. But it is the place where great events and important ceremonies take place.
Today the Grand Palace is Bangkok’s main tourist attraction. Always full and very hot, it is a must visit for those going to Bangkok for the first time.
Definitely Wat Pho is one of my favorite temples in Bangkok. Near to the Grand Palace, but much more empty, is a place where we can get some moments of peace in the most touristic region of Bangkok.
Wat Pho is the oldest temple in the city and started to be built in the 16th century when the capital of Thailand moved from Ayutthaya to Bangkok. There are several terrace full of pagodas, statues, smaller temples and corners where you can have some peace.
But what made Wat Pho famous is the large statue of the Buddha lying 46 meters long by 15 meters high, all covered with gold leaves. And if you want to know why there are so many images of the lying Buddha, it represents the moment of enlightenment of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, before death at the age of 80.
Known as the Temple of Dawn, Wat Arun is opposite Wat Pho, on the other side of the Chao Phraya River.
The temple was built in 1768 by King Taksin when the capital of Thailand – then Kingdom of Siam – was transferred from Ayutthaya, which had been destroyed by the Burmese army, now Myanmar.
The story begins when King Taksin saw a dawn there and was enchanted by the look, so it is known as the “temple of dawn”. The temple has a central chedi 80 meters high and is all covered with shells and small pieces of colored porcelain, all richly adorned. In addition to many religious figures and warriors defending and supporting their base.
Around this main chedi there are another four, 60 meters high and all are connected by stairs and patios. Wat Arun is what we call an outdoor temple.
Wat Saket – Golden Mount
Wat Saket is better known as Golden Mount. It is not one of the most visited temples in Bangkok, but it is unique. This is because the temple is at the top of a hill of 80 meters, from where we have an excellent view of Bangkok. The hill is actually artificial, since Bangkok is a flat city with no hills.
But the story is very nice. During the reign of King Rama III, between 1787 and 1851, the king wanted to build the largest stupa in Thailand. Which are those huge tower-like structures that ancient Buddhist temples have.
During construction, the structure collapsed due to the marshy soil of Bangkok. And after the collapse, the structure remained there, unfinished and abandoned. The bush took over and it really looked like a hill.
In the following reigns the place was occupied again, they built a temple on the top, with a golden stupa to keep relics of Buddha coming from Sri Lanka and the spiral staircases that surround the temple.
Another amazing temple, Wat Ratchanatdaram is located almost at the base of the Golden Mount. Despite everything looking brand new, this temple was built in 1846 and its structure is impressive.
There are 37 towers up to 36 meters high, each representing the 37 virtues to find enlightenment. As I usually say, everything in a Buddhist temple has a meaning, nothing is random. We pay nothing to visit Wat Ratchanatdaram, but it is recommended to leave a small donation.
Wat Traimit – Temple of the Golden Buddha
Wat Traimit is best known as the Golden Buddha Temple. The temple itself is not very big, but what impresses is the gold statue of more than 5 tons. It is definitely the most beautiful Buddha image I have ever seen and certainly one of the most impressive things you will see in Bangkok.
There are two very interesting stories about this Buddha, the first one says that this image was built in 1200 in Ayutthaya, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Siam and today Thailand. During the attack by the Burmese army in 1767 the monks decided to cover the statue with layers and layers of mud, hiding the real value and preventing it from being plundered.
The other legend says that it was a gift from an Indian Maharajah to the Kingdom of Siam, so the image would have come from India and this explains the daily pilgrimage of Indians visiting the Golden Buddha.
I know this name is almost impossible to pronounce, but no one in Bangkok knows it by that name, but as Marble Temple.
The Marble Temple was one of the ones I most wanted to visit in Bangkok, as his photo was on the cover of one of the Lonely Planet guides. After I moved to Bangkok I always visited this temple.
The temple was built in 1899 during the reign of Rama V, one of the monarchs who built the most beautiful Thai temples. The temple was designed by a group of Italian architects, who added elements more common in the West, such as stained glass, to the project, making a perfect combination with the classical architecture used in Buddhist temples.
The temple was built with Carrara Marble and there were tons and tons of marble blocks that came from Tuscany in Italy.
Wat Suthat is famous for the red Giant Swing at its entrance. A kind of portal that reminds a lot of Japanese Tories. The Giant Swing was built in 1874 to be used in special ceremonies that took place there and at Wat Suthat.
Wat Suthat is even older, it was built by King Rama I in 1782 to receive the Bronze Buddha that was in Sukhothai – the first capital of the Kingdom of Siam and the birthplace of Thai civilization.
The temple is one of the most important in Bangkok and well known among Thais. You will certainly find few tourists visiting the place, which makes the experience even better.
Wat Mahathat is close to the Grand Palace, is one of the most important temples in Thailand, as it also works as an important Buddhist school.
But what I think is coolest about Wat Mahathat are the meditation classes that are offered. Classes take place daily from 7 am to 10 am, from 1 pm to 4 pm and from 6 pm to 8 pm with English speaking monks.
It is certainly one of the most enriching experiences you can have in Bangkok. I went a few times, I confess that I just didn’t go anymore because of the distance from where I lived. But at least once a month I went to Wat Mahathat.
Wat Phra Dhammakaya
Certainly Wat Phra Dhammakaya is the most unusual temple you will see in Thailand and also the most extravagant. And because of all this exaggerated opulence, Wat Phra Dhammakaya is often criticized for lines of Buddhism that appreciate simplicity.
Wat Phra Dhammakaya does not appear in any travel guide, I saw it for the first time from the airplane window and went to research about it. Controversial or not, Wat Phra Dhammakaya was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen in Bangkok. It looks like a huge golden spaceship that landed in the middle of the rice fields north of Bangkok.
Getting there is not easy, the best way is by car and arrange with the driver to wait for you, as the place is well away.