While it's true that Bangkok is a crazy and chaotic city, it also has plenty of beautiful treasures to discover! If you're new to the city, visiting a few of Bangkok's ~400 temples is the best way to dive into your trip. To help you get started, I'll share tips for visiting three of Bangkok's most popular temples. Plus I'll lay out some things you need to know before visiting these temples.
Buddhism in Thailand
Believed to have come to the region centuries ago, Buddhism has played a significant role in Thai society and culture throughout its history. In the present day, the Thai monarchy and government are closely interconnected with the Buddhist religion. Over 90 percent of Thai people practice Buddhism. This might explain why Thailand has so many amazing temples or wats!
As a result of this rich history, Buddhism is deeply rooted into the cultural fabric of Thailand. Many young boys serve as monks for a short period of time in their youth. Each morning, monks walk through villages, collecting their daily rations from villagers who line up to give alms. And Buddhist holidays are celebrated throughout the country with joyous festivals and feasts.
Tip: If you have the opportunity to be in Thailand for one of the festivals - be sure to join in the celebration. I especially recommend Thai New Year or Songkran in mid-April which turns the city into a giant water festival!
Which Temples To Visit in Bangkok
Most Bangkok itineraries should at least include a visit to the three most popular temples:
It's easy to visit all three of these temples in one day since they're close together in Bangkok's Old Town. However, if you have more than a day, you should continue exploring some of the lesser known temples which won't be as crowded.
Do's and Don'ts for Visiting Temples
These temples are impressive and you'll no doubt want to capture every aspect. But as you're oo'ing and aah'ing over the glittery mosaics and glowing Buddhas, don't forget that you're in a place of worship. Particularly in Bangkok, many tourists are Buddhists from other parts of Southeast Asia who are coming to pay their respects.
Tips for Acting Respectfully
Our Lao co-workers taught us these tips for being respectful when we first moved to Vientiane several years ago. Since many cultural and religious norms are similar in Laos and Thailand, these tips can be used in both countries. And despite the fact that you'll probably see many tourists not following these guidelines, do you really want to be that person?
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3 Most Popular Bangkok Temples To Visit
Visiting Bangkok's 3 most popular temples is a good activity for one of the days of your visit. Generally I recommend the order: Wat Phra Kaew (Grand Palace complex) -> Wat Pho -> Wat Arun. But you can switch them up or even do them on different days if you like.
Pro Tip about Taking Tuk Tuks to Visit Temples in Bangkok
Sometimes tuk tuk drivers in the area around the Grand Palace and other temples will try to tell you that a temple you wish to visit is closed for the day. Then they offer to take you somewhere else instead.
It's best to go to whichever temple you wish to visit and verify this info for yourself. Often it turns out it was false information and the temple will be open. Better yet - check the opening hours for the temples before you leave your hotel!
Wat Phra Kaew / Temple of the Emerald Buddha
One of the most renowned temples in Thailand, Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is located within the Grand Palace complex. If you are not Thai, you'll have to purchase a ticket to the Grand Palace to visit this temple.
Established in 1782 by King Rama I, Wat Phra Kaew enshrines the highly revered Emerald Buddha. Carved from a single block of jade in the 15th century, the Emerald Buddha is so exalted that only the King is allowed near it. The Buddha is adorned in a seasonal robe which is changed 3 times a year - summer, winter, and rainy season.
Planning Your Visit
Since Wat Phra Kaew is located in the Grand Palace complex - one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bangkok - get there early. It closes earlier than most temples which is why I recommend starting your day here.
The complex is open daily from 8:30 am - 3:30 pm. Tickets for foreigners cost 500 baht (US $16); entry is free for Thai people.
Strict Dress Code
Though I mentioned some general guidance for your attire while visiting temples, the Grand Palace has stricter regulations. Its dress code is not a suggestion, but a checklist of rules on what clothing is acceptable. Be sure to double-check it before your visit and dress appropriately or else the palace guards will not let you enter.
If you haven't dressed correctly - don't worry! There are plenty of vendors selling cheap clothing that you can use to cover up. Although you may not like your "souvenir clothing chic" look in your photos later!
Getting to the Grand Palace
Since the Grand Palace is not on the BTS Skytrain or Metro lines, the easiest way to get there (depending where you're staying) is by taxi or ferry. I like taking the ferry since you get a scenic ride on the Chao Phraya on the way to your destination.
Catching the Ferry
To catch the ferry, take the Skytrain to Saphan Taksim station. Get off and head towards the river to Sathorn Pier. You'll see a couple docks, but go towards the left one to buy your ticket.
You'll see a Tourist Boat option. It's more expensive and doesn't run as frequently as the Chao Phraya Express Boat which I recommend. More locals use this option so they don't announce the stops as clearly. Just follow along on the map as you go and you'll be able to tell when you need to get off. The ride takes about 25 minutes.
Head to the back of the boat when nearing your stop (Tha Chang Pier) so you're ready to disembark when the boat docks. It won't stick around for long!
More Tips for Your Visit
Since you're purchasing a ticket for the Grand Palace complex, you should spend a couple hours wandering around. This compound is full of stupas, royal halls and throne rooms, and even a model of Angkor Wat! The intricate designs of the buildings are beautiful and you could spend hours appreciating them.
Although you are in the Grand Palace complex, you cannot go inside the palace. You'll walk by the front towards the end of your tour, but that's about it. I remember being (unpleasantly) surprised about that on my first visit!
