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The 10 Best Temples In Thailand To Visit

There are so many great temples in Thailand that you may get confused about which ones to visit, so this is a list of some of the best ones you should go to. I’m writing this as someone who has been visiting Thailand for 25 years now and I have spent several years living here.

It is a country steeped in history and culture and is home to an astonishing array of temples that reflect its deep spiritual heritage and architectural grandeur. These sacred sites, known locally as “wats,” are not only places of worship but also vibrant centres of community life and artistic expression.


Temples In Thailand

From the bustling heart of Bangkok to the serene mountains of the north, each temple offers a unique glimpse into the country’s Buddhist traditions and aesthetic achievements.

Whether it’s the glittering spires of Wat Phra Kaew, the serene elegance of Wat Arun, or the contemporary marvel of Wat Rong Khun, Thailand’s temples captivate you with their intricate designs, rich histories, and the profound sense of peace they evoke. Exploring these temples is a journey into the soul of Thailand, offering insights into its past, present, and enduring spiritual practices.


Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) – Bangkok

Wat Phra Kaew, also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is one of Thailand’s most revered and iconic temples. Located within the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, this temple is considered the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand. The centrepiece of Wat Phra Kaew is the Emerald Buddha, a highly venerated statue carved from a single block of jade, which sits atop a golden pedestal in the ordination hall (Ubosot).

The temple complex itself is a masterpiece of Thai architecture and artistry. It features intricate murals depicting the Ramakien (the Thai version of the Indian epic Ramayana), beautifully adorned buildings with golden spires, and exquisitely detailed mosaics. The Emerald Buddha believed to date back to the 15th century, is clothed in seasonal robes, which are changed three times a year by the King of Thailand in a solemn ceremony that marks the changing of the seasons.

Visitors to Wat Phra Kaew are often struck by the temple’s ornate beauty and the deep sense of spirituality that pervades the site. The temple is not only a major tourist attraction but also a living religious site where Buddhists come to pray and pay their respects. With its combination of historical significance, architectural splendour, and spiritual importance, Wat Phra Kaew is truly a gem in the heart of Bangkok.


Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) – Bangkok

Wat Pho, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is one of Bangkok’s oldest and largest temples, renowned for its impressive statue of the reclining Buddha. Located just south of the Grand Palace, Wat Pho is a major landmark and an essential destination for visitors to the Thai capital.

The temple is most famous for the massive reclining Buddha statue, which measures 46 meters in length and 15 meters in height. The statue is covered in gold leaf and depicts the Buddha entering Nirvana, symbolizing the end of the cycle of rebirth. The soles of the Buddha’s feet are intricately decorated with mother-of-pearl inlays, featuring 108 auspicious symbols of Buddhism.

Wat Pho is also an important centre for traditional Thai massage and medicine. It is home to the country’s first public university and is regarded as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage, which is still taught and practised at the temple today. The temple complex houses numerous halls, pavilions, and stupas adorned with intricate murals, statues, and decorations.

In addition to the reclining Buddha, Wat Pho boasts a large collection of Buddha images, including a striking gallery of over 1,000 Buddha statues collected from various regions of Thailand. The temple grounds are beautifully landscaped with gardens, Chinese statues, and ancient chedis (stupas), creating a peaceful and reflective atmosphere.


Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) – Bangkok

Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn, is one of Bangkok’s most iconic and picturesque landmarks. Situated on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, this stunning temple is renowned for its magnificent spires and its striking riverside location, which offers breathtaking views, especially at dawn and dusk.

The temple’s central feature is its towering prang (Khmer-style spire), which rises to about 79 meters (260 feet) and is intricately adorned with colourful porcelain and seashells. These decorative elements create a dazzling mosaic that catches the light beautifully, giving the temple its unique and captivating appearance. The central prang is surrounded by four smaller prangs, each richly decorated and equally detailed.

Wat Arun is dedicated to Aruna, the Indian god of dawn, and its design reflects the harmonious blend of Buddhist and Hindu architectural influences. The temple dates back to the Ayutthaya period but was significantly renovated and expanded during the reign of King Rama II in the early 19th century.

Visitors to Wat Arun can climb the steep steps of the central prang for a panoramic view of the Chao Phraya River and the surrounding cityscape. The climb is steep but rewarding, offering a unique vantage point to appreciate the beauty of Bangkok. The temple grounds also feature beautifully landscaped gardens, pavilions, and various statues, adding to the serene and contemplative atmosphere.


Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – Chiang Mai

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, perched on Doi Suthep mountain overlooking Chiang Mai is one of my favourite temples in Thailand and is one of northern Thailand’s most revered and visited temples. This sacred site is not only a spiritual symbol but also a cultural and historical treasure, drawing visitors with its stunning architecture, rich history, and panoramic views of the surrounding region.

The temple was founded in 1383 during the Lanna Kingdom, and it has since become an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists. According to legend, the temple’s location was chosen by a white elephant carrying a sacred relic. The elephant climbed Doi Suthep, trumpeted three times, and then died, signifying the chosen spot for the temple.

The temple complex features a golden chedi (stupa) that is said to enshrine a relic of the Buddha, which is the focal point for pilgrims. The chedi is beautifully decorated and shimmers in the sunlight, making it visible from much of Chiang Mai below. Surrounding the chedi are intricately designed shrines, statues, and pavilions, all adorned with traditional Lanna-style decorations.

To reach the temple, visitors can climb the 306-step staircase, flanked by ornate naga (serpent) railings, which adds to the sense of pilgrimage and anticipation. For those unable or unwilling to climb, there is a funicular tram available.

In addition to its spiritual significance, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep offers breathtaking views of Chiang Mai and the surrounding countryside. On a clear day, the panoramic vistas are spectacular, making the journey up the mountain even more rewarding.


Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) – Chiang Rai

Wat Rong Khun, commonly known as the White Temple, is a contemporary, unconventional, and strikingly beautiful Buddhist temple located in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand. Designed by the renowned Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, Wat Rong Khun stands out for its all-white colour scheme and intricate, fantastical design elements, making it a unique blend of traditional Buddhist themes and modern, surrealist art.

The temple’s construction began in 1997 and is still ongoing, with the artist dedicating his life to the project. Wat Rong Khun is privately funded, allowing Kositpipat full creative freedom to design a temple that serves as both a place of worship and an art exhibit.

The white colour of the temple symbolizes the purity of the Buddha, while the use of mirrored glass mosaics embedded in the structure represents the Buddha’s wisdom and the ability to reflect enlightenment. Visitors approaching the temple cross a bridge over a small lake, which symbolizes the transition from the cycle of rebirth to the land of the Buddha. The bridge is guarded by sculptures of outstretched hands, representing desire and human suffering.

Inside the main building (Ubosot), the murals are a blend of traditional Buddhist iconography and contemporary themes, including depictions of modern-day heroes, villains, and even characters from popular culture, illustrating the battle between good and evil. This unique artistic approach is intended to teach moral lessons and reflect modern society.


Wat Benchamabophit (Marble Temple) – Bangkok

Wat Benchamabophit, also known as the Marble Temple, is one of Bangkok’s most beautiful and iconic temples. Located in the Dusit district, this temple is a fine example of Thai architecture with a distinct European influence, reflecting a blend of traditional and modern design elements. The temple is officially known as Wat Benchamabophit Dusitvanaram.

Commissioned by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) at the turn of the 20th century, Wat Benchamabophit is constructed from Italian Carrara marble, which gives the temple its nickname, the Marble Temple. The marble gleams in the sunlight, creating a serene and majestic atmosphere. The temple was designed by Prince Narisara Nuwattiwong, a half-brother of King Chulalongkorn, who was also a renowned architect and artist.

The temple’s ordination hall (ubosot) is particularly striking, featuring a multi-tiered roof adorned with intricate golden decorations and a gable with an impressive Buddhist icon. Inside, the hall houses a magnificent Sukhothai-style Buddha statue, Phra Buddhajinaraja, which is a replica of the revered Phra Buddha Chinnarat statue in Phitsanulok. This Buddha image is surrounded by the ashes of King Chulalongkorn, making the temple not only a place of worship but also a significant historical site.


Wat Phra Si Sanphet – Ayutthaya

Wat Phra Si Sanphet, located in the ancient city of Ayutthaya, is one of Thailand’s most historically significant and visually impressive temples. As part of the Ayutthaya Historical Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, this temple offers a glimpse into the grandeur of the former Siamese capital, which flourished from the 14th to the 18th centuries.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet was established in the late 14th century by King Ramathibodi I and later expanded by subsequent rulers. It served as the royal chapel within the grounds of the royal palace, akin to the modern Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. Unlike other temples, it was exclusively used by the royal family and did not house monks.

