Thailand is a country full of temples – actually there are over 40,000 temples in Thailand, of which around 34,000 are in use.
All visitors to temples in Thailand must adhere to strict rules regarding dress. Both males and females must wear clothes that cover the shoulders, and trousers or skirts that come below the knees. Trousers and sarongs can be borrowed if visitors arrive at the temple in clothes deemed not appropriate. Shoes must not be worn within the temple and if sat on the floor, it is not permitted for your feet to point towards any image of Buddha; visitors must be sat cross legged or in a kneeling position with their feet tucked under them.
We visited Thailand in the summer of 2015 and while we saw nowhere near all 40,000 temples, we did see a lot! We have picked 9 of our favourite Thai temples from Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
1. Wat Phra Kaew – Temple of the Emerald Buddha
Considered the most sacred of all temples in Thailand, Wat Phra Kaew (officially known as Wat Phra Sri Rattana Satsadaram) is located in the centre of Bangkok, within the grounds of the city’s Grand Palace. The Emerald Buddha statue housed inside the temple is an important religious and political symbol and a protective image for the Thai people.
(Wat Phra Keaw and the Phra Sri Rattana Chedi from the entrance of the Grand Palace)
It gets incredibly busy inside the Grand Palace as it is one of Bangkok’s biggest attractions. It is full of tourists going to view the amazing architecture and locals going to pray at the many temples.
(Inside the Grand Palace with the Phra Sri Rattana Chedi to the left and Temple to the right)
(The ornate detail of the entrance to Wat Phra Kaew)
There are many other incredible sights around the temple, such as the statue of Kinnara – the half bird, half man of Buddhist and Hindu mythology, and the giant statues of Yaksha that guard the exit of the Grand Palace.
(Statue of Kinnara)
(The 6m tall Yaksha, guarding the exit of the Grand Palace)
2. Wat Pho – Temple of the Reclining Buddha
Directly south of Bangkok’s Grand Palace is Wat Pho (officially Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn) – the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. The temple houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, including the 46m long Reclining Buddha. Built in the 16th century, Wat Pho is one of Bangkok’s oldest temples and actually existed before Bangkok was established. The reclining Buddha statue represents the entry of Buddha into Nirvana.
(View of the Phra Maha Chedi Si Rajakarn’s 42m high stupas, next to Wat Pho)
(The head of the Reclining Buddha statue which is 15m high)
(View along the Reclining Buddha)
3. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Located 15km north west of the city of Chiang Mai and built on top of Doi Suthep Mountain is the temple complex of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Founded in 1383, the complex has expanded over time, but a road to the temple was only built in 1935. From the road, visitors can climb the 309 steps up to the temples, or there is a tram available. We climbed the steps, and it was quite the workout!
(309 steps to reach the temple of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep)
Whichever method visitors use to get to the top, they are greeted with maybe more gold than anyone has seen in one place. Because everything is gold, it gets incredibly hot in the temple as the sun reflects off everything.
(Pagoda of the Holy Relic)
(Golden statues fill the temple of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep)
4. Wat Phan Tao – Temple of a Thousand Kilns
Located in the old walled city centre, Wat Phan Tao is one of the oldest temples in the city, built towards the end of the 14th century. Constructed from teak panels, it is one of the few remaining all wooden structures in the city.
(The exterior of Wat Phan Tao at night)
(Sitting Buddha statue inside Wat Phan Tao)
5. Wat Rong Khun – The White Temple
Just to the south of the northern city of Chiang Rai, lies Wat Rong Khun, more commonly known as The White Temple. Wat Rong Khun isn’t a true Thai temple, but a privately owned art exhibition in the temple style. Owner, Chalermchai Kositpipat, designed and constructed the temple, spending over THB40 million (£866,000) of his own money in the process. The temple opened to the public in 1997, but construction work still continues – it is not expected to be finished until 2070. The White Temple forms the “Heaven” of Chiang Rai’s “Heaven and Hell”.
(Wat Rong Khun viewed from the adjacent main road)
(The temple and the Bridge Of The Cycle Of Rebirth, viewed from within the grounds)
(A pit of outstretched hands at the entrance of the bridge symbolising unrestrained desire)
(View of the temple from the bridge)
Photography is not allowed inside the main temple, but the interior decoration is a confusing amalgamation of traditional Thai art and contemporary images. Paintings of temples and dragons mix with images of Harry Potter characters, the Terminator and Hello Kitty!
6. Baan Dum – The Black House
To the north of Chiang Rai city is the “Hell” part of Chiang Rai’s “Heaven and Hell” – Baan Dum, or the Black House. Not a temple at all, but included in this list as it has many structures built in the style of temples. Baan Dum is the creation of Thai artist Thawan Duchanee and is a rather sinister looking collection of structures, all stained black and decorated with animal skins and skulls. The huge temple like structure in the centre of the complex, houses a long dining table covered in alligator skins and chairs made from deer antlers.
(View of the main “temple” of Baan Dum)
(Some of the interior decoration of Baan Dum)
(The black stained buildings of Baan Dum)
(One of the many demon statues guarding the buildings)
7. Wat Phra That Chedi Luang
The far northern Chiang Rai district of Chiang Saen borders the countries of Myanmar and Laos and is home to the ‘Golden Triangle’, which up until around 2007 was a major opium trafficking area. Although the drug trade is still active in the area, it has decreased considerably in recent years. Chiang Saen is also home to Wat Phra That Chedi Luang, the tallest religious Lanna monument in Chiang Rai at 88m tall. It is also the oldest; constructed in 1290.
(Wat Phra That with the 88m tall Chedi Luang in the background)
(Chedi Luang has stood for over 720 years and is currently being restored)
8. Wat Sriboonruang
Located on the Singhaklai Road in the north of the city is the lavishly decorated Wat Sriboonruang. Built in the mid 15th century it later became deserted and dilapidated, but has been restored to its current beautiful state.
(The exterior of Wat Sriboonruang)
(Entrance to Wat Sriboonruang showing a Naga (serpent) guarding the door)
9. Wat Klang Wiang
Located in Chiang Rai’s centre and just south of the River Kok, Wat Klang Wiang is one of Thailand’s most richly decorated temples. Dating back at least 500 years, many of the structures were damaged in the 1903 earthquake, but have since been ornately restored.
(The main viharn temple of Wat Klang Wiang)
(The white chedi of Wat Klang Wiang)
This is, of course, no definitive list of temples in Thailand, but just some of the favourites that we saw. We plan to visit Thailand again and this list may very well change as the country is literally full of stunningly, beautiful temples.
Have you been to Thailand? Let us know if you have any favourite temple.