Did you know there are over 400 wats (Buddhist temples) in Bangkok alone? And over 40,000 scattered across Thailand?
Combining beautiful artistry with vibrant Buddhist tradition, even the most simple of wats can be worth a visit.
Just in case you fancy leaving time for a bit more than just wat-trips during your stay, why not start with our top five wats in Bangkok?
1. Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)
If you visit just one wat during your time in Thailand, it pretty much has to be Wat Phra Kaew. The first major complex to be built in Bangkok, this awe-inspiring feat of architecture is the most important of Thailand’s temples.
Located within the grounds of the Grand Palace, the central attraction of Wat Phra Kaew is the Phra Kaew Morakot – the Emerald Buddha. Carved from a single piece of jade, this tiny Buddha (it is around 65-70cm) is Thailand’s most sacred image.
Also not to be missed is the much-photographed golden Phra Sri Rattana Chedi, which some claim houses the ashes of the Buddha. And make sure you look out for the huge mural on the walls of the compound, depicting a Thai version of the Indian epic story of Ramayana.
2. Wat Arun
A short ferry ride across the river from the Grand Palace lies Wat Arun.
With a central prang (Khmer style tower) surrounded by four smaller towers, and decorated with millions of fragments of porcelain arranged in the shape of flowers, we reckon this wat deserves a mention for its distinctive design, different from almost every other temple you will see in Thailand.
The views from the balcony on the main tower are pretty spectacular too. Don’t be put off by the rather steep stairs – it is definitely worth the climb!
3. Wat Saket (the Golden Mount)
It is hard to miss Wat Saket, situated as it is on the top of Bangkok’s only (man-made) hill, and topped by a huge gold chedi.
The wat is a place of pilgrimage due to a shrine allegedly containing the relics of the Buddha. Visitors and monks alike need to climb 300 spiralling steps to reach the top of the mound, although once there you are rewarded with a panoramic view of the palaces and temples below.
If you can face the crowds, Wat Saket is particularly worth a visit when the temple fair is on during Loy Krathong (usually in November). The fair opens with a candle-lit procession to the top and the wrapping of the chedi in a bright red cloth. The week-long event offers an intense experience of colour, flags, lanterns and food alongside fairground games and rides.
4. Wat Pho
One of Bangkok’s oldest and largest temples, Wat Pho (located about 10 minutes’ walk from the Grand Palace) is the second “if you go to Bangkok, you must see this” wat in the capital.
Wat Pho’s star feature is a gigantic golden reclining Buddha, whose four metre long feet are inlaid with mother-of-pearl representing the 108 auspicious characteristics of the Buddha.
As one of the largest temple complexes, Wat Pho is well worth a longer wander however. Other highlights include long lines of golden Buddha statues from across the country, amazingly intricate murals and, if you are starting to feel weary, the opportunity for an invigorating Thai massage.
For good luck (or just because you like the sound), you can also drop coins into the 108 bowls lining the walls of the temple.
5. Wat Suthat
Originally commissioned in 1807 by Rama I to shelter an eight metre bronze Buddha image, Wat Suthat was only finally completed in the reign of Rama III. During the intervening period, it is said that Rama II himself carved the bot’s beautiful teakwood doors.
Perhaps the most enthralling feature of this wat is the Giant Swing situated just outside. Up to 1931 (after which it was banned due to a number of accidents) men used to swing in a gondola at the Brahmin thanksgiving festival to catch bags of coins hanging from poles.
Once you have absorbed the magnificence of the swing, do remember to go inside the wat itself! It has some beautiful features including a series of fascinating frescos on the wall of the main chapel.
Top Tips for Visiting a Wat
– Visit in the early morning, when it’s generally cooler and less crowded
– Cover up. These are religious temples and visitors are expected to show respect – avoid shorts and sleeveless or low cut tops, or you may well not get in
– Follow temple etiquette: remove your shoes before entering into the temple (you are usually fine to wear them around the rest of the compound), make sure your feet are not pointing towards a Buddha image and check before taking any photos
– Bring lots of water. Visiting wats can be thirsty work!