Buddhism is intertwined with the culture of Thailand, an important part of daily life in a way that always seems more harmonious than burdensome.
And so it’s natural that Buddhism is also intertwined with the streets of the Thai capital. As you explore, you’ll find plenty of temples in Bangkok – from small local shrines to grand royal temples.
Visiting Bangkok’s temples is an excellent way to get an insight into the culture of Thailand because, although some of the best temples in Bangkok are (rightfully) popular tourist attractions, many of them are also local places of worship.
When I visit Wat Phra Kaew (also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha) in the complex of the Grand Palace, it’s the grandeur of its interior that first captures my attention, dark murals covering the walls and the small emerald Buddha at the end.
But after I have looked around at the decoration, it’s the other people who are here that I find just as interesting. Local Thais come here every day to pay their respects, to pray, to make merit. It’s this interaction between the sacred and the spectacle that makes it even more significant.
At some of the best local temples in Bangkok, not as richly adorned as the famous ones, the spirituality is highlighted even more, with fewer visual distractions.
The less-visited Wat Hua Lamphong, for instance, is surrounded by a market-like collection of stalls where people ‘make merit’, which usually means donating money to improve your current and future lives. At this temple, that includes contributing money for the coffins of people whose family can’t afford one.
Visiting Bangkok’s best temples
For any first-time visitor to the city, I would recommend visiting a few of Bangkok’s temples to see this side of daily life for yourself. You may want to first visit one or two of the most famous temples in Bangkok, but then also see a couple of the less touristy ones.
If you’ve been to Bangkok before and seen the popular temples, perhaps considering seeing a couple of the ones that offer something different. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes it can feel like Thai temples all look the same – but they do each have their own unique characteristics.
Here’s a quick guide to some important terminology you’ll find at Bangkok’s temples.
Wat: This is a Thai word that means temple or monastery. It’s usually used in the official name.
Prang: A prang is the tall spire in the centre of an important temple that is used in some styles of architecture. It’s normally decorated with carved images.
Chedi: Chedi is the word used in Thailand for a stupa (the more common word in the Buddhist world). It is a mound that has been built to hold the relics of someone important.
Ordination Hall: Also called an ‘ubosot’ or ‘bot’, the Ordination Hall is usually the main building in a temple and is where ceremonies are held.
The last official count said there were more than 40,000 Buddhist temples in Thailand, with hundreds of those in Bangkok alone. So of course you’re not going to want (or have time) to see all of them.
Rather than put together a long list of the city’s temples, I’ve compiled my suggestions for the best temples in Bangkok for a visitor. There’s some variety here, but I think it covers most of the highlights.
I’ve marked them on a map here, so you can get a sense of where they are in relation to other things you might be visiting in Bangkok.
My suggestion would be to visit one or two temples from the ‘must visit’ section, because these really are amongst the best things to do in Bangkok.
Then, something from the ‘majestic’ section will offer you a different style of temple with some impressive visuals.
And, if you’re nearby any of the ‘interesting’ or ‘local temples, pop in for a look for yet another style. Most of these are free to enter, so there’s really no reason not to.
You’ll get a lot more out of your visits if you have a guide, and I would recommend this great guided tour of Bangkok’s temples. Or there are some other good options here:
With all that in mind, let me now talk you through my top tips for the best temples in Bangkok.
When Bangkok became the capital of Thailand in 1782, the new King Rama I began construction of the Grand Palace alongside the Chao Phraya River. Around it, some of the kingdom’s most important temples were built.
Just as the palace is still the royal heart of the city, so are the surrounding temples still among the most eminent. Visually impressive and spiritually momentous, each is well worth visiting.
Temple of the Emerald Buddha
Set within the city’s main royal complex, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is included with a visit to the Grand Palace. Also known as Wat Phra Kaew, the temple is considered to be the most sacred in the whole country!
At the heart of the temple is the Emerald Buddha, which is displayed at the top of a pedestal at the back of the main hall. It’s only 66 centimetres tall and is made of jade and covered in clothes made of gold.
The interior walls of the temple are painted with murals telling the stories of Buddha, while there are lots of other Buddha statues that have been added by successive kings.
Surrounding the main hall are cloisters that you can walk along to see the other structures and sculptures that have been built within the temple’s walled area.
To visit with a guide, there’s this good tour that also includes Wat Pho.
After the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Pho would be considered the most important temple in Thailand and the sprawling site right next to the Grand Palace has lots of things to see – after all, it has the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand.
The most impressive of these images is the Reclining Buddha, a 46-metre-long statue that glimmers with the gold gilding that covers it (it’s actually made of brick and plaster underneath). It it housed in its own building filled with decorations like murals and bronze bowls.
