Bangkok's temples are a unique part of the capital's heart and soul. A visit here would not be complete without seeing at least two of them. The architecture is awe-inspiring and the glittering decoration like no other. Imagine thousands of pieces of coloured glass and pottery adorned with intricate structures gilded in glaring gold - you're indeed in a City of Angels!
The best time to visit most temples is in the early morning. It's cooler and generally less crowded. The temples ('wats') are not just tourist attractions but also play an important part in Buddhist traditions. Monks live in the temple complexes, wake up around 04:00, attend to prayers and duties and then collect food and necessities from ordinary people on the streets. If you are up very early in Bangkok you will see monks walking around, dressed in saffron coloured robes. This daily alms ritual (called 'tam boon') takes place all over Thailand and is part of the Buddhist philosophy of giving and making merit to attain a better life beyond this one.
It's daunting to visit all the temples, so we've listed in the following sections those in the 'must- visit' category, according to their beauty, cultural significance and high regard in Buddhism. Please not that most temples are not open after 18:00. Thai temples are sacred places so you must dress appropriately. No shorts or revealing tops, otherwise you won't be allowed in. This applies particularly to Wat Phra Kaew (inside the Grand Palace.)
Wat Phra Kaew (The Emerald Buddha)
Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (officially known as Wat Phra Sri Rattana Satsadaram) is regarded as the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand. Located in the historic centre of Bangkok, within the grounds of the Grand Palace, it enshrines Phra Kaew Morakot (the Emerald Buddha), the highly revered Buddha image meticulously carved from a single block of jade.
Wat Arun in Bangkok (Temple of Dawn)
Wat Arun, locally known as Wat Chaeng, is situated on the west (Thonburi) bank of the Chao Phraya River. It is believed that after fighting his way out of Ayutthaya, which was besigned by a Burmese army at the time, King Taksin arrived at this temple just as dawn was breaking. He later had the temple renovated and renamed it Wat Chaeng, the Temple of the Dawn.
Wat Pho (Temple of Reclining Buddha)
Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha), or Wat Phra Chetuphon, is located behind the splendid Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It's the largest temple in Bangkok and famed for its huge and majestic reclining Buddha measured 46 metres long and covered in gold leaf. The Buddha's feet are 3 metres long and exquisitely decorated in mother-of-pearl illustrations of auspicious 'laksanas' (characteristics) of the Buddha.
The headquarter of Thailand's largest monastic order and Vipassana Meditation centre, Wat Mahathat is an important centre for the study of Buddhism and meditation. Although most programmes are in Thai, there are some in English and the temple has become a popular place to learn the Vipassana meditation method.
Wat Traimit (Temple of Golden Buddha)
Located at the end of Chinatown's Yaowarat Road, near Hualampong Railway Station, Wat Traimit houses the world's largest golden seated Buddha measuring nearly five metres in height and weighing five and a half tons. In the past, artisans crafted the Buddhas in gold and disguised them from invading armies by a covering of stucco and plaster.
Wat Sutat (Great Swing)
One of the oldest temples with a sweeping elegant roof and the site of the original Giant Swing ceremony. A huge teak arch - all that remains of the original Giant Swing - lies in the grounds in front of the temple. The swing was used in a ceremony to give thanks for a good rice harvest. Young men would ride the swing high in the air, suspended 80 feet from the ground when in full swing...
Wat Saket (Temple of the Golden Mount)
The grubby yellow hill crowned with a gleaming gold chedi is also known as the Golden Mount, or 'Phu Khao Thong'. It rises within the compound of Wat Saket, an unusual temple that houses Buddha relics within its 58-metre-high chedi surmounted by a golden cupola. Built by King Rama I just outside the new city walls, the late-18th century temple served as the capital's crematorium. During the following 100 years, the temple became the dumping ground for some 60,000 plague victims.
Other Temples in Bangkok
In addition to Bangkok's must-see temples are a panoply of interesting worship places most guidebooks fail to mention. These hidden gems include: Wat Benchamabophit, Wat Bowonniwetwihan, Wat Chanasongkram, Wat Intharawihan, Wat Ratchanatdaram Worawihan, Wat Rakhang, Wat Ratchabophit, Wat Ratchapradit, Wat Suwannaram and Wat Thepthidaram.