Top Ten Temples in Thailand


One of the main cultural attractions of Thailand to visitors the world over is undoubtedly its arduously-crafted temples. And although this tropical, SE Asian country is largely Buddhist, the majority of people who come here as tourists are able to appreciate the craftsmanship, architecture, and rich, the historical value of the temples in Thailand, which are unique in many ways.

The whole country has a range of temple buildings that vary according to region. Some of them are recent additions or re-vamps of older structures, while others date back centuries. Some of them are also made of an interestingly wide variety of materials that may be ancient stone, marble, wood, or even recycled beer bottles, and the ‘quirks’ of some of the temples are usually related in some way to the history of the region that they were constructed in.

But they all have one thing in common, which is an overall sense of calm and serenity, with the exception of special festivals or Thai ‘monk days’ (‘Wan Phra’ in Thai) when the places are transformed into veritable bustling hotbeds of activity. In fact, temples in Thailand are an important part of life in general, often serving a variety of roles and functions for the local communities in which they are established.

Most of the people who go to their local temples do so for a variety of reasons, one of the main ones without a doubt being the act of merit-making (‘Tam Boon’). This is a part of Buddhist culture and is also related slightly to superstition and luck, in typically Asian fashion. Anyone visiting the temple who wonders what is going on with all the incense-lighting and other rituals that accompany the act of merit-making can only watch in wonder, but this is an important facet of Thai culture (as is the ordination as a monk for many young men, even if only for a week or two which is often the case) and thus should be observed with silent respectfulness as much as possible.

Thai temples are referred to by the Thai word ‘Wat’ (which is apparent from the names of all of them in that it serves as a pre-fix to the actual name). The ‘Wat’ itself though, is often comprised of a series of buildings which all serve different functions, set in some kind of court-yard, and usually comprising some form of ‘Chedi’ (the tall, pointed dome-type structure) where Buddhist relics have been enshrined, and which also serve as a kind of tombstone in Thailand for the deceased.

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The majority (though not all) of the temples are ‘active’ temples, meaning that they house practicing monks of various rank, from novices to those of high levels of seniority. Over the years the temples have been classified into levels of importance and class, with the majority of those considered the most sacred and highest class being the ‘Rattanakosin’ variety in the capitol (such as the famous ‘Wat Phra Kaew’ – Temple of the Emerald Buddah – which has not been included here as it is likely to feature in every other report on Thai temples). That said, many of the temples in regions other than Bangkok could be considered as even more stunning, due not only to differences in design, but also because of the stunning location or backdrops that they are set in.

With no wish to be condescending in any way, it does need to be pointed out that there are codes of dress that should be respectfully adhered to when visiting temples in Thailand, such as appropriate dress and etiquette. This relates mainly to females in terms of wearing something that covers the legs, arms and shoulders – something that is easily solved by wrapping a ‘sarong-type’ garment around oneself before entering – and the removal of shoes is also of the highest importance.

1. Wat Arun (The Temple of Dawn)

Wat Arun is one of Bangkok’s most famous, easily-recognisable landmark temples, and is often featured in pictures relating to the capital city. Set along the Chao Phraya River that runs through the city, this top Thai temple looks particularly amazing at nighttime when it is lit up. Wat Arun dates back to the late 1700s, and features a tower built in the aforementioned Khmer style, which is one of the highest in the country at more than 80 metres.

This temple is also considered as being in the ‘high-grade’, ‘Royal Temple’ category (along with five others in the capitol), and with its Khmer-style architectural features, is one of the few Bangkok temples built before the Rattanakosin era, which is typical of much of the style of the buildings in the ‘old town’ sector of the city. Wat Arun does, however, face some of the most famous of this type of building, most notably The Grand Palace (which houses ‘The Emerald Buddah’), located across the other side of the river.

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WHERE: 158 Thanon Wang Doem, Bangkok Yai, Bangkok 10600
HOW: BTS Saphan Taksin (then short boat ride or taxi)

2. Wat Phra Doi Suthep

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If you are considering heading up to the mountainous, northern regions of Thailand and find yourself in Chiang Mai, then this is the landmark temple to check out in the region. ‘Doi Suthep’ is actually the name of the mountain that the temple was built upon, hence ‘Doi Suthep Mountain Temple’ would be the interpretation of the name.

Although located more than 10km from the centre of Chiang Mai, this top Thai temple is certainly the most-visited in the region, yet remains active, as a pose to being merely a tourist site. At a level of more than 1000 metres, this 14th century structure facilitates some wonderful views of Chiang Mai and its surrounding areas.

The impressive, ‘naga’-lined steps (naga being mythical Thai dragons) typical of many of the temples in this region are apparently the longest of their type in Thailand, and again like many Thai temples the design, architecture and decoration in the form of murals are related to stories from Buddhist-related lore.

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WHERE: 9 Muang Chiang Mai 50200
HOW: Private transport/tour

3. Wat Pho (Temple of The Reclining Buddha)

The 16th century Temple of The Reclining Buddah is another Bangkok landmark temple (and one of the oldest) which apparently is home to the largest collection of Buddha figures in the country.

The golden reclining Buddha itself is almost 50 metres in length and almost 200 years old. This Thai temple is situated in the Rattanakosin region of the city, a short walk away from The Grand Palace.

What makes Wat Pho special is that it is also a centre for learning Traditional Thai Massage, is considered one of the best in the country, and is also a good place to experience a relatively inexpensive and therapeutic massage.

Image by Mark Philip

WHERE: 2 Sanam Chai Road, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200
WHEN: 8AM-6.30PM
HOW: BTS Saphan Taksin (then short taxi ride or boat from Chao Praya pier)

4. Wat Pha Sorn Kaew

Once again heading north of Bangkok, this time 5 hours away to the picturesque region of ‘Khao Kor’ in the Petchabun province, Wat Pha Sorn Kaew can be found. This Thai temple is situated on a peak almost 900 metres skyward and presents a stunning image with its five white Buddha statues overlooking the surrounding environment of natural beauty.

This ice-white temple is a far cry from the Bangkok city variety and, as a more recent addition to the country’s plethora of temples having been completed in 2004, this ideal, serene building is well-thought-out in terms of design and location. Obviously due to its somewhat remote position it is not that easy to get to, as is the case with many of the temples not located in city or highly-populated areas, but it is well worth a trek for those who have a list of Thai temples on their ‘stop-off’ list.

WHERE: 95 Moo 7, Red House Campson, Khao Kor, Khaem Sorn 67280
WHEN: Email:
HOW: Private transport or tour.

5. Wat Phanom Rung

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This temple is the best example within the article of what could be termed Khmer-style architecture and design. This renowned, revered, and ancient temple located in Buriram in the North-Eastern region of Thailand (not too far from Cambodia), stems from around the 17th century and is located within the perimeter of what is known as a Historical Park (Phanom Rung Historical Park).

It has been described as a ‘mini Anchor Wat’ which obviously indicates further the style and influence of its origin. This ancient temple is set on the top of a hill close to a (non-active) volcano and, considering its age, has been well-maintained.

WHERE: Ta Pek, Chaloem Phra Kiat District, Buriram 31110
HOW: Private transport or tour

6. Wat Sri Suphan (Silver Temple)

Also in the northern Chiang Mai region, this is a ‘Lanna’ style temple typical of the region. The temple dates back to the beginning of the 16th century, and is located in what was once a silversmith village. Because of its age it has undergone much restoration, with most of it being decorated silver, including the Buddha figures (although this was only done as recently as a decade ago).

This is another active temple, and it may need to be noted that according to strict rules related to the ordination of monks, women are not allowed to enter the main hall. Access to Wat Sri Suphan is somewhat easier than some of the more remote ones listed as it is close to the centre of the town.

WHERE: Wua Lai Road, Haya Sub-District, Chiang Mai 50100
HOW: Walk from town centre

7. Wat Benchamabophit (Marble Temple)

This is another of Bangkok’s well-known temples classified as ‘First Class Royal’ that has a slight distinction in that it is built largely from imported Italian marble. This is an elegant temple indeed, and apparently houses the ashes of King Rama V under the bronze Buddha statue. It is recognizable from the four marble pillars at the entrance, demonstrating the ornate, multi-tiered and intricate style of this class of Bangkok temple.

Even though Wat Benchamabophit ( or ‘Bencha’ for short) is considered one of the top temples in Bangkok it is in the city district home to many official government complexes. However, it is still an active temple, so it is usual to see people gathering around the outside in the morning to offer alms to the monks (in contrast to other temples where the monks will walk the streets giving blessing as they receive the donated food that constitutes their one daily meal).

WHERE: Thanon Si Ayutthaya, Dusit District, Bangkok 10300
WHEN: 8.30AM-5.30PM
HOW: BTS to Victory Monument then bus or taxi

8. Wat Phra That Lampang Luang

This northern Thailand temple is considered one of the country’s finest examples of northern-style Lanna architecture. Constructed sometime as far back as the 13th century, this temple carries the legend that the Buddha donated a hair upon visiting the region, and that said hair is now contained within the chedi in the temple’s grounds.

Almost an hour’s drive away from the busy centre of Chiang Mai, the old town region of Lampang is a must for travellers more inclined towards low-key, ‘off-the-beaten-track’ affairs. This authentic, ancient Thai temple and the area in general can often create the impression of going back in time.

WHERE: 271 Lampang Luang, Ko Kha, Lampang 52130
WHEN: 7.30AM-5.00PM
HOW: Tour guide or private transport

9. Wat Traimit (Temple of the Golden Buddha)

The key feature of Wat Traimit is a 5-tonne, 10-feet-tall solid gold Buddha deemed to be the world’s largest. This huge Buddha image is somewhat mysterious in origin but is thought to be dated back to the Sukhothai era of around 1300, and it was transported to the nation’s capital in the 1930s.

This Bangkok temple is considerably close to the Chinatown area of the city, and a section of the building contains a museum, part of which contains information about the immigrants who formed the Chinatown area.

WHERE: 661 Charoen Kung Road, Samphanthawong, Bangkok 10100
WHEN: 8.00AM-5.00PM
HOW: MRT Subway Hua Lampong (then short taxi ride)

10. Wat Saket (Golden Mount Temple)

Image by Mark Philip

Also well-known as ‘Golden Mount Temple, this active Ayutthaya-era temple, which sits atop a man-made hill, provides some amazing views of the city. The golden chedi that forms the pinnacle makes it easily-recognisable from afar, and the 300-odd steps leading up to it are not too challenging.

This temple served as the capital’s crematorium in the 18th century and contains a slightly bizarre and overgrown cemetery near the bottom. Wat Saket also plays host to many a bustling and thriving temple festival at certain points throughout the year, in stark contrast to the usual, breezy serenity and calm atmosphere high above the city.

Image by Mark Philip

WHERE: 344 Thanon Chakkraphatdi Phong, Ban Bat, Pom Prap Sattru Phai, Bangkok 10100
WHEN: 7.30AM-7PM
HOW: MRT Hua Lampong (then short taxi ride)