Time for some #RealTalk here. No matter if tourist or expat, at one point in your Thailand journey you quite likely will suffer from something we here call “temple fatigue”. That’s nothing disrespectful, it’s just that you’ve seen lots of temples during your time in the Land of Smile and it becomes a bit repetitive. There are, even after you’ve seen a lot, still a few temples that stand out from the crowd and provide completely different vibe than most others. Here is a list of those 9 coolest temples to visit in Thailand.
1. Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai
That’s probably one of the most famous temples in terms of pictures available online. Nevertheless not that many people actually make it there as it’s quite a trip all the way up to the north of Chiang Rai. It’s certainly worth the visit though as it is probably the only White Buddhist Temple with a golden restroom.
The temple was constructed as project of well-known Thai artist Chalermchai Kosipipat. He even funded it by selling his paintings. The construction began in 1997 and was completed in 2008 which makes it a pretty young temple. There are even new elements added as you read.
The idea behind this temple was to honor Buddha’s purity while highlighting the Buddhist cycle of birth and death due to delusion and fixation on the self (‘samsara’). That leads to a pretty contemporary art experience when visiting the temple as the grounds focus on fictional elements of our materialistic world. You will see the predator, aliens and murals that show Neo (the Matrix), Siuperman and angry birds on course to the World Trade Center. Sounds weird? That’s what makes it worth a visit.
The obvious distinguishing feature is the white color of the temple as most temples are covered in gold. It also has lots of glass and mirrors to it with make it sparkle nicely in the sunlight. Kosipipat also stated that he designed the temple to be viewed in the moonlight when it appears ghostly and otherworldly.
Another cool foto op is the public restroom on the grounds of the temple as it’s decorated in gold and often referred to as the most beautiful restroom in Thailand. After having being damaged in an earthquake in 2014 the temple has been fully restored and sparkles in all of his beauty around 15 km outside of Chiang Rai on Highway 1.
2. Wat Mahathat (Temple of the Great Relic), Bangkok
Wat Mahathat is one of Bangkok’s oldest temples and housesThailand’s largest monastic order. Yet it’s not as famous as Wat Pho, the Golden Mount or the Grand Palace. Interestingly the temple was founded even before Bangkok (1782). By now it is the headquarter of the Mahanikai school of Buddhism and is used as center for monastic learning for students from all across Southeast Asia. It also houses the center of Vipassana Meditiation at the Buddhist University where some classes are even taught in English.
Wat Mahathat is not easily to be found. It is one of the oldest shrines in the city but also well hidden. The temple is surround by lots of schools, offices and random buildings which tuck it away pretty well. You have to find your way to the courtyard there and even open the door (as it is closed most of the time). Once you’re in you will see lots of statues, relics and and intersting palm tree garden.
Right next to the temple you can also witness Bangkok’s largest amulet market which takes place every Sunday. It’s pretty close Sanam Luang between the Grand Palace and the National Museum on the road that is named after the temple itself, Mahathat Road.
3. Wat Samphran Temple, Nakhon Pathom
Pinch yourself to make sure you’re not in some strange kind of dream (nightmare?)! There’s not much background information in regards to why and who and when this temple was built but it is certainly obvious why so many people from across the world come here and take pictures en masse. The temple consists of a 17 story building which is being scaled by an enormous dragon. No, I’m not drunk.
Wat Samphran usually doesn’t make it onto TripAdvisor or the Lonely Planet is still ‘off the beaten track’. Most people who went there said it’s not that well maintained but still provides an interesting experience and lots of stunning statues. The dragon itself is also said to be hollow and accessible at some parts while other parts of the temple remain closed to public access.
4. Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew, Si Kaeo
Homer Simpson’s favorite temple! And believe it or not, it’s not made up by Matt Groening, it’s actually very real. Starting in 1984 monks began to put beer bottles on the wall (obviously they didn’t drink it themselves!). By now there are more than 1.5 million bottles on the walls of the temple. Crazy! Talk about a unique temple.
It is said that, more than 30 years ago, a monk and his acolytes became tired of the increasing litter in the area of Sisaket and they asked everybody in the area to bring empty beer bottles to the temple for them to recycle them.
The most common bottles are green Heineken (ahem, branding, hello Heineken?) and Chang (well, THE Thai beer) it all started with a temple before the monks even built a crematorium, water towers, sleeping areas and toilets. No shit! To make things even cooler the monks not only use complete bottles but also bottle caps to create mosaics of Buddhist designs on the inside of the temple.
As of yet there are no plans on stopping as people still bring bottles to the temple so we can look forward to more structures that will be added to the complex.
5. Wat Pha Sorn Kaew (Temple on the Glass Cliff), Khao Ko
Aaaaaah. Oooooh. Woaaaaah. Am I right? Again we’re up in the North of Thailand where we find Wat Pha Sorn Kaew. It actually is a Dharma retreat for monks and Buddhist followers from all across the country. The design is pretty cool and impressive and includes a preaching hall, pagoda, and surrounding gardens. All on a mountaintop. Stunning.
