It’s pretty well known that Thais have firm beliefs despite not having an official religion in the country. Around 95% of the population follows the Theravada religion, the oldest form of Buddhism and the more conservative of the two main divisions. Mahayana Buddhism is another split more known in the west.
As Thais became religious on their own will and not because of the law, it is clear why there are so many temples in the country and why people are willing to attend to them, preserve them and even build more. This temple tradition has become one of the staples of Thailand and a reason for many people to visit Bangkok every year. What is even more interesting is that each temple has its uniqueness and can offer something whether you are just curious, you want to experience religion or if you’re simply following your own samsara (life) path.
But temples in Bangkok also have something to offer to not so religious people. They are also architectural wonders, works as museums or at least told the story of the country in many ways: Through painting, murals, Buddha statues and even restorations. The temples are silent witnesses of old dynasties, ancient towns, old and new people, wars and now, novel forms of society.
So, temple visits are a must after landing in Bangkok and we aimed to show what we considered the very best of them all, either for architectural reasons, religious reasons, or just because of the aforementioned uniqueness.
1. Wat Arun
In the basin of the Chao Phraya River, you will find “The Temple of Dawn” or Wat Arun. Arguably one of the most famous of this bunch and one of the most photographed temples in the world, it’s also a well-known landmark in Bangkok. It has a long story of changing names, restorations, and disputes. Besides its incredible architecture, one of its coolest features comes from climbing the very narrow and vertical stairs to the top of the temple. An adventure not suitable for those who are afraid of heights.
2. Wat Pho (Reclining Buddha)
World-famously known as the reclining Buddha Temple, you can’t go to Thailand and not visit it. And of course, everyone comes here to see the amazing reclining Buddha covered in gold, but there is more here to see and experience. For Thailand’s government, this is the first in the list of royal class temples. Today is considered an educational center, and UNESCO recognized the marble illustrations and inscriptions around the temple as part of its Memory of the World Programme which acknowledges the importance of these as a heritage for humanity.
3. Wat Phra Kaew (The Emerald Temple)
Perhaps, together with the temple of the reclining Buddha, this is one of the most famous temples in all Thailand, but let that not fool you: The Emerald temple is also considered the most sacred place in all of Thailand, so it’s not exactly a touristic landmark only. Located in the vicinity of the also interesting Grand Palace which houses the equally famous Emerald Buddha, this is considered the most sacred image of Buddha in the country. It’s a must-visit place to see, pay your respects for having survived and grown with all the dynasties in Thailand since its construction in 1783.
4. Wat Saket
As one of the brightest points of the Bangkok skyline, Wat Saket is one modern-looking temple compared to other buildings on this list. It’s named this way because after returning from war and prior to entering the city King Rama I (1737–1809) stopped here to take a bath and wash his hair. Wat Saket roughly translates “wash hair”. It’s one of the oldest temples in Bangkok, without many visitors, which makes it perfect for photos.
5. Wat Suthat
There are only 10 Royal temples in Bangkok and Wat Suthat it’s perhaps one the most beautiful and impressive on the list. Everything in the temple, from the ground to decorations, feels exquisite, and another unique feature is its hand-carved teakwood door panels. The visit is super easy because it is near the Grand Palace and the temple of Emerald Buddha, so it’s practically on your way.
6. Wat Traimit
For sure Wat Traimit will be one highlight of any trip to Bangkok. Mostly known for its seated Buddha that measures 5m (16ft) in height and weighing 6 tonnes (6.6 tons), it also has a museum with interesting facts of what the temple has lived and all about the aforementioned Buddha figure. As incredible as it sounds, this figure wasn’t discovered being made in gold until 1955 when restorers accidentally removed a plaster facade that was covering it. Since then, the temple is perhaps one of the most famous and visited in Bangkok.
7. Wat Ratchanatdaram (Loha Prasat)
Definitely one of the architectural wonders of Bangkok and perhaps all of Thailand, this “Iron Monastery” has five towers with three of them reaching higher with iron spires. The main domain contains 37 gold spires which represent the 37 seven virtues necessary for enlightenment, and this is only one of its many significant details and beauty. Incredibly they modeled this Thai wonder after other similar structures’ existent in India and Sri Lanka, that are currently destroyed. Today it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005.
8. Wat Prayoon
Perhaps one of the lesser known temples on the list, but it shouldn’t be. What makes this temple unique is the combination of nature with traditional temple halls and structures. This mixture gives the place a mystical air and at the same time a sense of peace. This temple is also interesting to see a lot of Buddha relics.
9. Wat Benjamabophit
One favorite for photos, there is nothing like seeing the sunset from this temple’s main hall. Known as “The Marble Temple” as well because of its external walls, this is the temple that you can see in the 5 baht coin, is highly revered and quintessential classic Thai architecture. It has been a feature in multiple movies, series, photos, and even in reality shows like “The Amazing Race”. Don’t doubt for a second about a visit to this temple and wait for the sunset.