There are a staggering 40,717 Buddhist temples in Thailand and 33,902 of them are still in active use today. Thailand is a Buddhist country and the temples here play a very active part in everyday life. Thai’s come to them to pray to Buddha for things such as health or good fortune, they also come to make merit and speak with the monks.
The structures themselves have become such magnets for tourists to visit, not just for their spiritual and social importance, but because they are among the most beautiful and impressive structures you are ever likely to see.
Narrowing the list to just 25 was an almost impossible job, I have tried to pick a variety of locations as well as a range of architectural styles.
1. Wat Rong Khun
Sitting in the north of Thailand in Chiang Rai, Wat Rong Khun or ‘The White Temple’ is one of the most photographed and recognized temples in Thailand. The temple is white in color and has pieces of glass that have been put into the plaster to sparkle in the sun. The whiteness of the temple is a symbol of the purity of Buddha and the glass symbolizes his wisdom. A complete rebuild of the temple was started at the end of the 20th Century, with the works still going ahead today. When complete the temple will have nine separate buildings including accommodation for the working monks.
2. Wat Tham Pha Plong
In the northern city of Chiang Dao and sitting half way up the side of a mountain in a small cave is Wat Tham Pha Plong. The temple is surrounded by forest and is a very peaceful place to visit. To get to the temple you have to walk up 500 steps, from here you can see some spectacular views of the forest below. The monks that live in the temple allow people to stay here and carry out meditation classes, teaching however commences at 3.00am. The temple was the last place that the revered monk Looang Boo Sim Buddhacaro taught at.
3. Wat Suthat
Wat Suthat is located in Bangkok and is one of the oldest temples in the city. Completed during the reign of King Rama III the temple is located quite close to the Grand Palace. At the entrance to the temple stands a giant red swing, standing at over twenty meters tall the swing towers over everything else. Inside the temple is a large golden Buddha statue in the seated position which is the focal point of the room. The outside walls have 156 Buddha images on them as well as four entry gates, each with intricate hand carved designs.
4. Wat Pho
Known among foreigners and guide books as the ‘Temple of the Reclining Buddha’ this temple is a must visit for anyone making the trip to Bangkok. It is one of the largest temples and home to the famous giant reclining Buddha. The Buddha is 46 meters long and completely covered in gold leaf, there are 108 illustrations on the Buddha’s feet which symbolize the 108 actions that helped lead Buddha to perfection. At the temple is a massage school that is considered to be the best in Thailand so after a day’s sightseeing a massage here will help to ease away those aches.
5. Wat Arun
Also known as the Temple of Dawn and sitting on the bank of the Chao Phraya River is Wat Arun, a stunning temple in a beautiful location. This temple is unlike many others and is made up of a collection of spires that have been colorfully decorated. The tallest spire stands at over seventy meters tall and is decorated in small pieces of Chinese porcelain and colored glass. The central prang is climbable giving fantastic views of the winding river as well as local landmarks.
6. Wat Mahathat
Wat Mahatat is the headquarters of Thailand’s monastic order, this makes it an important place for people to study meditation and Buddhism. Originally the temple was built to house a large relic of Buddha and is one of the oldest temples in Bangkok. Whilst you are visiting the temple you can stop to get your fortune read by one of the monks. There is a market next to the temple every Sunday that is Bangkok’s largest amulet market, at the market all sorts of amulets, charms and medicines are sold in the hope that you will receive good luck and ward of any evil spirits.
7. Wat Ku Tao
It is thought that this fabulous temple in Chiang Mai was built in 1613 to look after the ashes of Prince Saravadi, a Burmese overlord. The name of the temple originates from the northern Thai word for melon. The pagodas at the temple are of a very unique design and were probably derived from the Chinese. There are five spheres that make up the body of the pagoda which represent the five different Buddha’s of the present age. There are several buildings at the temple to explore including a very modern looking viharn.
8. Panturat Temple
Panturat Temple sits inside a jungle reserve in Southern Thailand called Khao Sok National Park. The park is famous for many things including elephant trekking and also for being the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world. Panturat Temple is most commonly known as “Monkey Cave”, the temple has been built on a large limestone plateau where there are plenty of long tail monkeys running wild. The monkeys here like to get up close and personal and have been known to steal fruit directly from the hands of visitors.
