Being the capital of a Buddhist country means that Bangkok is full of some of Southeast Asia’s finest temples. Found in every district, these places of worship range from small local temples (wats) to ones of extravagant splendour, such as the famous Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Arun.
Religion is very important to many Thai people, and small miniature versions of temples called spirit houses are to be found in most office complexes, shopping centres, hotels and in many homes, draped in jasmine flowers and surrounded by offerings for Buddha. So it’s true to say that in Bangkok you’re never far from a temple of some kind, even if it’s the small shrine set up on the dashboard of your airport taxi!
In every village and every suburb of Bangkok there will be at least one temple which forms the focus of religious and often community activities. Each temple is an exquisite work of art and, although the styles vary according to the architectural era (spanning almost a full millennium), they mostly conform to a common style consisting of multi-layered steeply concaved roofs with symbolic winged edges finished with gold filigree and ornate markings.
Many Bangkok temples have colourful murals adorning the interior and the focus of each is an altar-like shrine of Buddhas to symbolise the founder of this faith. They are not used for ‘services’ as a church would be but rather for regular private prayer visits, meditation and occasional ceremonies. All are welcome in temples provided you show respect.
Recommended Bangkok temples:
Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace
One of Bangkok’s major tourist attractions and no trip to the Thai capital would be complete without a visit to this magnificent temple compound. It’s worth setting aside a good few hours to take in all the temples and shrines in this complex, especially the mystical Emerald Buddha.
This temple has the strictest dress code, although acceptable clothes can be borrowed inside – watch out for touts trying to tell you otherwise. Also, no pictures or movies are allowed to be taken of the Emerald Buddha. Any taxi driver can take you here, or you can get a river taxi to Tha Chang pier.
Open daily: 08:30–15:00. Entry: foreigners: 500 Baht, Thais: free. Na Phra Lan Road. Tel: (02) 623 5500.
Just around the corner from the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew is the impressive Wat Pho. Dozens of ornately decorated spires have been constructed in between the many stunning temple buildings.
One of the principal attractions of Wat Pho is the extraordinary 46-metre reclining Buddha – the biggest in Thailand.
Open daily: 08:30-16:30. Entry: foreigners: 100 Baht, Thais: free. 2 Sanamchai Road, Phra Nakhon. Tel: (02) 221 9449.
This riverside temple is one of Bangkok’s key tourist attractions and one of its most famous sights – the towering 82-metre spire in the centre of the temple is depicted on the reverse of the 10 baht coin and in many travel brochures.
It is often included as a stopover on canal tours but it’s worth making an effort to see even if you don’t embark on such a trip. To get there, cross the river at Tha Tien pier; you can’t miss the temple from there.
At sunset, Wat Arun presents a fantastic picture silhouetted against the setting sun with the river in the foreground.
Open daily: 08:30-17:30. Entry: foreigners: 50 Baht, Thais: free. 34 Arun Amarin Road. Tel: (02) 891 2185.
The key attraction here is the huge solid gold-seated Buddha. It’s well worth a visit for this alone, although the temple itself is also noteworthy. Located near Hua Lamphong train station on the corner of Yaowarat Road and Charoen Krung Road.
Open daily: 09:00-17:00. Entry: free. 661 Chaoren Krung Road, Talad Noi. Tel: (02) 623 3329.
Wat Benchamabophit (Marble Temple)
This interesting white marble temple contains the ashes of King Rama V and features 53 Buddha images representing all styles of Buddha iconography from all over the Buddhist world.
Open daily: 08:00-17:00. Entry: foreigners; 20 Baht, Thais; free. 69 Phraram V Road. Tel: (02) 281 4012.
The most impressive temple in Banglamphoo district (by Khao San Road), this temple has onsite a 32-metre standing Buddha.
Open daily: 08:30-20:00. Entry: free. 114 Wisut Krasat Road, Bang Khun Phrom, Phra Nakorn. Tel: (02) 628 5550.
It’s known as the Golden Mount Temple (or Wat Phu Khao Thong) and is most notable for the tallest structure in Bangkok during the 19th century. The current structure sits on an artificial mound that resulted from a collapsed attempt to build a chedi here. It’s not difficult to reach the top, from where views of the city are rewarding.
Open daily: 08:00-18:00. Entry: foreigners; 20 Baht, Thais; free. 344 Chakkraphat Diphong Road. Tel: (02) 621 2280.
A bit of a drive out of town, this tourist attraction is a scaled down version of Thailand and features replicas of many of the major temples throughout the country. These replicas are still big enough to be considered temples in their own right, though, meaning that this is one of the biggest collections of temples to be found in Thailand.
Open daily: 09:00-19:00. Entry: foreigners: 700 Baht, Thais: 350 Baht. 296/1 Sukhumvit Road, Samut Prakan. Tel: (02) 323 4094-9.