Bangkok's Erawan Shrine: A Complete Guide

Erawan Shrine, Siam Square district.
••• Sylvain Sonnet/Getty Images

The Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, known in Thai as Saan Phra Phrom or Saan Thao Maha Phrom, may be small, but its legacy is big. Tourists love the free traditional dance performances often seen there. Locals stop on the way to work to pray or give thanks for favors.

Unlike temples that require more time to visit, the Erawan Shrine is located on one of the busiest sidewalks in Bangkok. The sweet smells of flower garland and burning joss sticks permeate the air.

The statue of Phra Phrom—the Thai interpretation of the Hindu god Brahma—isn’t even very old. The original statue was vandalized beyond repair in 2006 and quickly replaced. Regardless, the Erawan Shrine continues to be popular with Buddhists, Hindus, and the Sikh community in Bangkok.

The History

An old animist custom in Thailand, “spirit houses” are erected next to buildings to appease spirits potentially displaced by the construction. The larger the construction, the more extravagant a spirit house should be. Erawan Shrine began as the large spirit house for the state-owned Erawan Hotel built in 1956. The Erawan Hotel was later replaced by the privately owned Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel in 1987.

According to lore, construction of the Erawan Hotel was plagued with mishaps, injuries, and even deaths. Professionals astrologers determined that the hotel was not constructed in an auspicious way. A statue of Brahma, the Hindu god of creation, was needed to make things right. It worked; the Erawan Hotel later prospered.

A shrine to Brahma was placed outside the hotel on November 9, 1956; it has evolved in beauty and function over the years. Even with humble origins as a troubled hotel’s spirit house, the Erawan Shrine has become one of the most visited shrines in the city!

As for the namesake, “Erawan” is the Thai name for Airavata, the three-headed elephant that Brahma was said to have ridden.

Where Is the Erawan Shrine?

You definitely won’t have to go out of your way or visit an obscure neighborhood to see the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok. The famous shrine is located in the Pathum Wan District, the busy, commercial heart for serious shopping in Thailand’s capital!

Find Erawan Shrine located at the northwest corner of the Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel, in the very prominent Ratchaprasong intersection where Ratchadamri Road, Rama I Road, and Phloen Chit Road meet. Many malls and shopping complexes are within easy walking distance.

The nearest BTS Skytrain station to Erawan Shrine is Chit Lom, although you can walk from Siam Station (the busiest and largest Skytrain station) in around 10 minutes. Chit Lom is on the Sukhumvit Line.

The labyrinthine CentralWorld shopping complex is just across the big intersection from the shrine. The MBK mall, well known to budget travelers as a more affordable alternative fraught with fakes — is about a 15-minute walk away.

Visiting the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok

Although the shrine has evolved into a hasty stop for locals, tourists on shopping missions, and guided groups alike, it doesn’t really merit carving out serious itinerary time. In fact, many tourists snap a photo or two and keep walking.

Don’t expect a serene temple experience: the Erawan Shrine is often crowded and chaotic. Unlike the ancient temples in places such as Ayutthaya and Chiang Mai, it’s not really a place to linger and contemplate in peace. That said, plan to hang around long enough to watch a dance performance while observing how a stop at the shrine has become integrated into daily life for many locals.

For a more authentic experience, beat tour groups and visit Erawan Shrine during morning rush hour (between 7 and 8 a.m.) when locals are stopping to pray while on the way to work. Try not to interfere with worshipers who have limited time. The pedway from the Chit Lom station offers good photos from above.

The traditional dancers often seen near the shrine actually aren’t there to attract or entertain tourists — although they do both. They are hired by worshipers who hope to gain merit or give thanks for prayers answered. Occasionally, you can even enjoy Chinese lion dance troupes there.

Be respectful! Although the Erawan Shrine has become a tourist magnet, it’s still considered one of the most important Hindu shrines in Bangkok. Some would argue it is one of the most important shrines to Brahma in Asia. Don’t be obnoxious or disrespectful during your brief visit.

Safety Tips for Visiting the Shrine

Although plagued with incidents in the past, the Erawan Shrine is no less safe to visit than other places in the city.

The extra police presence around the shrine creates some tourist-targeted scams rather than discourages them. One of the longest-running scams involves police officers in the Sukhumvit Road area watching from the elevated walkways for tourists who smoke or jaywalk. The officer points to an existing cigarette butt on the street and claims you dropped it, therefore you get fined for littering.

Even though locals and drivers may be smoking nearby, travelers sometimes get singled out to pay expensive fines on the spot.

