Top Temples to See when Visiting Thailand

Top Temples to See when Visiting Thailand

Thailand is known for its many attractions, including breath-taking beaches and magnificent mountain ranges, vibrant culture, exciting nightlife and tongue-tickling cuisine. It remains one the world’s top destinations for travelers seeking adventure, leisure, and cultural experiences. The rise of worldwide spiritual curiosity now opens the way for tourists visiting Thailand, when in search of some of the globe’s most splendid and historical religious sites.

Wat’s so special about Thailand’s temples?

It’s estimated that Thailand possesses over 40 700 Buddhist temples, or Wats, as they’re called locally, with roughly 33 000 of them that are operational. This is why Thailand has earned the name “The Land of the Temples”.

There was an era in which it was a requirement for all men to live as Buddhist monks before they turned 20. Although this is no longer in practice, there are an estimated 300 000 monks in Thailand now. They are seen openly in Thai communities, indicating that the practice of Buddhism (predominantly Theravada) runs deep in Thai culture. Recently we wrote about the history of Buddhism in Thailand.

The Thai temples themselves are teeming with monks, practicing Buddhists and tourists. They’re all constructed according to the same traditional architectural guidelines. Typically layered roof trusses sit atop stone walls of the “Putthawat” which is the main temple area dedicated to Buddha. The Putthawat consists of a handful of different structures, such as chapels, conical spires, bell towers, pavilions, prayer rooms, libraries of sacred scriptures, shrines, and even schools and crematoriums.

The second element of most Thai temples is the “Sangkhawat”, the living quarters where monks reside.

Reflecting the diversity of Thai culture and creativity, these temples are architectural wonders. Some are built from traditional stone and wood, and some decorated with crystals or plated gold. The famous Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew, or The Temple of a Million Bottles, is a temple adorned with beer bottles! (with thanks to Thailand’s exhilarating nightlife!)

Visiting Thailand’s Temples with Respect

Visiting a temple in Thailand doesn’t have to be a meticulous affair. Yet, some basic decorum is called for, if you’d like to leave the temple with their blessing.

It’s generally accepted that visitors should not show their knees and even their calves in some stricter places. So, leave the bikini and sarong at the beach house, and hop into some long trousers or capris, and a modest shirt with sleeves. Tight yoga pants don’t count as trousers!

Before entering the temple, visitors have to remove their shoes out of respect. Pick a pair of sandals or slip-on’s for an easier experience, rather than sneakers or hiking boots.

top temples to visiting thailand

In Thai culture, a character’s head is the most sacred part of their body. It’s considered taboo to tower over other temple visitors and monks, so keep your head bowed when entering a temple and walking past other guests. With the head being the most sacred part of one’s body, the feet are considered the lowest and filthiest. You should never point using your feet, especially towards Buddha. When sitting in a temple, you should either sit it both legs to the same side and your toes pointed away, or both feet beneath you pointed backward. Get in, get seated, and be respectful.

If offered the opportunity to engage with some of the monks at a temple, bear in mind that although friendly in most cases, they’re not that into hugs. In fact, monks will seldom make physical contact with other people. They aren’t permitted to touch women at all, and in many cases will not even hand something to a woman directly. Try not to take offense! This is an ancient and sacred culture and falls quite outside the realms of modern feminism.

Never touch or climb or pose on a statue or artist’s depiction of Buddha. Just don’t.

Landmark temples in Thailand’s Top 5 Destinations

Bangkok – Wat Suthat

top temples wat suthat to visiting thailand

This ancient temple was originally commissioned by King Raman in 1807AD, and would house the giant golden Buddha that had been shipped from Sukhotai. The temple was finally completed during the reign of King Raman III, in 1848AD. The Buddha remains there to this day.

Apart from its striking architecture, magnificent wall murals, and intricately carved doors, Wat Suthat is best known for the giant red swing that stands to attention in front of the main hall. Past Brahmin festivals would see men riding the swing high into the air, a traditional abandoned in 1932, after many injuries and deaths.

Phuket: Wat Suwan Khiri Khet, Karon

visiting thailand top temples to see in phuket

Wat Suwan Khiri Khet lies a three-minute drive from the vibrant tourist attraction, Karon Beach, in Phuket. Colorfully decorated, and easily recognizable by its undulating turquoise dragon wall, this is one of Thailand’s smaller and quieter temples. This offers a delightful experience for visitors with a distaste for tourist crowds.

Karon’s little temple is also home to the Wat Karon night market. Twice each week, the market avails goods of every imaginable kind, including clothing and jewelry, Muay Thai apparel, tasty local delicacies and souvenir trinkets to take home.

Chiang Mai: Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Considered one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Thailand, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep sits atop the Doi Suthep mountain, the highest peak in the Doi Suthep National Park. The reserve boasts breath-taking waterfalls and magnificent vistas and proves a fine home for the glistening temple, which welcomes visitors and worshipers all year around.

One of the temple’s most notable features is the 300-step climb from the parking lot, to the temple. This climb enjoys the support of Thailand’s longest Naga snake balustrade. (a sacred water serpent in Thai and Buddhist culture.)

Koh Phangan: Wat Phu Khao Noi

visiting thailand koh phangan wat phu khao noi

This ancient temple – the oldest on Koh Phangan island – was erected by a Buddhist monk, Luang Phor Phet, in the early 15th Century. He discovered the hillside location when in search of a peaceful and spiritual place.

The footprints of monk Luang Phot Phet lie imprinted on the stone at Wat Phu Khao Noi. This is now deemed a miraculous and sacred piece of ground. The modest hillside temple enjoys natural tranquility and offers a look into one of Thailand’s smallest chapels. Visitors can observe resident monks every morning as they go about their rituals.

Koh Samui: Wat Phra Yai

Also affectionately known as “Big Buddha Temple”, Wat Phra Yai lies on the coast of Koh Samui Island. This modern Thai temple, built in 1972, remains a frequent tourist attraction on the tiny island, which can be reached by air travel on a daily basis. This dazzling temple invites the eye to every corner, with its gold adornments, mirrors and jewels, brightly-coloured murals and ultimately, it’s enormous, impressive golden Buddha, sitting in Mara pose, enlightened and calm. Prayer bells encircle the Buddha, beckoning tourist visiting Thailand to tinkle the little chimes for a blessing.


So Be Sure to Include a Temple when Visiting Thailand


Visiting Thailand is a cultural experience, no matter the intent of the traveler. Taking a tour of one, or of many, of Thailand’s beautiful and deeply spiritual temples should be on the itinerary, lodged between mandatory beach time, market visits, and perhaps one of our highly-recommend pub crawls.

Stay at one of our hostels in Thailands bustling tourist destinations, and you’ll be guaranteed to find one of the nation’s many thousand temples nearby!


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