About five hours north of Bangkok is Wat Pha Sorn Kaew, or the ‘Temple on a high glass cliff’. This temple is typically not part of the shoestring itinerary many travelers follow because of its obscure location. If you have the time, however, this is one of the most striking temples in Thailand. Construction began in 2004 but it was only recently opened and still sparkles like new, with millions of colorful mosaic tiles decorating the main pagoda and surrounding buildings. The temple overlooks the surrounding mountainous area, which makes for one incredible backdrop. The five white Buddha statues sit in stark contrast against the colorful surrounding buildings.
One must-do day trip from Bangkok is Ayutthaya. The city was named a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1991, and is home to some of Thailand’s most spectacular temples. One of these temples is the stellar Wat Phra Sri Sanphet. This monastery is said to be one of the most important temples in Ayutthaya, and it’s located within the royal palace grounds. One of it’s most striking and well known features are the large, bell-shaped pagodas that sit at the heart of the ruins on a rectangular platform. Small ruins surround these three pagodas, which were believed to have been the base of royal houses during the Ayutthaya period.
Wat Rong Khun, or the ‘White Temple,’ is somewhat of a trek to reach in comparison to the other temples on our list. That being said, this spectacular, dazzling white temple surely deserves every ounce of effort taken to reach it. The temple sits outside the northern city of Chiang Rai, starkly contrasting against surrounding green foliage with its dazzling white exterior. The white plaster signifies the purity of the Buddha, while the glass that covers these walls represent Buddha’s wisdom. The temple is still undergoing additional construction which was delayed after an earthquake hit Chiang Rai in 2014, and the temple was in need of structural repairs. Admission into the temple is free.
Located in the Old City is Wat Suthat, most famously known for the red Giant Swing that towers just outside its entrance. The Giant Swing was replaced in 2004, but its construction dates back to 1784. The temple has some awe-inspiring architecture throughout its grounds as well as a plethora of wall murals.
Kill a few birds with one stone by visiting Wat Phra Kaew, also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, as it sits on the same grounds as the Grand Palace. Construction of this temple in Bangkok began in 1785, when King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke (Rama I) moved the capital to Bangkok from Thonburi. It’s regarded as one of the most important temples in Thailand and it’s here you’ll also find a model of Angkor Wat. Entrance into the complex is ฿400 (about $15). You can hire a guide or an audio guide to explain all it is you’re seeing on these ancient grounds. The dress code is fairly strict: no shorts, sandals, or revealing clothing, or else you may be denied entrance onto the grounds entirely.
Wat Phra Kaew, Na Phra Lan Rd, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok, 10200, +66 02 623 5500
Another temple found just an hour north of Bangkok in the city of Ayutthaya is Wat Mahathat, most famously known for the Buddha head that sits amongst an entanglement of branches. The Buddha head resembles the symbol of the Bodhi tree, where Siddartha Gautama attained enlightenment. The old capital of Siam is home to a plethora of temples, all of which are worthy of exploring. You can also visit the Ayutthaya Tourist Center, the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum, and the Ayutthaya Historical Study Centre while you’re here.
By Kelly Iverson