Wat Pho was built on the site of a dilapidated temple by King Rama I when he founded Bangkok here, making it one of the oldest temples in the city. It’s also one of the largest temples in Bangkok, with the complex filled with colourful stupas and grand halls.
You can see more information in my story about visiting Wat Pho, including details about the impressive ordination hall, which is another highlight of the temple.
If you would like a local insight, I would recommend this great tour that also includes Wat Arun.
Before Bangkok was founded, Thailand’s capital was just across the river in Thonburi. Although the Thonburi Kingdom lasted for just 14 years, a royal palace was built there and, in its ground was Wat Arun.
Aside from its historical significance, Wat Arun is one of the most spectacular temples in Bangkok, with its large spire (known as a ‘prang’) rising more than 70 metres into the air. First thing in the morning, it almost appears to glow with the sunrise.
Located right on the Chao Praya River, Wat Arun is an iconic Bangkok sight that you’ll see if you’re catching a boat past it at any point (you can also arrive here by boat).
When you visit Wat Arun, you’ll realise there’s much more than just the prang, with corridors of Buddha statues, chedis covered in intricate tile art, and lavishly decorated halls.
Bangkok’s temples can be small, they can be large. Some of the largest ones are, just by the virtue of their size, majestic in appearance. But these ones I’ve highlighted are also significant in other ways, and among the best temples in Bangkok to visit.
Although the temple’s official name is Wat Ratchanatdaram, it’s normally just called Loha Prasat, which means ‘Iron Castle’. It’s an apt name because the structure of the main building looks like a castle, with a series of square terraces lined with a total of 37 metal spires.
Entering Loha Prasat from the bottom level, you’ll be confronted with a grid of passageways between columns that can be a bit disorienting. Wandering through them, you’ll eventually find the staircase that leads up to the higher levels.
At the very top, a final spiral staircase leads up to the small area where a relic of Buddha is kept. There are also great views across the neighbourhood.
Wat Saket (Golden Mount)
For the best views of this part of Bangkok, you’ll want to head across the road to Wat Saket, which is more commonly known as the Golden Mount. Its name will be obvious when you spot the golden roof of the temple, which is set on top of the only hill in the city.
Part of the experience of visiting the Golden Mount is walking up to the top, along the 320 steps that circle around the hill, offering increasingly better views, as well as a few decorations along the way.
At the top, the temple area feels different to others you might have visited – it’s more like an observation level than an ordination hall. There are shrines and other things to look at, but it’s the panorama that’s the real highlight.
Wat Suthat Thepwararam
One of the best known features of Wat Suthat Thepwararam is actually just outside its entrance – a giant 21.5-metre-high swing on the side of a road, which many people stop to look at, even if they’re not going inside. But go inside you should.
The sprawling temple complex has several sections worth seeing, starting with the large main hall that features a famous golden Buddha statue that originally came from the ancient capital of Sukhothai, as well as many murals and traditional Thai crafts.
The ordination hall beyond it is also a huge structure with another large Buddha statue, this time with about 80 statues in front of it depicting worshippers. Beyond the hall are the village-like monks’ quarters, which you can have a wander through.
While the Grand Palace is the most important royal residence, and still the official residence, the past few kings (including the current Rama X) actually live in Dusit Palace, about three kilometres to the northeast. Construction of Dusit Palace started in 1897 and two years later, in 1899, Wat Benjamabhopit started to be built next to it.
Wat Benjamabhopit is one of the most beautiful temples in Bangkok, nicknamed the ‘marble temple’ because of the generous use of Italian marble in its design, including the pillars, the courtyard, and two large singhas.
There’s an interesting combination of Thai and European design influences in the compound. The red and golden roof looks like many of the other temples in Bangkok, for instance, but then there are also stained-glass windows, which is not common.
Wat Benjamabhopit is slightly further away from the centre where many of the main temples are, but it’s worth heading over to have a look and wander around the accessible parts of Dusit Palace too.
Even temples that are not ‘first class’ (which is the official designation for the most important ones) or majestic in their scale can be interesting. There are quite a few smaller temples in Bangkok to visit because of their unique characteristics.
Wat Traimit feels a bit different than the other temples I’ve so far mentioned because, on a busy intersection in the Chinatown area, it doesn’t have the serenity you find behind the large walls of the bigger complexes.
A wide steep staircase leads up to the primary building at Wat Traimit, opened in 2010 to house the main attraction – the Golden Buddha. This remarkable piece of art is more than three metres tall, made of solid gold ,and weighs 5.5 tons (it’s valued at about US$250 million).
A fascinating part of the Golden Buddha’s story is that it used to be in Ayutthaya and was covered in plaster before a Burmese attack to protect it. But then it was forgotten about and nobody realised what was underneath until the plaster was accidentally broken when it was being moved in the 1950s!