When ready to leave the shrine, don’t agree to a “tour” from a tuk-tuk driver. Either find a taxi driver willing to use the meter or negotiate a tuk-tuk for a fair price (they don’t have meters).

Giving a Gift

Although visiting the Erawan Shrine is free, some people choose to give a small gift. Cash from donation boxes is used to maintain the area and gets distributed to charities.

Numerous people selling flower garland (Phuang Malai) will probably approach you at the shrine. The beautiful, jasmine-scented chains are usually reserved for newlyweds, thanking high-ranking officials, and for adorning sacred places. Bangkok isn’t Hawaii — don’t wear the flowers around your neck! Place the garland offering with the others on the railing that protects the statue.

Candles and joss sticks (incense) are also available. If you choose to buy some, light them all at once from one of the oil lamps that are kept burning. Wait in line, get to the front, give thanks or make a request as you hold the joss sticks with both hands, then place them in the designated trays.

Worshipers commonly make offerings — sometimes even fruit or drinking coconuts — to each of the four faces. If possible, walk around the statue in a clockwise direction.

Tip: You’ll encounter people selling small, caged birds at some temples and shrines in Southeast Asia. The idea is that you can gain merit by releasing the bird — a good deed. Unfortunately, the weakened birds don’t enjoy freedom for long; they are usually netted again nearby and resold. Be a more responsible traveler by not supporting this practice.

Places to Visit Near Erawan Shrine

Although plenty of eating and shopping can be found nearby, the Erawan Shrine isn’t within easy walking distance of the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and the usual sightseeing stops in Bangkok.

You can combine a visit to Erawan Shrine with some of these other interesting sights in the area:

  • Jim Thompson House: The Jim Thompson House offers an interesting cultural experience, short tours, and a pleasant garden. Jim Thompson’s mysterious disappearance is one of Southeast Asia’s best kept secrets. His lovely house is about a 20-minute walk from Erawan Shrine, or you can take the Skytrain one stop past Siam Station to the National Stadium Station and walk from there.
  • Bangkok Art and Culture Centre: Also near the National Stadium Station, the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre showcases local artists in a pleasant facility. With a little luck, you may even catch a fashion show by local designers!
  • Lumphini Park: If you’ve had your fill of clogged sidewalks, Lumphini Park is just a 15-minute walk south along Ratchadamri Road. The ponds, walking path, and Chinese pavilion offer a break from Bangkok’s noisy pace.

Cultural Insights

In some ways, the Erawan Shrine provides a cultural microcosm that shows just how deeply religion is intertwined with daily life, along with luck, superstition, and animism — the belief that spirits live in and around everything.

Although Thailand predominantly prescribes to Theravada Buddhism, and Brahma is a Hindu deity, that doesn’t stop locals from paying respect. You’ll frequently observe people from all social classes who nod, briefly bow, or give a wai with their hands when passing the Erawan Shrine — even when rolling by on the Skytrain!

Interestingly, there aren’t many temples in India dedicated solely to Bhrama. The Hindu god of creation seems to have a larger following outside of India. The Erawan Shrine in Bangkok is one of the most popular, along with a shrine at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Even Southeast Asia’s largest country may be named after Bhrama: the word “Burma” is thought to have come from “Brahma.”

The worship of Brahma by non-Hindus in China is fairly common. Thailand is home to one of the largest ethnic Chinese communities in the world — hence why Chinese lion dance performances sometimes replace traditional Thai dancing at Erawan Shrine.

Incidents at Erawan Shrine

Perhaps the centralized location can be blamed, but the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok has accumulated somewhat of a tumultuous history given its age and size.

  • 2006: The original statue of Brahma was destroyed by a 27-year-old man with a hammer. Street sweepers chased down the vandal and literally beat him to death. The man was later determined to have been mentally unstable.
  • 2010: The CentralWorld complex across the intersection from the shrine was burned down during anti-government protests.
  • 2014: Much of the fighting during anti-government protests leading up to the military coup took place near the shrine. Bullet holes and damage were repaired.
  • 2015: The Erawan Shrine was the site of the 2015 Bangkok bombing, a terrorist attack that left 20 dead.
  • 2016: A car crashed into the shrine, injuring seven worshipers. Terrorism was ruled out; the driver of the vehicle had suffered a stroke.

The 2015 Erawan Shrine Bombing

The Erawan Shrine was the target for a terrorist attack on August 17, 2015. A pipe bomb detonated at 6:55 p.m. while the shrine was busy. Sadly, 20 people were killed and at least 125 injured. Most of the victims were Asian tourists.

The statue was only slightly damaged, and the shrine was reopened in two days. The attack caused a sag in tourism; an investigation is still ongoing.