Of all the unforgettable images left in the mind of a visitor to the Kingdom, the truly majestic, shimmering and almost mystical looking Thai temple, or “wat” in Thai, has surely got to be way up there among the best.
It is said that there are around 32,000 monasteries dotted all over the country, and that Bangkok is home to about 400. Aside from Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), Wat Pho, Wat Benchama Bophit, and Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) which charge a small fee for on going restoration, admission to all other temples in Bangkok is free, so put down your novel, dress appropriately, pack a little respect, and get out there with your camera to experience some of the city’s most significant and beautiful temples..
Officially named Wat Phra Si Rattanasatsadaram; generally known to all as Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and located in the grounds of the Grand Palace, was completed in 1784 during the reign of King Rama I. Regarded as the most significant of all Thai temples and home to the most sacred of Buddha images, the green jade statute of Buddha, the large compound of over 100 beautifully architectured buildings represents 200 years of royal history.
2. Wat Pho or Wat Phra Chetuphon.
The oldest and largest temple in Bangkok, Wat Po was first built in the 16th century during the Ayutthaya period and then almost completely rebuilt in 1781 by King Rama I. It is famed for being home to the largest reclining Buddha, has the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, and was the earliest centre for public education.
3. Wat Arun – Temple of Dawn.
Named after the India god of dawn, Aruna, Wat Arun is perfectly located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River to catch the morning light, and was chosen by King Tak Sin to be his royal temple in the 17th century. The Emerald Buddha was once housed here before being moved to Wat Phra Kaeo.
4. Wat Saket – Golden Mountain.
The “Golden Mountain” or Phu Khao Thong in Thai on the west side of the temple grounds offers stunning views over Rattanakosin Island. Construction began in the reign of King Rama III, was added to during the reign of King Rama IV, and finally King Rama V added to the structure and housed a Buddha relic from India.
5. Wat Ratchanatda
Built under the reign of King Rama III, this unusual 19th century temple’s architecture may have seen influence from Burma. The Loha Prasit (Metal Palace) surrounded by 37 metal spires and a total height of 36 metres is the only one of its kind in the world. It is also famed for its market which sells amulets or magic charms featuring images of Buddha, monks and Indian deities.
6. Wat Benchamabophit – Marble Temple
Made of white marble, hence the nickname, this most recent royal temple was built at the turn of the century by King Rama V. The main building is an excellent example of modern Thai architecture.
7. Wat Suthat
This temple is home to a 14th century Buddha statue from the Sukothai period which is surrounded by some rather surreal depictions of Buddha’s last 24 lives. King Rama II carved the great doors and up until World War II, the Giant Swing Ceremony to celebrate the rice harvest was held in front of the temple grounds.
8. Wat Bowonniwet
Founded in 1826, when it was known as Wat Mai, this temple is home to Bangkok’s second Buddhist University, Maha-makut University. King Mongkut began a royal tradition by residing here as a monk. His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) and several other members of the royal family have ordained here.
9. Wat Mahathat
Home to Bangkok’s other Buddhist University; Maha That Rat-chawitthayalai, this temple was founded in 1700’s and has a Thai herbal medicine market and meditation centre on the grounds.
10. Wat Rachapradit
This small temple was constructed under the reign of King Rama IV for the purpose of becoming one of the required 3 eminent temples in the city. Noted for its abbey’s mural paintings, they depict all the annual royal ceremonies undertaken, including the legend of the eclipse of the sun during the reign of King Rama IV.
11. Wat Thepthidaram
Erected by King Rama III between 1836 and 1839 this temple was exquisitely design by court artisans as can be seen by the presiding Buddha image which is beautifully enshrined by mural paintings. Once home to a famous Thai poet, Sunthon Phu, the monks living quarters are now known as “ban kawi” or Poet’s House Museum.
12. Wat Kanlayanamit Woramahawihan
Founded by Chao Phraya Nikornbordin in 1825, the temple was added to by King Rama III when he built the Phra Wihan Luang in which the principle Buddha image is enshrined. Predominantly Chinese style brick work, stucco, tiles and motifs, the mural painting depicting the Buddha’s life story is now almost completely faded.
