There are more than 30,000 temples in Thailand, and they are the main touristic attraction. Wherever you go, temples will be one of the highlights of the place, with swarms of tourists who come to admire the structure and faithful locals who come to pray.
From the ancient ruins in Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, to the more modern temples of Bangkok and Chiang Mai, every religious place is a magnificent witness of the importance of Buddhism in the Land of Smiles. It is your chance to admire the grandeur of Buddhist art, the structures that attempt to recreate the universe in just one place.
- Bangkok has two of the most sacred sites of the whole country.
- Visit the historical parks of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, and immerse yourself in the ancient ruins.
- The Old City of Chiang Mai is full of beautiful temples, like Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang.
- In Chiang Rai, the White Temple is a unique example of a modern temple conception.
- Learn more about Buddhism, one of the most important parts of Thai culture.
Overview of Temples in Thailand
The many temples in Thailand distinguish themselves for their architecture and their historical significance. Most of them are composed of a typical structure: a chedi (the main pagoda) that enshrines Buddha images and is the most sacred place of the wat; a ubosot, the ordination hall; and a viharn, the assembly hall. The walls of the latter two are usually covered in paintings.
Temples in Sukhothai and Ayutthaya are mostly characterized by a prang, a tall tower-like spire, inspired by the Khmer architecture.
||Wat Phra Kaeo
||Holiest temple in Thailand
||Known for the huge reclining Buddha Statues
||The ruins of the ancient city of Ayutthaya, capital of the kingdom of Siam in the 14th century
||26 temples and the Grand Palace dating back to the Sukhothai Kingdom (around 13th century)
||Wat Chedi Luang
||The temple in the heart of the Old City
||Wat Phra Singh
||The most beautiful temple of Northern Thailand
||Wat Rong Khun
||A unique modern temple
Must visit Temples in Thailand
The Land of Smiles has so many temples that it is impossible to visit all of them. We think it is important to have a thorough experience of what Buddhist temples are like in Thailand, and so we chose the most representative ones.
In Bangkok, you cannot miss Wat Phra Kaeo and Wat Pho, two symbols of the capital city, full of history and beauty. Around Bangkok, two of the most visited cities are Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, because their historical parks are a marvelous witness of the ancient glory of the past kingdoms.
The temples in the north of Thailand, once dominated by the Lan Na Kingdom, are quite different from those in the rest of the country, and thus represent a different experience. In Chiang Mai, which is especially famous for its temples, we recommend to visit Wat Chedi Luang, the heart of the city; and Wat Phra Singh, maybe the most beautiful temple of all Thailand.
For something even more different, go to the White Temple in Chiang Rai, an example of modern architecture, blending with tradition.
Wat Phra Kaeo in Bangkok
The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is the most sacred temple in Thailand, and it is a symbol of both Bangkok and the entire country. The temple is beautifully decorated, and the main hall hosts dozens of Buddha statues, all different from each other.
The main building, a big phra ubosot (the holiest prayer room) hosts the Emerald Buddha, the most revered Buddha image in Thailand. The statue was discovered around the 15th century, and it has been preserved inside the wat since 1782, when the temple was founded by King Rama I.
The temple is located in the heart of the city, in Phra Nakhon District, inside the walls of the Grand Palace. The temple is open from 8:30 to 15:30.
Wat Pho in Bangkok
Wat Pho, also known as Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is a temple complex housing the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand (more than one thousand), including a 46m long reclining Buddha. The temple was also the first public university in Thailand and it is where Thai massage was born.
Wat Pho is one of the oldest temples in the country; it was completed during the 16th century. After being destroyed during the centuries, it was renovated by King Rama I. As said, the main feature is the gigantic Buddha statue, built in 1832. The Buddha is reclining because he is finally at peace and he is entering into Nirvana.
Entrance fee is 100 Baht, and you can visit between 8:00 and 17:00.
In 1378, Ayutthaya was the capital of the kingdom of Siam, and one of the most powerful cities of all Asia. Nowadays, the main attraction of Ayutthaya are the ruins of the old city, which encompasses numerous temples, palaces, monasteries, and sculptures. You can easily visit the site riding a bicycle.
