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Thailand's temples celebrate a variety of beliefs and cultures. Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions are represented through ornate temples. Since the last update, Thailand has 41,205 Buddhist temples (Wat), of which 33,902 are in use. Each has its history and cultural value, but you don't need to be spiritual or a culture lover to appreciate its design or surroundings.
Foreign visitors are often drawn to the beauty of Thai temples, thus creating a temple tour to explore them as they travel around the country. In addition to admiring the architecture, Thai wats are places to pray for good fortune, make merits, light incense for ancestors, and converse with resident monks.
While most of Thailand's temples are magnificent in their ways, a handful really stands out. Here's a list of those impressive wats to add to your Thailand vacation's temple tour. Some are well-known and simple to reach, while others are a little more off the beaten path but worth the effort to visit.
Located in Thailand's smallest province is the Samut Songkhram's old ordination hall with one of the most photogenic Buddhas. The Ayutthaya-era temple was abandoned, leaving nature to take over. Banyan tree roots engulfed the structure in which the seated Buddha figure rests.
This North-East Thai temple has a water shrine. The elephant-shaped construction is made up of millions of ceramic mosaic tiles. The creative design makes it look like an elephant from the ground but a turtle from above.
This fantastic temple (also known as Wat Phrabat Pu Phadaeng), located on the peaceful mountain of Doi Pu Yak in the northern Thai district of Lampang, demands visitors to put in some effort. But the hike is worth it when you see the 'floating pagodas' at the mountain's summit. They provide an added dimension to this one-of-a-kind temple experience.
Wat Huay Pla Klang is a relatively new addition to Chiang Rai's temples. The colossal 260-foot-high (80-meter-high) statue of Kuan I'm (the Goddess of Mercy) captures the eye as you approach the temple. The calm white figure rests atop a tiny hill, with visitors able to climb the inside stairs for panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. In addition, a nine-tiered pagoda stands next to the central temple tower.
The provincial capital Phatthalung is off the beaten path, but it is home to one of Thailand's most beautiful natural wonders, the Thale Noi wetlands. It is also a pleasant spot to spend a few days exploring, with the intriguing Wat Khua Suwan being one of the city's primary attractions.
You can climb the stairs behind the main temple buildings to enter a cave filled with Buddha sculptures. Plus, a second stairway takes you up the mountain to a point where you can enjoy spectacular views of Phatthalung and the summit of Khao Ok Thalu in the distance.
Khun Samut Chin's temple illustrates coastal degradation and rising sea levels. The rest of the community moved inland, and inhabitants built concrete paths to the wat.
At low tide, the temple is accessible over silt, but at high tide, it's unreachable; the sea surrounds it. As a result, part of the ordination hall becomes submerged, although most of the interior has been raised to prevent this.
Wat Ku Tao is one of Thailand's most beautiful temples, blending Burmese and Chinese Confucian traditions and showcasing stunning pagodas representing the five most recent Buddhas and an unusual chedi. Many compare the chedi to a giant stack of watermelons, which explains its name: 'Tao' means melon in Lanna Thai.
The temple was created to house the remains of Prince Saravadi, the Burmese overlord of Chiang Mai, who died in 1607. As a result, Wat Ku Tao is unique among Chiang Mai's Thai temples.
Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaeo is the formal name of this temple in Isaan, but Wat Larn Kuad ('million bottle temple') describes what makes it so distinctive. More than a million green bottles were recycled to decorate the establishment's religious buildings, with bottle caps becoming mosaics. The unconventional building materials allow natural light to flood the temple and need little maintenance.
Chang and Heineken bottles make up most of the glass. The monks began gathering them in the 1980s. They started this project to educate the community about living more sustainably and revolutionize garbage disposal. The first building took two years to erect, and there are now 20 more. For example, the monks also similarly decorated crematoriums, restrooms, prayer rooms, and monks' homes.
Wat Niwet Thammaprawat is Thailand's only cathedral-style wat. Near Bang Pa-In Palace in Ayutthaya, the temple exhibits King Rama V's love of European architecture. Monks from the wat run a cable car crossing the Chao Phraya River.
You can't go into Thailand's smallest temple ('noy' means little in Thai). This remarkable temple looks like a shrine or spirit house inside the Nan National Museum. Above, you can see a small white structure under the tree on the far left.
