Thailand is home to approximately 39,800 active Buddhist temples, some of which are over a thousand years old and contain amazing architecture – spires, tiered roofs and gigantic statues. Monks use these spaces for communal worship and meditation practice, but many are also open and welcoming to visitors.
Between zip-lining and snorkeling excursions on our Thailand Multi-Sport Adventure, here are but a few of the staggering complexes you’ll see.
Grand Palace/Wat Phra Kaew
Located in Bangkok, the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew are some of the most visually astounding and historically rich locations in Bangkok. Construction started in 1782, with much of the complex being built during successive reigns. The white facades, red roofs and gold trim are decadent and impressive, and the entire compound consists of more than 100 vibrant buildings, golden spires and glittering mosaics. The Grand Palace served as the country’s administrative and religious center from 1782 to 1932, and remains a focal point for the country’s ceremonies.
Wat Phra Kaew, or Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is a temple within the Royal Palace’s compound. It’s designed in the Rattanakosin style (old Bangkok style) of architecture, with a roof embellished with polished orange and green tiles, pillars inlaid with mosaics and pediments made of marble. It houses the Emerald Buddha, a 2-foot-tall jade statue (“emerald” in Thai indicates a deep green color, not the specific stone) on a high golden altar. No one is allowed to touch the statue except for the Thai king and, in his stead, the crown prince. This means only they can change the statue’s costumes, one for each of the three seasons (hot, cool and wet).
Don’t worry, there are no rules against looking at it!
Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)
Wat Pho is one of Bangkok’s oldest temples. Built in the 16th century, it became one of the earliest centers for public education in Thailand. The temple houses a school of Thai medicine and is known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage, both disciplines still taught and practiced there today. Over 260 years, the complex underwent extensive renovations that gave the temple its recognizable spires and structures.
The temple is famously known for the Reclining Buddha, a 150-foot-long statue covered in gold leaf. The feet of the Buddha are divided into 108 panels displaying symbols of Buddha, such as flowers, dancers, white elephants and tigers. At the center of each foot is a circle representing a chakra, or energy point.
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
Nestled in the northern mountain of Doi Suthep, this Buddhist temple is one of the most sacred sites in all of Thailand and across the globe. It’s believed to have been founded in 1383, but legend offers another explanation. The story goes that a white elephant, carrying a piece of Buddha’s shoulder bone, was sent off into the jungle, climbed Doi Suthep, and trumpeted three times before dying on the ground. Thus, the king chose the spot for a new temple.
Within the site are pagodas, statues, bells, museums and shrines, influenced by both Buddhist and Hindu conventions. The temple contains a model of the Emerald Buddha as well as a statue of the Hindu God Ganesh, and it offers stunning views of nearby Chiang Mai.