The temple is located at Khao Kho which is famous for its natural beauty. Hence the temple aims to inspire meditation. It is built right against the green mountain jungle which makes the white temple stand out even more. The statues represent the five Buddhas that have visited earth.
But wait, there’s more to this temple! The pagoda is lotus inspired and covers five levels with a large glass structure that connects each floor through the center. The surfaces are covered with, apparently, over 5 million mosaic tiles. No two patterns are said to be alike. Good luck checking that out.
Wat Pha Sorn Kaew (or Wat Pra Tat Pha Kaew and Watpratarpharsornkaew) is also a ‘younger’ temple as it was mostly completed in 2004. It became an official temple in 2010 and therefore hasn’t as much history to it as others. Nevertheless lots of people looking to increase their mindfulness are said to make their way all they to the mountains.
As Wat Pha Sorn Kaew is a relatively new site it is not yet widely recognised as a tourist attraction which sometimes could make it a bit difficult to visit. At least compared to other well-known temples. It is located between Lom Sak and Phitsanulok in Phetchabun province (about 5 hours from Bangkok).
6. Wat Saam Prasob, the Sunken Temple, Tambon Nong Lu
You can’t see me! In 1984 the Vajiralongkorn Dam was constructed and consequently villages nearby were flooded and the only thing that remained visible was part of Wat Sam Prasob. It is interesting to notice that the temple was built by Mon and Karen tribes, refugees from Myanmar, who then had to leave the are when the Dam lead to flooding of the land.
During rainy season you can only see the top of the temple and boat tours take curious visitors around the area. When it’s dry season you can actually walk there and let your inner Indiana Jones come out and play when entering the ruins of the temple.
Another interesting fact (and photo op) here is that and abbot of the old temple, who was also a Mon refugee, helped to resettle the Mon people around Ban Wangka village which is opposite of Sangkhlaburi. A wooden bridge was built to connect both settlements. The wooden bridgen spans 1,300 feet and is believed to be the longest wooden bridge in Thailand and the second longest in the world. It reaches over the Songkalia river and overlooks a very scenic landscape which makes it a famous destination for tourists and locals alike.
The people there are very welcoming to tourists and it is easy to reach from Kanchanaburi. Moreover there are many guesthouses around so making your way there isn’t too difficult.
7. Wat Pa Thewapithak, Tambon Pa Fa
Welcome to hell! In this temple you will find lots of skeletons, demons, and corpses that try to serve as a warning of the terrors of Buddhist Hell.
Wat Pa Thewapithak can be considered a hellish amusement park and funny enough, this isn’t the only temple of that kind. Apparently there are more across Southeast Asia. Who would have thought that?
Those hell parks show you what awaits you in after-life if you’re not being a good person.
The temple doesn’t only talk about the tortures, it also shows them. You can see limbs being hacked of, eyes gouged out, entrails spilled, torsos impaled, etc). So make sure to bring your children.
To top things off each diorama comes with a sound effect – after you pay with a 1 THB coin. Screams and mean laughter will hall from the speakers and follow you into your dreams. Some of those dioramas even start to move after you paid the 1 THB fee. Amazing Thailand.
Those hell temples are mostly aimed at Thai visitors and everything, including the educational banners posted everywhere, is in Thai language only. There’s also a mini Angkor Wat labyrinth which not only shows Buddhist and Hindu iconography but also a Native American chief. Only Buddha knows why.
Wat Pa Thewapithak not hard to find as it’s just around 8km north of Roi Et (101). Take a van, bus or motorcycle to reach the temple – it can’t be missed.
8. Wat Phumin, Pha Sing
This temple looks a bit boring at first but once you’re inside you will understand why it sees so many locals visiting. Wat Phumin is pretty famous for its NSFW murals of demons and domestics. And with our favorite websites being banned in Thailand, this is as close as it gets for us here ;-)
It was built in 1596 and was thought to mimic that is riding aloft on the backs of two big serpents (‘nagas’). Moreover it also has 4 entrances which are aligned with the cardinal directions and each attended by a Buddha statue.
Inside of the building you will see lots of those elaborate murals as they cover basically every wall. Lots of the murals are about life in the area and teachings of Buddha. Surprisingly many of the murals however also are about sexual misconduct and genital horror which is….weird to say the least.
9. Wat Phra Yai (Big Buddha Temple), Koh Samui
Wat Phra Yai (“Big Buddha Temple”) is one of the sights you gotta see when you are on Koh Samui. Usually holiday islands aren’t that famous for their religious sights but Koh Samui is the exception to the rule and calls a very impressive temple its own.
The temple area is pretty impressive even while approaching. Once there you can see that basically every thing is covered in gold and jewels. After being blinded for a while you will be able to see the enormous staircase that leads up to the golden Buddha. The staircase is flanked by two sinuous emerald dragons. Of course. After reaching the top you will have a rather nice view over the tiny islet that is Koh Faan and it’s nice, blue, waters.
What’s your favorite temple?
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