Explore the Must-Visit Temples in Thailand for a Divine Experience | Vacation-Thailand

Temples in Thailand are known for being ornate, extravagant, and architecturally stunning. Even the least known temples in popular cities are elaborate beyond an average American’s comprehension. When perusing pictures online, it’s hard to distinguish between certain temples in your quest to decide where to spend time.

What are the must-visit temples in Thailand?

  • Sanctuary of Truth
  • Wat Phra That Lampang Luang
  • Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew
  • Wat Arun
  • Wat Chaiwatthanaram
  • Wat Pho
  • Wat Pha Sorn Kaew
  • Wat Suthat
  • Tiger Cave Temple

Temples in Thailand are known for being ornate, extravagant, and architecturally stunning. Even the least known temples in popular cities are elaborate beyond an average American’s comprehension. When perusing pictures online, it’s hard to distinguish between certain temples in your quest to decide where to spend time.

We will give a description of the most popular temples in Thailand and explain some of the important histories behind them. The religious monuments you must visit in Thailand are the Sanctuary of Truth, Wat Phra That Lampang Luang, Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew, Wat Arun,

Before you visit these monuments, there are important concepts to abide by and understand. Otherwise, the security guards facilitating entry to the temple might refuse your entry.

Things to Know

It’s important to remember that temples hold different levels of meaning for different people. You might see a tourist attraction while others see a building of spiritual significance and a place to lay their burdens, ask for forgiveness, and express desire for future success. Your demeanor, appearance, and desire for a photograph could very well get you kicked out of these buildings if you are not cognizant of appropriate temple behavior.

Guards are present at most temple entries throughout Thailand. You will be denied entry if you are not dressed properly. All visitors must adhere to a strict dress code. Your knees must be covered by pants or a long dress. You cannot show shoulders and must wear a shirt/top/something that covers them.

Many young tourists roll out of bed to visit a temple after a long night out on Khao San Road. They fail to realize they’re dressed inappropriately. Thankfully, there are many stores within walking distance of Thai temples that capitalize on this knowledge gap. You can buy elephant pants or a coverup at these stores for a cheap price.

It’s commonplace for tourists to take pictures of temples. However, one should refrain from photographing local Thai people as they pray. People often visit these temples in times of hardship or to pray for better luck in fertility, wealth, and health. It is not appropriate to photograph them as they seek something higher than themselves (just as a Catholic wouldn’t want to be photographed in a confessional).

Armed with this knowledge, you’re ready to check out some of the most stunning buildings in Thailand. We will give a description of the most popular temples in Thailand and explain the important history behind them.

Sanctuary of Truth

Contrary to popular belief, ‘The Sanctuary of Truth’ doesn’t reside in my significant other’s head. It’s a famous temple in Pattaya that is honestly unparalleled throughout the entire world. The multi-tiered roof reaches heights of 300 feet.

This privately funded temple is made of teak wood (a material highly susceptible to erosion). This structure isn’t treated with chemicals to protect it from the elements. It’s rumored that this decision was intentional and is meant to be a reflection of the human experience.

The temple’s older parts are weak and at a certain point, become aesthetically displeasing – a stark contrast from the ostentatious nature of this temple. Construction began in 1981 and due to constant repairs, the temple is still technically under construction.

The Sanctuary of Truth looks like a building designed by the calmer side of Hunter S. Thompson’s nightmares. This temple isn’t necessarily a Buddhist structure as statues of Ganesh can be found inside (although, this is a common occurrence in Thailand temples). More than anything, this temple is an attestation to artisanal woodworking in Thailand. If you’re in Pattaya and curious about Eastern philosophy, this is the place to be.

Wat Phra That Lampang Luang

Most Buddhists in Thailand believe this temple is a sacred and holy area. According to local folklore, Buddha visited this temple 2,500 years ago. While there, he gifted a single hair to Wat Phra That Lampang Luang (if this was a common act by Buddha, it explains why he is bald). This piece of hair is enshrined here.

Wat Phra That Lampang Luang was built in the 13th century and has only been restored using classic materials and techniques to ensure authenticity. The temple serves as a shining example of traditional Lanna architecture. Most Lanna buildings can be found around Chiang Mai and this temple is no different in that respect.

Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew

Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew is also known as the Temple of a Million Bottles. ‘Wat’ means temple. ‘Lan’ means million. ‘Kuad’ means bottle. Most temples in Thailand exemplify classic Thai, Issan, Khmer, and Lanna architecture while this one is closer to something you’d find in a college frat house.

Kidding aside, the architects found a way to reuse 1-1.5 million recycled beer bottles in the construction of this building. The predominant varieties of beer bottles used (because I know you’re curious about that) are Heineken and Chang. Both of these brands use green beer bottles so there is a sense of color consistency throughout the temple.  All of the ~15 buildings in this vicinity are made using these bottles.

Wat Chaiwatthanaram

Wat Chaiwatthanaram is one of the most fascinating temples in the Ayutthaya complex. Throughout history, some of the most elaborate temples and religious monuments have been constructed to honor various King’s loved ones. Ayutthaya is no exception. Wat Chaiwatthanaram was built to honor the King’s late mother.

Ayutthaya has faced hardships similar to Angkor Wat in the recent past. Hundreds of years ago, both served as an economic powerhouse and home thousands of citizens. Prior to the recent UNESCO categorization, Wat Chaiwatthanaram was the architectural victim of frequent looting, vandalism, and decay. Upon realizing the potential tourism value, the area has been the recipient of significant investment for preservation purposes.

When the Burmese army overtook Ayutthaya, they destroyed a serious portion of this temple. This attack essentially destroyed the livelihood of the city and is responsible for the city’s ruins.

Most of the Buddha statues were decapitated, but one remained. A single Buddha head sat beside a banyan tree and over the years, the roots have largely grown over it. You can still see the majority of the sculpture’s head and the intertwining of the roots make it unlike any piece of art you’ve ever seen.

Wat Arun

Wat Arun Ratchawararam has serious historical significance for the city of Bangkok. This temple sits just across the Chao Phraya River from The Grand Palace and is also commonly referred to as the Temple of Dawn. This alias stems from an ancient fable.

Ayutthaya (mentioned above) is the famous former capital of Siam. It was overtaken by the Burmese army in 1768 before George Washington had ever taken office. King Taksin managed to escape the Burmese invasion and headed South to Bangkok. As he was arriving, the first thing he saw was this temple in the dawn light. Thus, it received the name ‘Temple of Dawn’.

You can use the extremely cheap ferries to go from one side of the river to another. We recommend arriving at Wat Arun early in the morning before the crowds get here. Most tourists have never heard the nickname and will miss the dawn sunrise reflecting on the mosaic tiles that line this temple. If you wait too long, this temple will become overrun with tourists.

Wat Pho

They might not serve the delicious Vietnamese soup dish here but the views are certainly just as tasty. Wat Pho is also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Located next door to the Grand Palace, this temple houses a reclining Buddha that reaches lengths of 150 feet. This giant structure is meant to represent Buddha moments before his death.

This temple complex houses many other buildings of religious significance. In fact, Wat Pho is famous in the country as it holds the highest number of Buddha structures and images in the entire country.

Wat Pho is esteemed for other reasons, too. Many regard this area as the origin of Thai massages. To this day, you can get massages inside the temple from graduates of their massage school.

Wat Rong Khun

Wat Rong Khun is also known as The White Temple. This religious monument is found in Chiang Rai (Northeast Thailand). In a list filled with obscure and unique temples, Wat Rong Khun surely takes the cake. The entire building is snow white and appears to be built out of a Thai psychedelic vision. There are several buildings present in this compound and each structure is more confusing and interesting than the next.

An ubosot is the main prayer room in a temple. The bridge that leads into this ubosot is intended to represent ‘the cycle of rebirth’. As you cross this bridge, you’ll find hundreds of white hands reaching out in an attempt to grab something. This art piece represents unrestrained desire and humanity’s incessant need to want more.

When you reach the all-white ubosot of Wat Rong Khun, you’ll notice several murals intended to represent the wicked nature of humanity. This message becomes more confusing as one spots the cultural references of the Western world. You can find Michael Jackson, Neo, Freddy Krueger, Hello Kitty, and Harry Potter references in the temple.

The White Temple is one of the more recent temples built in Thailand (1997). This building is built by an artist who refuses to accept large donations. He wants to ensure the artistic integrity of the building isn’t swayed by the financial donations of others. He has succeeded – there is no way this temple is the brainchild of hundreds of respected community members… just one artist with a vision!

