Wat Pha Sorn Kaew
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.
Wat Phra Sri Sanphet
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 Pho, or the ‘Temple of the reclining Buddha’, is the largest and oldest temple in the City of Angels. Wat Pho is most famously known for the reclining Buddha it houses in the compound’s main sanctuary, which sits at 46 meters long and 15 meters high. After being wonderstruck by its enormous Buddha, explore the grounds of Wat Pho in its entirety to see the stupas, all towering high and glistening with color. A traditional Thai massage school calls the grounds of this temple home, so visitors can relax and de-stress after a long day exploring Wat Pho and the surrounding area. There’s a ฿100 entrance fee (about $3).
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is extremely popular and for good reason. You’ll find it in the north of Thailand, just outside the main gates of Chiang Mai. This temple attracts packs of visitors every day, so we suggest visiting early to beat some of the crowds. Visiting this temple takes some gumption, as you first have to scale a spiraling, winding road then tackle a fleet of stairs before finally arriving at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. There’s a ฿30 entrance fee (a little less than $1).
Wat Rong Khun
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.
Overlooking the Mae Nam Chao Phraya is Wat Arun, or the Temple of the Dawn. The reclining Buddha that now calls Wat Pho home used to reside here but was later moved to its current location. This temple is made up of five towers, one of which visitors are allowed to climb some ways up in order to get a better view of the surrounding area. Each tower, or prang, is decorated with bright porcelain pieces and ceramic tiles. Because this temple sits right on the waterfront, there are some amazing restaurants you can sit down and enjoy a meal at while admiring one of Thailand’s most famous temples. The admission fee is ฿50 entrance (about $1.50).
Wat Phra Kaew
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
Phanom Rung Historical Park
Phanom Rung Historical Park is one of Thailand’s only Khmer architecture sites, resembling the famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia. This Buddhist site is striking, with a staircase leading to its elaborate architecture made of laterite and sandstone. This temple was believed to have been built during the 17th Buddhist century. It’s located about six hours northeast of Bangkok in the province of Buriram.
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