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11 Top-Rated Temples in Thailand

Written by Diana Bocco
Feb 3, 2020

There are over 40,000 temples in Thailand. Most are active while others are in ruins - as is the case of the many structures still standing in the historical parks of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai.

As a Buddhist country, it's no surprise that the bulk of wats in the country are Buddhist sanctuaries, although Hinduism and other religions are also well-represented with colorful temples. Thai wats are not only a place to pray for good fortune, but also a place to make merits, light some incense for your ancestors, or talk to the resident monks during difficult times.

The beauty of Thai temples has not escaped the attention of foreign visitors, who often make up their own temple tour to discover and explore as they travel from city to city.

While it would be truly impossible to come up with even a tiny partial list of temples to visit, we've collected some of the most popular and most stunning wats around the country that are well worth a visit.

Plan your trip with our list of the best temples in Thailand.

1. White Temple, Chiang Rai

White Temple in Chiang Rai

Wat Rong Khun, known in English as "the White Temple," is actually not a temple at all - or at least not anymore. Abandoned and in ruins, the original Wat Rong Khun was "adopted" by a local artist in the 1990s, who then spent the next few years transforming it into one of the most stunning privately-owned art exhibits in the country.

The main building of the temple complex (the usobot) is now a sort of art gallery - only accessible by crossing a bridge built over a pond - while some of the other buildings have been designated for meditation and as training rooms and a learning center. And while the former temple is already stunning, renovation work hasn't stopped - and it's not expected to be finished before 2070. The completed compound will consist of nine buildings, including living quarters for monks.

Once visitors cross the "gate of heaven," they'll find themselves inside the usobot, which features bright, colorful murals depicting everything from demon faces to Freddy Krueger to Harry Potter. The design is confusing and it's meant to be - the artist created it as a representation of humanity: strange, unexpected, and not always gentle.

2. Wat Arun, Bangkok

Wat Arun at dusk

Wat Arun, also known as the "Temple of Dawn," sits on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. Dedicated to the Hindu god Aruna, Wat Arun is a particularly stunning sight in the early morning, as the sunlight reflects on the temple's walls, decorated with Chinese porcelain fashioned into ornate flower petals and glass mosaics in silver and reddish colors.

The temple's 70-meter-tall prang (spire) can be seen from the river, and it's one of Bangkok's most famous landmarks. You can even access Wat Arun from the water by hopping on a water taxi on the other side of the river, where Wat Pho sits.

One of the highlights of visiting this temple is the option to climb the very vertical staircase built on the outdoor wall. If you're not afraid of heights and can manage the narrow steps, you'll be rewarded with beautiful views over the Chao Phraya River and the gabled roof of other temples and structures across the water.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Bangkok: Best Areas & Hotels

3. Wat Pho, Bangkok

Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

Wat Pho, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is one of the largest temples in Bangkok. The entire temple grounds cover an area of over 80,000 square meters, but only half of it is open to visitors - the other half houses a school and the monk's residential quarters.

Although there are several buildings in the open part of the temple, most visitors come here for the giant reclining Buddha, a 46-meter-long and 15-meter-tall statue covered in gold leaf. While the entire statue is stunning, it's the feet of the Buddha that attract the most attention. Inlaid with mother of pearl and inscribed with auspicious symbols, the feet also display a chakra (energy point) right in the center. Lining up the walls of the hall, visitors will find 108 bronze bowls, where you can drop special coins (brought from the temple) for good health and fortune.

Over one thousand other Buddha images occupy the temple's courtyard and surround the buildings.

4. Blue Temple, Chiang Rai

The Blue Temple in Chiang Rai

Wat Rong Seua Ten is best known to English-speaking visitors as the Blue Temple or "Templo Azul." Located just outside the city, this is one of Chiang Rai's newest and most stunning wats, as well as one of the most visited.

The Blue Temple is relatively small, but the gold ceilings and deep sapphire blue color of its walls make it almost hypnotic. The two colorful Nagas -semi-divine snake-like creatures - that sit on either side of the temple's gate, add to the magnificent feeling.

Inside, carved Buddha statues, mosaic-like blue paintings, and murals continue the magical experience, and a large white Buddha statue welcomes visitors.

Wat Rong Suea Ten sits on the ruins of an ancient temple that once stood here - though the new building is a place for not only prayer but also meditation.

5. Sanctuary of Truth, Pattaya

Sanctuary of Truth, Pattaya

Another temple-like structure that isn't officially a temple, the Sanctuary of Truth is unique in many ways. Built almost entirely of teak wood to look like a cross between a palace, a museum, and a traditional Buddhist wat, the Sanctuary of Truth is the brainchild of a local artist, Mr. Lek Viriyahphan - who, inspired by the ancient temples of Ayutthaya, spent a couple of decades designing the structure until his death in the year 2000. Still growing and under construction, the building was always meant to be a place where philosophy, faith, and art meet and coexist.

Both outside and inside the sanctuary, thousands of detailed carvings of mythical creatures, deities, and elephants adorn the walls and the hallways.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Pattaya: Best Areas & Hotels

6. Tiger Cave Temple, Krabi

Buddha at the top of the Tiger Cave Temple

The Tiger Cave Temple (officially Wat Tham Suea) is located just outside Krabi. The complex lies on a few different levels, with a 1,260-step staircase (some steps are over 30 centimeters high) passing by caves filled with tiger print paws and golden Buddhas on the way to the summit. For those who brave the 278-meter elevation of the staircase, the reward is a massive golden Buddha, a tiny shrine, and some of the best open views over the town below.