Wat Pha Sorn Kaew

Commonly referred to as the ‘Temple on a High Glass Cliff’, this temple isn’t close to any large city in Thailand. However, if you find yourself on a cross-country road trip, you need to make a detour here. The giant Buddha statue has the feel of a matryoshka doll. The crux of this temple has to be the 5 connected Buddha statues that increase in height by several feet.

The other temple buildings are known for the bright and various colors. However, the five Buddha statue is all-white and is highlighted by the difference in hue. This countryside temple might be hard to reach, but that only makes it all the more interesting in our opinion.

Wat Suthat

Another famous Bangkok temple, Wat Suthat, is located in Old City. This temple is just walking distance from Khao San Road and sits beside the notorious Giant Swing. This swing no longer serves its original purpose (and rightfully so), but the history lesson is beyond fascinating.

The Giant Swing was a key feature in an ancient Brahmin religious ceremony. During this swing ceremony, local men would stand on the swing in flamboyant costumes and use the massive swing to launch themselves a hundred feet into the air.

A 75-foot pole was situated beside the swing with a bag of gold tied to the top. If the swingers (literal swingers, not the kind you’re thinking of) could grab the bag while flying through the air, the small fortune was theirs to keep. However, this traditional ceremony was discontinued in the 1930s after several men died.

The temple of Wat Suthat is worth visiting for the Giant Swing alone. You can find numerous murals here. And the architecture of this temple is ideal for a great picture opportunity.

Tiger Cave Temple

Krabi is famous for the Tiger Cave Temple. The name stems from a time period when the last wild tiger used to live in a nearby cave. Just a few miles away from the city center of Krabi, this giant meditating Buddha sits on the top of a mountain. Tourists who are expected a peaceful temple visit will be unpleasantly surprised.

There are 1,247 stairsteps that lead you up to this steep mountainside. These aren’t normal steps either. The staircase that leads you to the top of this giant limestone mountain is unlike American stairs. In fact, the height of each steep is approximately 2 times the size of a normal step. On a hot day, you’ll be miserable by the time you reach the halfway point.

The monks that live in the surrounding area beside the caves climb this height daily. When I visited the top of this temple, I even saw 2 stray dogs at the top of the temple. I truly have no idea how they reached the top and I have even less of an idea as to how they’ll get back down. Maybe they just wanted to take in the gorgeous view at the top?

After reaching the Golden Buddha statue and banging the giant golden gong that sits beside him, look out into the distance at the rubber plantations on one side. You can see for miles and miles. On the other side, you can see views of the Andaman Sea and limestone mountains that jet out from the otherwise flat land.

Every visitor who reaches the top of this temple is speechless. However, that is likely because they don’t have enough breath to form words. It’s quite a hard hike.

Buddhist Hell

Most people aren’t aware that there is a Buddhist version of Hell. In fact, I’d venture to say that many Buddhists themselves don’t believe in the concept. This notion hasn’t stopped the creator of Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden near Pattaya. No, Buddhist Hell is not Pattaya’s red-light district.

Normal temples are known for their beauty, architecture, and happy colors. This temple (if you can call it that) is much different. The intense and frightful structures and statues instill a fear of God into the visitors who stop here.

As you walk into the temple, you’ll see a sign that reads ‘Welcome to Hell’. As you walk through the path, you’ll see depictions of hell where people-like statues are being boiled alive or eaten by dogs. Lovely stuff. You’ll quickly learn that the way to avoid Buddhist Hell is simple – do more good deeds than bad deeds.

Every temple in Thailand offers something different and unique. The religious monuments of Thailand often highlight the eccentricity of the artisans in the local community. No matter which temple you visit, you’ll surely be impressed by the intense level of detail that goes into every inch. Make sure you act respectful, or you might end up in Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden.

Related Questions:

What do you wear to temples in Thailand?

The dress code for Thai temples stresses modesty. Above all else, you must cover your knees and shoulders. It is recommended that women wear pants or long dresses. Men must wear pants. As it pertains to your shirt, just ensure it covers your shoulders. A t-shirt or shawl is fine and commonly accepted.

What is the oldest temple in Thailand?

Wat Pho is the oldest temple in Thailand and can be found in Bangkok across from the Royal Palace. It was found on the maps of French explorers in the 1600s, albeit under a different name. This temple embodies traditional Khmer religious architecture and has serious historical significance for the people of Thailand.

Recent Posts