According to local history, the monarch of Nan built this temple after King Rama V visited in the late 1800s. The Nan nobleman misjudged the number of temples in Nan and informed the king of one less. Thailand's most miniature temple was swiftly built from white limestone to atone for the oversight and ensure the king had the correct number. This 6-foot-wide, 10-foot-tall temple can be seen in Nan.
This 2019 Udon Thani landmark resembles a lotus bloom on a lake. Inside, enormous glass windows resemble lotus petals, and frescoes depict Buddha's life. Ban Chiang National Museum is nearby.
This temple's hilltop location in Udon Thani province makes it difficult to reach without a vehicle. However, it is a must-see if you're in Udon Thani. The temple's interior is just as impressive as its facade, with a 20-meter Reclining Buddha carved of marble.
Wat Phra Dhammakaya is the centre of the Dhammakaya movement, a 1970s offshoot of Buddhism that emphasizes the True Self in all living things. The temple has 300,000 Buddha images, 3,000 monks and other worshippers.
Mass meditation and prayers are held there. It's Thailand's largest temple, with 100,000 worshippers.
Wat Phra Kaew is a famous Thai temple due to its history and location in Bangkok's Grand Palace complex. It's the holiest Thai temple. The temple's jade Emerald Buddha was found in Chiang Rai in the 15th century and moved to Bangkok in the 18th.
The Indian saint Nagasena predicted the Emerald Buddha would bring "prosperity and preeminence" wherever it went. However, only the King or Crown Prince may touch the portrait as Thailand's defender.
This Hat Yai temple has the world's first stainless steel chedi. Phra Maha Chedi Tripob Trimongkol was built to honour King Rama IX and commemorate his 60th anniversary in 2006. The chedi sparkles in the sun and glows with illumination at night.
Wat Doi Suthep, a temple on Doi Suthep Mountain with views of Chiang Mai, was founded in the late 14th century.
The story goes: Sumanathera was advised to journey to Pang Cha to find a relic in a dream. He finds a bone, assumed to be Gautama Buddha's shoulder, which glows, replicates, moves, and vanishes. Sumanathera took the bone to King Dhammaraja of Sukhothai, but he couldn't see its magic. Sumanathera brought the bone to King Nu Naone of Lanna. The bone shattered in half and was placed on a white elephant that was unleashed into the bush and climbed Doi Suthep before dying. King Nu Naone built a temple near its death location.
Wat Phra That Lampang Luang is one of Thailand's most important temples because of its intact Lanna architecture and 2,500-year-old Buddha hair strand. The temple has been conserved in its original state, unlike other Thai temples that have been modified and modernized.
It still features open viharas, naga stairs, and other Lanna and Thai Lu architecture characteristics. Other historical items include bullet holes in the temple railings fired by Nan Thipchang, an infamous folk hero, and a highly important Buddha picture – Phra Kaew Don Tao.
The massive Viharn Luang in the temple complex is the oldest wooden viharn in Thailand, erected in the late 15th century.
Without conveyance, the Phetchabun local temple is difficult to reach. But If you can make it to Wat Phrathat Phasornkaew, you won't be disappointed. The magnificent white temple and statue of the five Buddhas compliment Khao Kho's mountain setting. In addition, the temple contains a pagoda styled like a lotus blossom decorated in mosaic tiles and colourful pottery.
Wat Rong Khun, in Chiang Rai, is known as the White Temple. It is a stunning blend of modern and classic design created by Chiang Rai artist Chalermchai Khositpipat. The temple is densely packed with symbols signifying Buddhist paradise and hell.
The extraordinary artwork is a labour of love and faith by the Thai man, who has committed significant sums of his own money to build one of Thailand's most impressive temples. It has been under construction since the late 1990s. The temple is open to visitors, although renovations are expected to continue until 2070.
In 2016, a new temple was built on this site. Wat Rong Seua Ten has a similar design style to Chiang Rai's White Temple. Phuttha Kabkaewa, a student of Chalermchai, is credited with the artwork.
However, unlike in the White Temple, photography is allowed inside the main hall, with a white Buddha picture and beautiful artwork on the walls and roof.