Tropical jungle surrounds the hill and the steps. The caves that are part of the complex are well worth a visit as well. Some contain small statues, some are popular spots for Thais to light incense, and others are great for just a break in a cool, peaceful space before you continue on up the staircase.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Beach Resorts in Krabi, Thailand

7. Black House, Chiang Rai

The Black House in Chiang Rai

The Black Temple (or Black House) is a sort of museum-of-death meets spiritual destination like you won't find anywhere else in Thailand. A complex of over 40 buildings designed in traditional Thai architecture, the Black House is not a religious structure, even though many of the buildings have a temple-like appearance.

Controversial local artist Thawan Duchanee is behind the structure - and his surreal, unusual style is evident in every corner of this stunning project. The main building in the complex is a temple-like structure with a cavernous interior full of animal skulls and horns, snake skins, and furniture that looks like it belongs in a Gothic movie. The darkness of the designs is meant to represent the dark side of human desire, as well as the sickness and pain the Buddha himself witnessed throughout his life.

Other stunning buildings include a whale-like building, white igloos, Stonehenge-like stone setups, and much more. Not all the structures are open to the public - some can be seen only through a window, while others are completely off-limits. The beautiful garden grounds are perfect for a stroll as well.

8. Silver Temple, Chiang Mai

The Silver Temple, Chiang Mai

The Silver Temple (officially called Wat Sri Suphan) owes its name to its unique appearance, with walls and ceiling completely covered in either pure silver or an alloy and zinc mix. Inside, even the statues and some of the decorations are covered in silver, as are the frames of the many mirrors - together, these form a magical bouncing of light and images that make the temple feel never-ending in every direction.

Back in the 1500s, a silversmith village surrounded the area, which explains why the wat ended up covered in silver. Visitors today can find plenty of silver studios around the temple, as well as artisans selling their silver wares on the temple's grounds. Meditation sessions led by monks are available here several times per week, and the nearby Saturday Walking Street Market offers a chance to pick up a number of souvenirs and crafts.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Places to Stay in Chiang Mai

9. Wat Mahathat, Ayutthaya

Wat Mahathat

Ayutthaya's most famous temple is located in the center of a historical park and surrounded by dozens of other stunning ruins. Ayutthaya was once the capital of Bangkok and, around the year AD 1700, the largest city in the world.

Wat Mahathat might not be the largest temple in Ayutthaya, but the impressive ubosot (ordination hall) and main viharn (the living quarters) are still stunning. Although the central prang (tower-like spire) collapsed a long time ago and only the base remains, the temple complex is still a stunning group of temples that attracts many visitors.

One of the temple's main attractions is the stone head of a Buddha locked in a tree's roots.

10. Wat Saket, Bangkok

Wat Saket at dusk

One of the oldest temples in Bangkok and a sacred pilgrimage site during the Loy Krathong festival in November, Wat Saket is also a sight to behold. The temple sits at the top of an 80-meter-tall hill, from where the stunning views over Bangkok Old Town will make you forget about the heat and the climb to get you here.

The grounds around the temple are decorated with ancient trees, a wall of bells, golden Buddha statues, and a shaded 300-step staircase that takes visitors up to the chedi.

A somewhat obscure temple (you won't find many tourists here), Wat Saket is a perfect destination for reflection and photography. If you arrive early in the morning, when the temple is almost deserted, find a bench to sit down and listen to the many bells ringing softly in the wind.

11. Emerald Temple, Bangkok

Entrance to the Emerald Temple in Bangkok

The Emerald Temple (officially Wat Phra Kaew) is Thailand's most famous and most sacred temple. It's located inside the grounds of the Grand Palace, and it is home to the statue of the Emerald Buddha, considered the protector of Thailand.

Despite its name, the statue isn't made of emerald but of a deep green, single piece of jade stone. It stands 66 centimeters tall, and it's dressed in a special cloak changed personally by the king three times a year, as the seasons change.

The Emerald Buddha sits on a gilded altar, in a wat decorated in shiny green and orange tiles, surrounded by mosaics and marble. It's a stunning room meant to honor the importance of the statue. Outside the entrance to the temple, two giant yakshis (mythical demon giants) guard the temple.

More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com

Exploring Bangkok: Some of the most important temples in Bangkok are located within the grounds of the Grand Palace. You can see what to do during a visit here in our article Exploring Bangkok's Grand Palace: A Visitor's Guide. While in Bangkok, make sure you spend some time exploring some of the other stunning destinations within the city. Take a look at our list of top-rated tourist attractions in Bangkok for some inspiration.

Other Destinations: The ancient city of Ayutthaya has plenty to offer visitors. Find your way here with tips from our article, From Bangkok to Ayutthaya: Best Ways to Get There. Once here, make some time to see the most important temples, as listed on the Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Ayutthaya. Heading to Chiang Mai instead? Our piece on the Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Chiang Mai will help you find the best temples and other must-see places.

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