Thailand has thousands of Buddhist temples, ranging from the exquisite and well known to smaller local sites that are off the beaten track. People who have seen many of the nation’s Buddhist places of worship might become what’s commonly referred to as “templed out”.
Architecture fans can rejoice though, as there are also several outstanding churches in Thailand offering something a bit different to the norm. Here are some of the most beautiful.
Located in Chanthaburi in eastern Thailand, a city famous for its gem trade, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is one of the biggest Catholic churches in the country. It was constructed by the French on the site of earlier and more humble chapels. The Gothic-style cathedral, with its soaring twin spires, slate-coloured façade, and stained-glass windows, would perhaps look more at home in medieval Europe than in a coastal Thai province. The insides are also impressive and a large statue of the Virgin Mary stands in front of the beautiful building, bedecked with thousands of donated gemstones to add more of a local connection to the icon.
One of the oldest churches in Thailand, the striking St. Joseph’s Church can be found in the heart of historic Ayutthaya. The yellow Romanesque-style building is certainly very different to the abundant ruins, Buddha statues, and temples for which the area is most famous. The first church was built here in the 1660s. Originally constructed from wood, it was reinforced with bricks just a few years later. It was used as a safe sanctuary for locals during the Ayutthaya-Burmese War. Having suffered extensive damage in the 1760s, it was later restored to its former glory with the addition of even more attractive Romanesque features. The dome, clock tower, stained glass, arches, and religious icons look like they have been lifted straight from somewhere in colonial South America.
Santa Cruz Church is a beautiful Portuguese legacy in Thailand’s capital. Situated on the Thonburi side of the river, a church has stood on this spot since the 1770s. The current building dates back to the first quarter of the 20th century. Featuring a reddish-pink dome on top of the central bell tower and round spoke-like windows below, it is a striking sight among the surrounding shop houses. Decorative arches and a detailed ceiling make the interiors pretty too.
Located in Thalang and close to Phuket’s airport, Holy Trinity Church is an attractive Russian Orthodox place of worship. Designed in the shape of the cross, the gleaming white walls topped with a golden onion dome stands proudly among rubber plantations and agricultural land. The inside is opulent and has one wall filled with images of Jesus Christ and various saints. The altar is also lavish. The church was opened in 2011 and built using funds donated by the Russian community in Thailand.
Occupying a charming riverside spot in Nakon Phanom in northeast Thailand, St. Anna Nong Saeng Church is a reminder of Catholic Vietnamese immigration to the area. Built in the 1920s, some of the materials were imported from Vietnam. It draws on French-colonial religious architectural designs that are common in Vietnam, with elements of both Vietnamese and Thai designs also visible. A large statue of Saint Anna with a young child stands in front of the impressive church. It has two spire-topped towers connected by a high bridge. The atmosphere is peaceful.
A major place of Christian worship in Chiang Mai, the present-day Sacred Heart Cathedral dates back to 1999. It replaced earlier churches in the area. The cathedral has a pale pink exterior and a bell tower stands next to the main building. A circular stained-glass window draws the eye to between the door and the cross-topped roof. The interiors are, however, rather plain, with rows of pews facing a modest altar and a large crucifix.
Built by French missionaries in the 1890s and renovated in the 1990s, the Nativity of Our Lady Cathedral is often said to be one of Thailand’s most attractive churches. It can be found in the Central Thai province of Samut Songkhram. The church is built from pale grey stone and showcases fine Gothic designs. The spire towers proudly, and there are several exquisite stained-glass windows that were imported from Europe. The windows show scenes from Christ’s life and the site has a number of interesting statues too. The inside is light and bright, with pale walls, a long nave, an ornate altar and ceiling, and lots of religious images and symbolism.
Isan’s province of Sakon Nakhon is home to one of Thailand’s largest Catholic communities, so it is little surprise the area also has one of the nation’s most impressive churches. St. Michael the Archangel Cathedral is a photogenic and rather unusual religious building in the Tha Rae sub-district. The design is somewhat like a ship, with the angular building reaching a point at the front. The slim front rises higher than the rest of the church and is topped with a cross. There are colourful religious statues inside and the church is the finishing point for the annual Christmas Star Parade.
The Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker is a striking Russian Orthodox church in Bangkok. Centrally located in Sukhumvit, the church was consecrated in 2014, having been built using donations from members of the Orthodox community. A double cross stands on top of a gleaming golden onion dome mounted atop a striped and tapered tower. Four smaller dome-topped towers stand at each corner of the main building. It has one of the most stunning interiors of all Thailand’s churches, with eye-catching murals covering the walls and ceiling. Beautiful rugs, candles, chandeliers, and furnishings complete the awe-inspiring appearance.
Located in Udon Thani, the Mother of Perpetual Help Cathedral stands out largely because of its resemblance to a Thai temple. The overall shape and designs, complete with an angular gabled roof, coloured roof tiles, and decorative roof edging that is common in many Thai buildings, could easily fool people. A gigantic lattice-like cross on the roof, however, makes it clear that it is a Christian place of worship. Furthermore, several figures from Christianity stand on an attractive display in front of the church. Any doubt is removed once you step inside to find religious artwork and a wall covered in small wooden crosses.