Among the many temples, the most visited ones are Wat Phra Mahathat, with the head of a Buddha statue entwined in tree roots, and Viharn Phra Mongkol Bophit, hosting the largest bronze Buddha image in Thailand.
To visit the major temples, you will have to pay a fee of just 50 Bath (opening hours: 8:30-17:00). Even if all the temples are ruined, they are still sacred to Buddhists, so you should follow the same etiquette you would follow when visiting any other temple.
Sukhothai Historical Park
Just a few kilometers outside the modern city of Sukhothai, you can visit the amazing historical park, enshrining the ruins of the ancient homonymous city.
Inside the park, you will find 26 temples and the ruins of the royal palace. Thai culture was basically initiated by the Sukhothai Kingdom, since its monarch was able to unite all the small fiefdoms under one name, Siam. The center of the park is Wat Mahathat, which hosts a giant Buddha statue, visible from outside. Another giant statue is to be found in Wat Sri Chum.
As for Ayutthaya, please follow the usual temple etiquette and respect the place you are visiting. The park opens at 6:30 a.m. at closes at 6 p.m.
Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai
Wat Chedi is a site of great cultural significance. For example, you will find the city pillar, which according to Lan Na culture is the epicenter of the city and the center of the universe. During important holidays, Buddhists come here for candle processions. You have the chance to chat with a monk on any day.
The temple was built during the 14th century by King Saen Muan Ma, and it hosted the Emerald Buddha for a century. The main chedi is 60 meters tall and, even though an earthquake heavily damaged it in the 16th century, the structure is still impressive.
The chedi is open from 6:00 to 17:00, and it is located in the Old City of Chiang Mai.
Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai
This temple is considered the most beautiful in Chiang Mai. It is an active temple, also called “The Temple of the Lion Buddha”, and hundreds of monks live inside it.
The oldest chedi was built in the 14th century, and each side is decorated with elephants. The viharn, the assembly hall, is one of the best examples of Lan Na architecture. The temple hosts a big Buddha statue that gives the name to the temple. The Buddha statue, according to legend, was based on the lion of Shakya, an important statue now lost, that was housed in India.
Opening hours are 6:00 to 20:00, and you will have to pay an entrance fee of 50 Baht just for the main viharn.
Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai
The “White Temple” was opened to visitors in 1997, and it is a unique temple in Thailand. It is completely white (a color representing purity), and its peculiar architecture combines elements from the traditional architecture with modern art.
The original temple couldn’t be restored because funds were not available. So, a young artist from Chiang Rai decided to rebuild the temple using his own money. He designed it using a more modern style to express his views. The temple encompasses nine buildings, each one of them rich in symbolism. The central ubosot mixes traditional symbols with icons from modern pop culture.
The structure is open from 8:00 to 17:00, and the entrance fee is only 50 Baht.
Etiquette and Tips for Visiting Temples
It is important to respect the temples you visit. For Buddhism, respect is really important, and every object and every part of the temples is sacred, especially the Buddha statues.
- Dress appropriately - cover your shoulders and your knees. Remove sunglasses and hats.
- Respect monks - do not take pictures of monks without permission. Monks cannot be touched on the head, and especially cannot be touched by women.
- Avoid taking pictures of yourself in front of Buddha images, and do not raise your feet above the statues.
- Do not touch sacred objects.
- Respect other people - those who are praying and those who are visiting the temple as well.
- Do not be loud - be quiet and respectful.
- Do not smoke or eat inside the temple and, most importantly, do not litter.
- Remove your shoe wear when requested.
Explore Thai Wats with Asia Highlights
Thai temples are one of the many wonders that Thailand offers. Visiting them with the aid of an expert is a fascinating learning experience. Let us help you plan your itinerary, and let our professional guides introduce you to all the rich symbolism of Thai wats while visiting them. A unique opportunity to fully understand Thai history and culture.