9. Wat Phu Khao Thong
Also known as the Golden Mountain Temple and situated in the old capital of Ayutthaya is Wat Phu Khao Thong. The temple was built to celebrate the victory of King Naresuan over the Burmese. The bottom part has been built in a Burmese style whilst the top is in the local style of Ayutthaya. The Chedi here is about eighty meters tall and has a gold ball at the very top weighing about 2 kilograms. A few hundred meters away from the Chedi is a statue of King Naresuan which is also a keen tourist attraction.
10. Wat Benchamabophit
This temple is one of the most beautiful that Bangkok has to offer, the name Wat Benchamabophit means Marble Temple and came about from the white Carrara marble that was imported from Italy and used to construct the temple. The temple is made up of various small buildings rather than one central wihaan or chedi. You can see many European influences in the temple including the beautiful stained glass windows. The Current king of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej spent several days as monk here before his coronation.
11. Wat Chet Yot
Wat Chet Yot is an elegant temple in Chiang Mai, sitting in some peaceful green grounds. The temple was built to host the eighth World Buddhist Council in 1453, the temple got its name from the seven spires that are at the temple, the spires represent the seven weeks that Buddha spent in meditation at the Mahabodhi Temple in India on his way to enlightenment. There are various influences that you can see when you visit the temple which give it a unique appearance, these are Indian, Chinese, Thai and Lao. One of the small chedis is home to the remains of King Tilokkarat who used to reign over the kingdom.
12. Wat Phra Kaew
Sitting in the heart of Bangkok within the Grand Palace is Wat Phra Kaew, the temple is regarded as the most important in all of Thailand and enshrines the Emerald Buddha, the Emerald Buddha was carved by hand from a single piece of jade. Only HM the King is allowed near the Emerald Buddha, it sits within a statue that is covered in a seasonal cloak, the cloak is changed three times a year by the king to represent the changing seasons. There are no monks living at this temple, instead there are a series of holy buildings, pagodas and statues.
13. Wat Bowonniwet Vihara
In Bangkok’s Phra Nakhon district sits this first class royal temple, built during the reign of King Nangklao in the early nineteenth century. There have been several links between the Thai Royal Family and this temple. In 1836 Prince Mongkut became an abbot of the temple before he was later crowned King Rama IV. King Bhumibol has also lived in the temple previously. There is a fifty meter tall chedi which houses several sacred relics and an image of the Budda in the Abhaya mudra.
14. Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang otherwise known as the Temple of The Big Stupa is a ruin in the center of historical Chiang Mai. The temple dates back to the 14th century when it was built to house the ashes of Ku Na (the father of King Saen Muang Ma) Originally this temple housed the Emerald Buddha before it was relocated to Laos by the king before moving to its final resting place in Bangkok. In 1545 a severe earthquake damaged part of the great spire, Five years after the earth quake the Chiang Mai came under attack from the Burmese and the temple has never been rebuilt to this day.
15. Wat Traimit
Wat Traimit is not the most spectacular of temples to look at, in fact most visitors would not go out of their way to visit it except for one reason alone. The temple houses the world’s largest solid gold Buddha image. The statue weighs five and a half tons and is made of 83% gold. At fifteen feet tall the image is worth millions. Constructed in the 13th century it has had a colorful history which can be learned at the temple, one part of the history tells how the Buddha was covered in plaster lacquer in an attempt to keep thieves from discovering it.
16. Sanctuary Of Truth
The Sanctuary of Truth is a temple made entirely of wood, there is not one piece of metal in the entire construction. The temple is in Pattaya and sits with excellent views of the ocean. The temple was conceived by a Thai millionaire called Lek Viriaphant, it has been under construction for thirty years and it still not nearing completion. There are twenty storeys and each one is covered with carvings of Hindu and Buddhist gods and goddesses. There are guided tours of the temple that leave every thirty minutes whilst open as well as twice daily Thai dancing shows.
17. Wat Ratchapradit
Not too far from the Grand Palace in Bangkok is Wat Ratchapradit, a small temple that was built by Rama IV, There is a large chedi at the temple which is completely covered in small grey to white tiles that make the surface look like that of a checkerboard. To the sides of the ordination hall are large prangs that have a Khmer influence. There are several paintings inside the temple that depict royal ceremonies as well the solar eclipse phenomenon.
18. Wat Chaiwatthanaram
In the Ancient Siam Capital of Ayutthaya are the ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram, It is located outside the main island that the city was built on and it has a large tower that stands on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. It was built in 1630AD as a memory to King Prasatthong’s mother. The temple has a symmetrical feel with a central tower surrounded by eight smaller ones. Once inside the temple you can see a host of Buddha images as well as many murals lining the walls. Before the temple became a ruin it was as an army camp before the Burmese attacked.
19. Wat Raatchabophit
Wat Ratchabophit is in Bangkok and located near to many other temples and the Grand Palace. The temple has a prayer hall as well as a room which is used for the ordainment of priests. There is a round courtyard which has a golden chedi in its middle that is covered in yellow tiles, a statue of Buddha is also present here. There are many international influences that become apparent as you walk around the grounds including, Thai, Sri-Lankan and Italian. At one end of the Wat is a Royal Cemetery that is the final resting place for many royal family members. Unusually there is a Christian church here as well an area where many monks live.
20. Wat Lan Kuad
This is a very unique temple the likes of which you are very unlikely to ever see again. It is in the north east of the country near the border with Cambodia. It has been made from over one million recycled beer bottles, the monks started collecting beer bottles in 1984 and as time went by they had collected so many that they decided to use them as a building material. Soon local authorities began bringing their bottles and a complex with twenty buildings was created. There are brown bottles which are Chang bottles and green ones which are Heineken, inside the temple are mosaics of Buddha have been made out of beer bottle lids.
21. Wat Phitchaya Yatikaram
This temple does not have a complete history and there is no record of when it was built. It is located in Ayutthaya the old capital of Siam. The Main prayer hall has a large water color painting that shows a Chinese warrior stepping on a lion, there are other noticeable water paintings around as well such as one of an angel with a double-edged dagger. There are large prangs to the rear of the temple that were built to house the ashes of That Bunnag’s family, the largest of the prangs has four Buddha images that look out in opposite directions.
22. Wat Suwannaram
This temple is located in Bangkok in the Noi district and dates back to a time before Ayutthaya was destroyed. The temple was originally a monastery and has been restored and renamed on a couple of occasions. Various historical events have taken place at Wat Suwannaram including the execution of Burmese prisoners of war, also several top ranking officials and members of the royal family have been cremated here. There are a lot of paintings inside the temple that are in a classic Thai style and it should be noted that the paintings were created with the intention that you would look at them from the top down.
23. Wat Phra That (Doi Suthep)
The biggest landmark in Chiang Mai is Doi Suthep which people think is the name of the temple, it is actually the name of the mountain in Chiang Mai, and the temple is called Wat Phra That. Built in 1383 on the top of the mountain it is still a working monastery to this day. Once you arrive in the carpark you should climb the 300 steps to the temple itself. Here you will see a golden spire that sits in the centre of this mountain top temple. You will find a shrine to The White Elephant as well as an area depicting the story of the temples origins.
24. Wat Sri Suphan
Located in the silver village in Chiang Mai is Wat Sri Suphan, built over 500 years ago there are not a lot of the original remains left. However major renovations have been taking place and the entire surface of the main hall are being covered in silver, both inside and out. The roof even has silver plated tiles. There is an active silver working school at the site of the temple where the tradition is passed on to the younger generation. A nice feature is the weekly monk chat programme where people can come and talk to the monks about their life and pose any questions they may have
25. Wat Phra Singh
Sitting within the ancient city of Chiang Mai is Wat Phra Singh, it is most likely the largest temple in the city and one that takes some exploring. The temple is also known as ‘The Monastery of the Lion Buddha’ and is an active temple with many hundreds of monks living here. The design is classic Lanna and has a large chedi built in 1345 to house the ashes of King Pha Yu’s father. The assembly hall here houses a very revered Buddha image named Phra Singh Buddha, during Songkran the image is walked around the streets for locals to sprinkle water on.