Most Buddhist temples display tranquil Buddha pictures, but that's not always the case. For example, Wat Saen Suk is a 'hell temple' in Bang Saen, Chonburi, containing horrific images and sculptures illustrating what awaits immoral people.
Thai Buddhists believe in reincarnation; however, the soul remains in either paradise or hell between death and rebirth. Wat Saen Suk is the largest hell temple in Thailand.
At first glance, this temple in Suphanburi, north of Bangkok, seems ordinary, but recently commissioned murals inside the temple add fun and unique characteristics. For example, Doraemon, Angry Birds, and i-Pads are hidden in some artwork.
It's a subtle approach to urge younger visitors to look for the figures and ponder the more serious Buddhist ideas in the paintings. Visit with a local guide so they can point out the figures in the murals.
Wat Samphran is a modest temple 40 kilometres from Bangkok in Nakhon Pathom province. Its primary feature is a 17-story dragon statue wrapped around the building like a vine. This temple isn't in any travel book hence few travellers visit.
In addition to stunning views, the building's top floor depicts the birth of Buddha with sculptures. According to mythology, a newborn Buddha can walk, and wherever he steps, lotus flowers grow. Also, outside the main building, there are other intriguing statues. We urge walking around the property to find more surprises.
Wat Sirindhorn Wararam in Udon Thani is an attractive sight by daylight but even more so by night as it transforms into a unique artwork. The 'Tree of Life' on the temple wall and the floor in front of it glow in the dark thanks to fluorescent paint.
One of Northern Thailand's most peculiar temples sits south of Chiang Mai's Old Town. Wat Srisuphan lies in Chiang Mai's silver-making Wualai neighbourhood.
Since the early 1500s, the temple has stood in this location, undergoing redesigns and modifications. The temple most recently incorporated local silversmiths in 2004. Thus, the main ordination hall (ubosot) shimmers in the sunlight. Most of the work is done with zinc and alloy, but the sacred icons inside are made with precious silver.
The Wat Thammikaram temple complex lies on both sides of the road at Prachuap Khiri Khan Beach's northern end. Both sites have dozens of monkeys, and the temple's hilltop views of Prachuap Khiri Khan are remarkable.
A shrine and tiny temple exist atop Khao Chong Krachok (Mirror Mountain). You should visit Ao Noi's teak wood temple further around the bay if you have any energy left after climbing and descending the 396 steps.
Wat Tham Pha Plong is a noteworthy Thai temple due to its remote setting in a cave, surrounded by jungle, and only reachable climbing 500 steps that lead to its stunning gold stupa. Once you've completed the long ascent to the temple, you'll find the perfect setting for meditation, awareness, and prayer if you're so inclined. You can overcome anything with patience and perseverance! This is the knowledge to be gained from the experience of visiting this temple.
The famed Buddhist monk Luang Poo Sim found Pha Plong Cave while wandering the forest alone. HM King Bhumibol awarded him the highest priestly honour in 1992 for dedicating his life to preaching the Buddha's teachings.
This temple is not connected to the famed Tiger Temple in Krabi (also included in this list below), albeit having the same name. Nevertheless, this temple's gorgeous backdrop makes it worthy of inclusion. Wat Tham Seua is a must-see in Kanchanaburi.
The cave in which this temple resides once housed a tiger. The animal's memory is honoured by a shrine inside the cave and main temple, but the clifftop shrine beyond the cave is what makes Wat Tham Seua noteworthy.
More than 1,200 steps lead up the 600-meter cliff. Those who make it are rewarded with Krabi's farmland, mountains, and estuary views.
Phayao visitors shouldn't miss a boat ride on Kwan Phayao Lake. The 1930s irrigation project built the artificial lake. The initiative assisted locals but destroyed several buildings. This includes 15th-century Wat Tilok Aram.
Today, a floating platform and Buddha image on the lake rest above the submerged ruins of the historic temple.
Wat Yannawa is easily accessible by public transportation in Bangkok. Despite this, foreign visitors rarely witness it, which is a shame because it's one of Bangkok's most attractive temples. The boat-shaped shrine hall with mast-like chedis is unusual.
Located on the Chao Phraya River, the boat was designed during King Rama III's era (1824–51). The king commissioned the design to remind future generations of the importance junk boats played in Bangkok's development.