Wat Mangkon Kamalawat
Just down the road from Wat Traimit, deep in the heart of Bangkok’s Chinatown, is Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, the largest Chinese Buddhist temple in the city. The entrance on the street, decorated with red lanterns and dragons gives you an indication of where it is, but not what to expect.
Once you go through what looks like a shopfront, a huge temple complex reveals itself with a courtyard of shrines, the main hall flanked by statues of guardians, and then pavilions filled with more activity.
Lanterns hang throughout, incense sticks create a slightly hazy atmosphere, and there are lots of stalls for people to make merit. It’s much more vibrant and lively than typical Thai temples and well worth seeing for this reason.
Built by King Rama V in 1869, Wat Ratchabophit is a fascinating temple that blends Thai design styles with colourful tiles on the outside with more European interiors.
Although the temple is enclosed within a rectangular block, the central section is circular, so you can walk around its circumference to see different angles. At the core is a golden chedi, with the interior feeling a bit like a church with its gothic revival style.
One of the things that makes Wat Ratchabophit is its position as the Royal Cemetery, where you’ll find a number of monuments to the Royal Family in the western part of the temple grounds.
Not to be confused with other temples in Thailand with the same name, Wat Mahathat in Bangkok is one of the city’s oldest temples, although it’s been extensively renovated over the years so looks quite different to how it once would have.
It has a very traditional style, with the orange tiled roof and white columns at the entrance. As another of the the ten ‘first class’ temples in Bangkok, it’s very important, although personally I don’t think it’s as visually striking as some of the others.
What’s particularly interesting about Wat Mahathat is that it’s the headquarters of Thailand’s largest monastic order and an important centre of study. You can come here to learn things like Vipassana meditation, with English-speaking monks often helping in the classes.
Throughout Bangkok, there are hundreds of smaller local temples and, if you get a chance, just pop in and have a look as you walk past. They might not have enormous golden Buddhas or grand structures, but I think any of Bangkok’s temples are interesting to visit if you haven’t seen many.
Having said that, there are just a few local Bangkok temples that I’m going to make special mention of, because I think they have something special to see.
Wat Hua Lamphong
An easy temple to visit if you’re staying in Silom, Wat Hua Lamphong is a popular spot for locals who want to make merit, with a large number of stalls around the main building giving the atmosphere of a market.
The temple itself is raised off the ground, and you walk up some stairs to see inside. But most of the action is on ground level. There are stalls with animals, floating candles, statues and other ways to donate money.
There are a few things to see at Wat Chakrawat, but there’s one that everyone comes for – the crocodiles. Yep, the small group of resident crocs has earned it the nickname, the Crocodile Temple, and you’ll be able to spot them hanging out in a small (rather depressing) enclosure that seems quite easy to fall into.
In the several buildings on the site, you’ll also be able to find a shrine to Buddha’s footprint, as well as a modern ubosot, and some small Buddha statues amongst the rocks.
It doesn’t take long to see the sights here but, if you’re already visiting nearby Chinatown, you may like to swing by to see the crocodiles.
Sri Maha Mariamman Temple
Although Buddhism is by far the dominant religion in Thailand, there are other faiths here, of course. You’ll find a good example of this at Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, the main Hindu temple in Bangkok.
It’s easy to access, on Silom Road, and you’ll spot it by the colourful facade with carved images of gods and goddesses. Inside, the vibrancy continues, with shrines dedicated to some of the main deities, and offerings of flowers decorating many parts of the interior.
I understand why you may want to concentrate your time in the city on the Buddhist temples in Bangkok, but this is a colourful insight that offers a bit of variety.
My final suggestion is to consider whether you might like to have a local give you more insight on a tour of the main temples.
You’ll get a lot more out of your visits if you have a guide, and I would recommend this great guided tour of Bangkok’s temples. Or there are some other good options here:
Either way, with so many things to do in Bangkok, it’s nice to find some time for temples – even if it’s just to escape from the chaos of the streets.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN BANGKOK: SILOM
There are two areas I would recommend for good accommodation in a central location. The first is around Silom.
If you’re looking for a fun backpacker option, then I would suggest HQ Hostel Silom.
There are a few budget options, but I would recommend looking at Silom Serene.
A cool funky hotel in Silom is the W Bangkok.
And for the ultimate luxury, I would recommend going across the river to the beautiful Peninsula Bangkok.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN BANGKOK: SUKHUMVIT
The other main area for accommodation in Bangkok is around Sukhumvit.
There’s no better party hostel in Bangkok than the Slumber Party Bangkok in Sukhumvit.
A good cheap and comfortable hotel that I would suggest is the 41 Suite Bangkok.
For a very cool boutique hotel, I think the Bangkok Publishing Residence is awesome.
And although there are quite a few good luxury hotels, I think the best is the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit.