The much-coveted Thai temple (or wát) is actually a compound of different buildings that serve specific religious functions. Even if you don’t consider yourself spiritual, Bangkok’s temples provide a multitude of pleasures that range in scope from artistic inspiration to more straightforward urban exploration.
Built within the grounds of the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew or ‘The Temple of the Emerald Buddha’ is the most important and most visited temple in Bangkok. One of the most significant features of Wat Phra Kaew is the Emerald Buddha, carved into a 66 cm tall block of Jade. This highly revered icon was first discovered in 1464 in Chiang Rai when the Wat sheltering it was struck by lightning. It was taken to Laos before coming back to Chiang Mai and finally making a permanent home in Bangkok where you can admire it today. Wat Phra Kaew is a superb temple to explore, especially the two km long gallery covered with incredibly detailed mural paintings depicting 178 scenes of the epic story of Ramayana. Around every corner you’ll find tall chedis covered with glazed tiles or gold leaves, but the most photographed building is the massive golden chedi of Phra Sri Rattana featured on the one baht coin. The temple is only open until 3 pm and the entrance costs at least 400 baht. A strict dress code applies: no short pants and no sleeveless shirt.
Wat Pho, named after a monastery in India where Buddha is believed to have lived, is one of the oldest and largest Buddhist temples in Bangkok. Wat Pho is also known as ‘The Temple of the Reclining Buddha’ thanks to the 15 meter high, 43 meter long Buddha image it shelters, covered with gold leaf and baring four meter long feet encrusted with exquisite mother-of-pearl (or nacre) decorations. Located just next to the grand palace, Wat Pho also houses one thousand buddha images and 91 chedis (stupas), including four very impressive chedis dedicated to the four chakri kings. Wat Pho is also home to the first Thai massage school where Thai massage is taught at the Traditional Medical Practitioners Association Center, located in an open air hall outside the temple. Just in case you have time to learn it, the temple’s full name is Wat Phra Chettuphon Wimon Mangkhlaram Ratchaworamahawihan… and the entrance fee is 100 baht.
Wat Arun, the most iconic temple of Bangkok is located on Thonburi side of Bangkok, almost opposite to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. Built during seventeenth century on the bank of the Chao Phraya river, its full name ‘Wat Arun Ratchawararam Ratchawaramahawihan’ is rather hard to remember so it is often called ‘Temple of Dawn. The distinctive shape of Wat Arun consists of a central ‘Prang’ (a khmer style tower) surrounded by four smaller towers all incrusted with faience from plates and potteries. The stairs to reach a balcony on the main tower are quite steep, usually easier to climb up than to walk down, but the view from up there is really worth it. Despite its name, the Temple of Dawn looks amazing at sunset. Wat Arun can be easily accessed via ferry across the Chao Phraya River to Maharaj pier and the entrance fee to the temple is 50 baht.