The temple is renowned for its three large stupas (chedis), which were constructed in the 15th century to enshrine the ashes of King Borommatrailokanat and his two sons, King Borommarachathirat III and King Ramathibodi II. These chedis are iconic and often symbolise the architectural style of Ayutthaya. They are bell-shaped, adorned with lotus-bud tops, and stand majestically in a row, creating a striking and memorable silhouette.


Wat Mahathat – Sukhothai

Wat Mahathat, located in Sukhothai Historical Park, is one of the most significant and visually captivating temples in the country and is another of my personal favourite temples in Thailand. This ancient site, nestled in the heart of the former capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom, serves as a testament to the architectural and artistic achievements of the period, which spanned from the 13th to the 15th centuries.

Constructed during the reign of King Sri Indraditya in the 13th century, Wat Mahathat was the spiritual centre of the Sukhothai Kingdom. The temple’s name, meaning “temple of the great relic,” indicates its importance as a major religious site. It was the largest and most important temple in the kingdom, reflecting the grandeur and piety of the era.

The temple complex is dominated by its impressive main stupa (chedi), which is surrounded by smaller stupas and a series of beautiful Buddha statues. The main stupa, built in the classic Sukhothai style, is lotus-bud shaped and believed to enshrine relics of the Buddha. This iconic design has become synonymous with the Sukhothai architectural style, characterized by its elegance and simplicity.

One of the most remarkable features of Wat Mahathat is the grand assembly hall (viharn), which houses a large seated Buddha image, flanked by two standing Buddha statues. These statues are exemplary of the serene and graceful Sukhothai artistic style, which emphasizes gentle features and a sense of calm and spiritual tranquillity.


Wat Saket (Golden Mount) – Bangkok

Wat Saket, commonly known as the Golden Mount, is one of Bangkok’s most iconic and historically significant temples. Located in the heart of the city, Wat Saket offers a unique blend of history, spirituality, and panoramic views of Bangkok’s skyline, making it a popular destination for both locals and tourists.

The temple’s most distinctive feature is the Golden Mount, an artificial hill topped with a gleaming golden chedi (stupa). This chedi houses a relic of the Buddha and stands as a prominent symbol of the temple. The construction of the Golden Mount began during the reign of King Rama III in the early 19th century, but it was completed during the reign of King Rama IV. The structure underwent several modifications and restorations over the years, particularly during the reign of King Rama V, who added the golden chedi.

Visitors to Wat Saket can climb the 318 steps that spiral around the hill to reach the summit. The climb is lined with lush greenery, statues, and small shrines, creating a serene and contemplative atmosphere. As you ascend, you’ll encounter prayer bells and gongs that you can ring for good luck, adding to the spiritual experience.

At the top of the Golden Mount, visitors are rewarded with a stunning 360-degree view of Bangkok. The vantage point provides a unique perspective of the city, with its mix of modern skyscrapers and historical buildings. The golden chedi itself is a beautiful sight, especially when illuminated by the sun, casting a warm glow over the surroundings.


Wat Pha Sorn Kaew – Phetchabun

Wat Pha Sorn Kaew, located in the serene mountains of Phetchabun province, is one of Thailand’s most visually stunning and unique temples. Also known as the Temple on the Glass Cliff, it offers a captivating blend of spirituality, art, and natural beauty, making it a must-visit destination for those exploring northern Thailand.

Perched on a hilltop in the Khao Kho district, Wat Pha Sorn Kaew is renowned for its breathtaking architecture and colourful mosaic designs. The temple complex is a visual feast, with intricate patterns created from millions of mosaic tiles and pottery shards that cover its structures, giving the entire site a vibrant and ethereal appearance.

The temple’s most iconic feature is the five towering statues of seated Buddhas, which are arranged in a row and decrease in size from back to front. These statues, painted in pristine white, symbolize the five stages of Buddha’s journey to enlightenment. The striking image of the Buddhas against the backdrop of lush green mountains and clear blue skies is both awe-inspiring and serene.

Another highlight of Wat Pha Sorn Kaew is the main pagoda, known as Phra That Pha Kaew. This pagoda is adorned with elaborate mosaic tiles and glass, creating a dazzling effect that reflects sunlight and adds to the temple’s otherworldly charm. The interior of the pagoda is equally impressive, featuring murals and intricate artwork that depict various aspects of Buddhist teachings and mythology.


Thailand

Each of these temples in Thailand provides a unique glimpse into the country’s rich cultural and spiritual heritage, making them must-visit destinations for any traveller visiting.

For more on the country have a look at my travel guides to Thailand.


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