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Wat Pho / Temple of the Reclining Buddha
One of the largest temple complexes in Bangkok, Wat Pho (also called Wat Phra Chetupon or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha), is home to an impressively HUGE reclining Buddha statue.
Planning Your Visit
Wat Pho is located about a 10-minute walk from the Grand Palace complex. I recommend visiting this temple just after the palace. The complex is open daily from 8:30 am - 6:00 pm and admission is 200 baht (US $6.50).
Although not as strict as the dress code for the Grand Palace, you should follow the general guidance that I provided above in the Do's and Don'ts section. Typically wearing capris is fine for most temples. Just not for the Grand Palace which now requires pants.
Getting to Wat Pho
If you're already at the Grand Palace, all you need to do is walk south for ~10-minutes and you'll arrive at the entrance for Wat Pho.
Since Bangkok can be hot as hell at times, you could take a tuk tuk instead. Be prepared to overpay for the ride since you're in a tourist hot-spot. If tired though, it just might be worth it to save your steps for the temples!
If you aren't coming from the Grand Palace, you can also take the ferry to get to Wat Pho. Catch it at Sathorn Pier, like you would for going to the Grand Palace. Disembark at Tha Tien Pier - the stop closest to Wat Pho.
Other Tips for Your Visit
Although many people visit the Wat Pho complex to see the Reclining Buddha, they skip the rest of the temple complex which is a mistake! Spend time visiting the chapels lined with hundreds of gilded Buddha images. Wander through the courtyards of colorful stupas and appreciate the lovely murals.
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Wat Arun / Temple of Dawn
Wat Arun (also known as Wat Chaeng or Temple of Dawn) is a unique-looking Bangkok temple that stands out from the crowd. Its distinctive, colorful spires rise up on the bank of the Chao Phraya and signal that you've arrived!
This temple is a fun one to visit! Different in design from most of the temples in Bangkok, it also offers great views of the Palace. Climb up the steep steps and look out over the river across to the temples you just visited.
Planning Your Visit
Wat Arun is located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya, just across from Wat Pho. I recommend visiting just after touring Wat Pho. It's open daily from 8:30 am - 5:30 pm and admission is 50 baht (US $1.50).
Although not as strict as the dress code for the Grand Palace, you should follow the general guidance that I provided above in the Do's and Don'ts section.
Pro Tip: Climbing up the steep steps of Wat Arun is like doing leg lunges. Don't wear pants that you can't do leg lunges in. You'll either miss out on the views or look really awkward trying to climb those stairs!
Getting to Wat Arun
If you're already at Wat Pho, just head to the Tha Tien Pier and board the shuttle ferry to cross the river. It only costs 3 baht and takes about 5 minutes.
If you aren't coming from Wat Pho, you'll still need to take the ferry to Tha Tien Pier and cross using the shuttle ferry. Or you can buy the Tourist Ferry pass which stops at Wat Arun.
More Tips for Your Visit
One of the best activities during your visit is climbing the central spire of Wat Arun. This enables you to see all the small glass pieces embedded in the temple that give it such a colorful appearance! Plus - the amazing views!
Be forewarned - it's easier to climb up than it is to climb down! Make sure you have a buddy to help you back down if steep heights make you dizzy or if you have trouble climbing.
More Bangkok Temple Recommendations
If you have more than one day to spend exploring temples, here are a few more you may want to check out.
Wat Saket / Golden Mount Temple
Built atop a man-made hill, Wat Saket or the Golden Mount Temple pierces the Bangkok skyline with its large golden stupa. To visit the temple, wind your way through the gardens on the hill to reach its summit.
You'll climb roughly 300 steps to reach the stupa. It's a gradual slope, but given Bangkok's sweltering heat, you should get there before the heat of the day. As a reward for your climb, you'll have 360-degree views of the city!
Getting to Wat Saket
I recommend catching a taxi to reach Wat Saket since it's not near a Skytrain or Metro. Open daily from 8 am - 5 pm, if you arrive early, you should have the place mostly to yourself.
Wat Ratchanatdaram / Loha Prasat
Close to the Golden Mount Temple is another unique Bangkok temple - Wat Ratchanatdaram or Loha Prasat which translates as "iron palace". Once you see its design, I think you'll understand its name!
Built in the mid-1800s for King Rama III, this temple's design was taken from metal temples built in India and Sri Lanka over 2,000 years ago. Its 37 spires represent the 37 virtues that lead to enlightenment. At night, they are lit up and shine beautifully.
Getting to Wat Ratchanatdaram
Not close to a Metro or Skytrain stop, the best way to reach Wat Ratchanatdaram is by taxi. But if you're already at the Golden Mount Temple, just walk east across the canal to reach this one. It's also open daily from 8 am - 5 pm.
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Unlike the other temples and shrines in this article which are all Buddhist, the Erawan Shrine is a Hindu Shrine. In the center of the its tiny courtyard, you'll find a golden sculpture of the Brahma God. Every time I've walked by it, I've seen lots of worshippers paying their respects, lighting incense, and offering flowers.
Getting to the Erawan Shrine
The Erawan Shrine is pretty much sandwiched right in the middle of everything in the bustling Chit Lom district. It's easy to get there on the SkyTrain (Chit Lom station). You can even see the shrine and smell the incense from the pedestrian skywalk running above Phloen Chit Rd. Open daily from 6 am - 11 pm, worshippers continue visiting into the evening.
Visiting temples is a great way to fall in love with Bangkok. After visiting a few, I hope you agree with me that Bangkok is beautiful in addition to being a big, crazy city!
Have you been to Bangkok? What was your favorite temple you visited?