Choosing among the top temples to visit in Bangkok isn’t easy. All have unique stories, ancient Buddha statues, and intrigue.
Better to choose a few temples to enjoy instead of trying to see them all. Visiting too many can lead to the dreaded wat (temple) burnout that affects travelers in Thailand. You know you’re experiencing it when a 400-year-old temple no longer sparks your inner archaeologist! To enhance the experience, read a little about the temple’s history beforehand, and mix in some of Bangkok's other interesting things to do.
Although there are hundreds of Buddhist temples to visit in Bangkok, a majority of travelers end up visiting the top three: Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun, but there are serene and less crowded alternatives.
Tips for Visiting a Temple
Theravada Buddhism is an integral part of daily life in Thailand. To show adequate respect and cultural sensitivity when visiting the top temples in Bangkok—or anywhere—you should follow some etiquette. Here are a few of the basics:
- Cover your knees and shoulders. Avoid wearing shorts, sleeveless tops, stretch pants, and so forth.
- Remove your shoes before entering.
- Be quiet and respectful. Avoid interfering with rituals and worshipers.
- Don’t eat, drink, chew gum, smoke, wear headphones, or act boisterous in temples.
- Don’t turn your back to the Buddha statue to capture a selfie. Photos are generally OK unless you see a sign posted.
Wat Phra Kaew
Located within the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Wat Phra Kaew is the most visited temple in Thailand. Makes sense—the temple is home to the Emerald Buddha, a jade statue from the 1400s considered to be the protector of all of Thailand. The Buddha statue is adorned in a garment of gold that is changed seasonally by the King of Thailand.
The official name for Wat Phra Kaew is Wat Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram. As the country’s busiest temple, don’t expect to find much serenity inside. Instead, expect tourists bumping and jostling for position to snap selfies.
Unlike some other temples in Bangkok, proper dress is strictly enforced at Wat Phra Kaew. If you turn up in shorts, a sleeveless top, or stretch pants, you’ll be sent away to buy or rent appropriate clothing from nearby stalls.
- Location: Inside the Grand Palace
- What to Know: The hours for Wat Phra Kaew are the same as the Grand Palace: from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The ticket window closes at 3:30 p.m.
Scenic Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn, sits on the banks of the Chao Phraya River just across from Wat Pho. Although Wat Arun is obviously a Buddhist temple, the architecture and murals are influenced by Hinduism. Even the name comes from Aruna, the chariot driver of the Hindu sun god.
Wat Arun is so appreciated in Bangkok an image of the temple is minted onto 10-baht coins. Following four years of restoration work that finished in 2017, the temple has been returned to its former, glowing glory.
- Location: Wat Arun is located on the west side of the Chao Phraya River, just downriver from the Grand Palace. River taxi is the most enjoyable and inexpensive way to get there. A ferry crosses over from Tha Thien Pier.
- What to Know: The entrance fee at Wat Arun is 50 baht.
Wat Pho is one of the most popular temples in Bangkok. It is considered to be the world headquarters for studying Thai massage and traditional medicine.
The enormous reclining Buddha statue at Wat Pho depicts Gautama Buddha’s final moments on earth before succumbing to what is widely believed to be food poisoning. Wat Pho was already standing when Bangkok was made the new capital city in 1782. However, many of the current structures were added years later.
Tip: In Thai, the h in ph is silent. Wat Pho is correctly pronounced as “waht poe” not “waht foe" or "wat fuh," as is the delicious Vietnamese noodle soup of the same spelling.
- Location: Wat Pho is just south of the Grand Palace. It is labeled on Google Maps by the official name: Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn.
- What to Know: Hours are from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. No shorts allowed. The entrance fee for foreign visitors was raised to 200 baht in January 2019.
Wat Saket is home to Phu Khao Thong, better known as the Golden Mountain. The large, man-made hill has a golden chedi on top said to contain a relic from Buddha.
Climbing the 344 stairs to the chedi and viewing platform is rewarded with a panoramic view of Bangkok. People ring bells and sound gongs along the way for merit. Wat Saket is often less crowded and easier to enjoy than Wat Pho and Wat Phra Kaew.
- Location: About a 20-minute walk from Khao San Road past Democracy Monument and the white Mahakarn Fort.
- What to Know: Beat the sun by going early. The entrance fee for foreign tourists is 50 baht.
Wat Traimit is often referred to as the “Temple of the Golden Buddha,” because it’s the new home of one of the most valuable (in monetary terms) Buddha statues in the world. The Golden Buddha, made of 18-karat gold, weighs in at 11,000 pounds. The value of the gold itself is somewhere around $250 million.
No one knows for sure how old the Golden Buddha statue is. Theories suggest it dates to the 13th or 14th centuries. Fascinatingly, the Golden Buddha was discovered by accident in 1955. The statue had been covered in plaster and stucco to conceal its actual value. When crews tried to relocate the statue, the extreme weight broke the ropes. The fall caused some of the plaster to chip off and reveal the true composition to everyone’s surprise!
- Location: On Trai Mit Road in Bangkok’s Chinatown area
- What to Know: Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
As the name suggests, the Erawan Shrine isn’t a temple, but it’s still an important religious site in Bangkok and worth seeing.
The busy sidewalk shrine is home to a not-so-old statue of Phra Phrom, the Thai version of the Hindu god Bhrama. Erawan Shrine is a popular stop for business people on their way to work. They pray for good fortune, burn incense, and make small offerings. Some worshipers hire traditional dance troupes to perform there, showing gratitude for prayers answered.
- Location: The intersection of Ratchadamri Road and Rama I Road, by the Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel. The nearest BTS Skytrain station is Chit Lom.
- What to Know: Erawan Shrine gained unfortunate notoriety as the site of a terrorist bombing in 2015.
Wat Mahahat in Bangkok, not to be confused with temples of the same name in Ayutthaya and also Sukhothai is one of the most important royal temples in Bangkok. The temple is home to Thailand’s oldest institute for Buddhist monks as well as a vipasana meditation center.
Sundays are the busiest day as Bangkok’s largest amulet market is held just outside Wat Mahahat. People come from all around to buy and trade amulets meant to help with love, fortune, health, and protection.
- Location: North of the Grand Palace and west of Sanam Luang, a grassy park.
- What to Know: Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Wat Bowon Niwet Wihan
Although the sprawling grounds of this temple and school are literally around the corner from the madness of Khao San Road and Soi Rambuttri, many backpackers miss it entirely. Wat Bowon Niwet Wihan can be a peaceful respite in the morning, and the evening, it’s often open late.
The late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the longest-reigning head of state so far, served as a monk in Wat Bowon Niwet Wihan; his ashes are enshrined there. Numerous other princes and kings served the temple and are laid to rest there.
- Location: On Bowon Niwet Road, just north of the roundabout at the end of Soi Rambuttri
- What to Know: You’ll need to dress appropriately to visit the artistically adorned royal crematorium.