There are 400+ temples (or wats, as they’re called in Thailand) in and around Bangkok. It’s damn near impossible to go anywhere in the city without seeing at least part of a temple sticking out from behind a wall or building.
With so many options, how do you know which of the many Bangkok temples is worth your time? Where do you even start?
Typically, my style is to avoid whatever is *most popular* in favor of a path less taken. But usually, something is popular for a good reason: because it’s indisputably awesome.
So my plan of attack in the massive city of Bangkok was to hit 3 of its most popular temples: Wat Arun, Wat Pho, and Wat Phra Kaew.
Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)
Wat Arun is on the western side of the Chao Phraya River, which means you’ll most likely be catching a ferry there. Or, if you’re like me, maybe you’ll just go for a really long frolic through Chinatown, walk across a bridge, and eventually end up at the temple several hours later.
Wat Arun was my favorite of the 3 Bangkok temples I visited. It wasn’t swarming with tourists like other temples or attractions typically are in Bangkok. It felt like a real-life playground because you could climb a few series of super-steep stairs and walk around the entire structure from various heights. Just climbing it was exciting enough, but the views from Wat Arun are also incredible. You have panoramic views of the river, where you can watch longtail boats and barges make their way and observe the stilt structures across the river (some are still homes, others are ferry landings or restaurants).
The details on Wat Arun are just mesmerizing. The temple is covered in colorful porcelain patterns that are aligned with such mind-boggling intricacy that I’m still not over it.
Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)
After visiting Wat Arun, I hopped on a boat that took me directly across the river, where I made my way to Wat Pho. It’s also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha – see exhibit A:
Admittedly, I think some of my enjoyment of this temple was due to the spectacular light that was bathing it at that time of day. Wat Pho was absolutely GLOWING when I made my rounds through the halls and around the stupas (all *91* of them!). The fact that they give out a free bottled water with each ticket is just icing on the cake when you’re out all day battling a heat index of 105 degrees.
Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)
Thailand’s most sacred Buddhist temple, Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), is located in one particular hall within the Grand Palace grounds. To be honest, the Buddha-containing hall itself was not terribly impressive. I wasn’t wowed by the Emerald Buddha statue inside, which seemed teeny-tiny in the scope of the spacious temple. Furthermore, you’re not allowed to take pictures inside the hall, which obviously is just the worst when you’re a photographer.
But don’t be deterred from visiting Wat Phra Kaew: the rest of the temple complex is absolutely magnificent. In fact, the Grand Palace is possibly Bangkok’s best attraction. I spent hours there wandering through the halls and poking my camera in every crevice.
When visiting any of the Bangkok temples, be mindful of your attire: keep your shoulders and thighs covered and don’t wear anything too tight. Dress code is enforced at some temples more than others.
As of May 2013 —
Ticket to Wat Arun: 50 THB ($1.50 US)
Ferry to/from Wat Arun: 3 THB ($.10 US)
Ticket to Wat Pho: 100 THB ($3 US)
Ticket to the Grand Palace (includes Wat Phra Kaew): 400 THB ($13 US)