13. Wat Suwannaram Ratchaworawihan.
Founded during the Ayutthaya period, not only has this temple been dismantled, rebuilt and restored again and again between the reigns of King Rama I to King Rama V, it has also seen a variety of uses such as a place of execution for Burmese prisoners of war during the reign of King Taksin and later it became the site for royal cremations up until the reign of King Rama V.
14. Wat Trimitwitthayaram
Built around 150 years ago and restored in 1937, the main attraction of this temple is the five ton, three metre tall Sukhothai style solid gold Buddha image known as the Golden Buddha.
15. Wat Ratchaorasarm
Built on the bank of Sanamchai Canal in the Ayutthaya period and later appointed a royal temple by King Rama III, its distinguishable Chinese style make it historically important as it is the first temple to have no traditional Thai decorations.
16. Wat Rachapradit Sathitmahasimaram
Built by King Rama IV as one of the three required temples for royal ceremonies, this temple was founded on what was originally a coffee plantation before the land was purchased by the King and given to the Thammayut sect to build the temple.
17. Wat Sommanatwihan
In 1853, King Rama IV built this Dhammayut sect royal temple as a memorial to Queen Sommanat Vadhannawadi. Placed on the surrounding wall facing eight directions are stones indicating the boundary of the chapel.
18. Wat Indravihan
The temple is famed for its gigantic standing Buddha image. Built during the reign of King IV, the image of the Buddha stands 32 metres tall, is just over 10 metres wide, and contains the Lord Buddha’s relic brought from the island nation of Sri-Lanka.
19. Wat Ratchabophit
The first temple built under his reign, King Rama V ordered its construction to commemorate the queen. It later became the temple of King Rama VII. Although the exterior of the main chapel is typically Thai, its interior is quite European in style.
20. Wat Ratchatiwat
The temple was re-established from the former Wat Samor-rai by Somdej Chao Phraya Maha Surasinghanat and then later renovated and renamed Ratchatiwatwihan; meaning temple where the King resides, by King Rama IV. The large teak Ayutthaya style building, redesigned by HRH Naris, is reputed as the biggest and most beautiful wooden structure in the Far East.
21. Wat Thepsirintharawat
Ordered built by King Rama V, the king dedicated this temple to his mother, the late Queen Thepsirindhra, and named it in her memory. As one would expect, this chapel is one of the most outstanding architectural treasures of the Rama V period and has many famous Buddha images enshrined in it.
22. Wat Rakhangkositaram
Built in the Ayutthaya period, this temple was later restored and named a royal temple by King Taksin. During the reign of King Rama I a melodious “rakhang” or bell was found in the temple compound. The King ordered it sent to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and had five new bells sent back in exchange. The belfry, built in the style of the late Ayutthaya and early Rattanakosin periods, is the symbol of this temple and its three tier roof is decorated with beautiful murals by Phra Wanwadwichit, the famous artist of the King Rama VI era. This former residence of King Rama I is one of the most outstanding examples of Thai architecture.
23. Wat Bhoman-Khunaram
This Chinese-Tibetan style temple was built in 1959 by a Chinese spiritual master who later became the temples’ first abbot. The main Buddha image was named Phra Phutthawatcharaphothikhun by King Rama IX and is enshrined in the chapel with 500 other Buddha images. The pavilion houses 7,240 texts of the Mahayanist version of the Tripitaka.
24. Wat Munkorn Kamalawat
Built in 1871 by Phra Ajarn Wangsamathiwat and Phra Chokikaratsetthi to disseminate Buddhism, the temple, formerly named Wat Leng Nei Yee, was later renamed Wat Munkorn Kamalawat by King Rama V. The temple is decorated in Chinese architecture and the main Buddha image in the hall is also in a Chinese style. Images of the world’s four keepers are found can be found in font of the hall’s shrine.
25. Sri Mahamariamman Temple
This Brahman (Hindu) temple of the Shakti sect, which reveres this mother of the gods, was built in 1879 by Indians from Tamil Nadu in Southern Indian who came to Thailand and established a community of traders on Silom Canal. Inside the temple the main image, the Umi Devi, is surrounded by Indian deities Ganesh, Khandakumara, Krishna, Rasmi, and Kali.