7 must-see temples in Thailand

There are oodles of temples in Thailand: big ones, small ones, golden ones, marble ones, old ones and new ones. Visiting these cultural gems is one seriously awesome part about any trip to the fabled Land of Smiles, which is why we’ve slung together this top list of the most enchanting shrines in the country. (Hint: they make the perfect TEFL weekend activity!) Enjoy…

Temples in Thailand
Wat Phra Kaew | © Edwin Lee/Flickr

Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok

The Wat Phra Kaew of Bangkok is widely considered to be the most important of all temples in Thailand. Nestled in the sacred grounds of the Royal Palace, right in the heart of the buzzing metropolis, it’s the home of the so-called Emerald Buddha: a gorgeously sculpted effigy of the Buddha that’s carved entirely from green jade. Tales of this relic coming from afar afield as India abound, while today the priceless work remains encased in gold leaf deep in the Wat Phra Kaew. Around it erupts a trio if high spires, going from one soaring golden chedi to a pagoda done in the Rattanakosin style. It’s one of the real must-sees of the Land of Smiles!

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

A spire of stupas and domes and clicking prayer wheels that crowns the high hilltop of Doi Suthep Mountain just on the edge of Chiang Mai, the Wat Phra That is surely one of the most dramatically placed of all the must-see temples in Thailand. The huge complex can be reached by rickshaw from the city, and visitors wind and weave up hairpin bends to where gilded staircases decorated with naga and dragons shoot upwards to the sky. Once you’ve scaled the heights to the top, you’ll get to wonder at the resplendent golden pagoda there, see polished emerald Buddha statues, and meet oodles of pilgrim monks.

Temples in Thailand
Doi Suthep | © Gregory Gaskill/Flickr

Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai

A mind-boggling array of filigrees and twisted turrets, oriental gargoyles and fire-breathing dragons carved in stone, the great Wat Rong Khun of the north has been pulling culture vultures to the city of Chiang Rai for years. The brainchild of sculptor Chalermchai Kositpipat, the beautiful wat is riddled with symbolism. There are bridges that represent the cycle of life; there are golden stupas that shine like the soul; there are effigies of mysterious Rahu – the spirit who decides people’s fate after death. And that’s not even mentioning the hellish and haunting wall murals inside!

Wat Arun, Bangkok

We’ll forgive anyone for avoiding the full name of this soaring temple in the heart of the capital (it’s officially called the Wat Arun Ratchawararam Ratchawaramahawihan), but so long as they go along to see just how awesome it is! Considered one of the oldest temples in the region, it was first raised in the high years of the Ayutthaya Kingdom. However, it was later extensions in the 1800s that gave the site its colossal turrets, which are now one of the unmissable landmarks of Bangkok. Just check how the morning light bounces of the central Khmer stupa…

Stairway to Somewhere, Wat Arun | © Tyler Merbler/Flickr
Stairway to Somewhere, Wat Arun | © Tyler Merbler/Flickr

Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai

One of the many mysterious temples to be found nestled between the timber-clad homes and historic fortifications of the Chiang Mai Old Town, the Wat Phra Singh comes fringed with gables of glimmering gold leaf and oodles of gorgeous oriental carvings. It was made a temple of the first order by King Rama VIII back in the 1930s, and has become revered thanks to the opulent statue of Buddha it houses. Known as the Phra Buddha Sihing, this can be seen inside the halls of the complex’s Wihan Lai Kham building, and is thought to have come to the Land of Smiles via Sri Lanka in a time long ago!

Wat Tham Suea, Krabi

It takes a whopping 1,200 stairs to reach the tip of the so-called Tiger Cave Temple that sits perched on the green karst hills around sun-splashed Krabi. But boy is the arduous walk worth it! – even if it is only a relatively recent addition to the line-up of awesome worshipping spots in the Land of Smiles (Wat Tham Suea was built in the last century). Not only do visitors get to weave between packs of macaques and the mountain cave homes of troglodyte monks, but they also get to see legendary tiger paws in the shrines up top, along with sweeping panoramas of the Andaman Sea crashing into the cliffs in the distance.

Temples in Thailand
Ayutthaya Historical Park | © Nicolai Bangsgaard/Flickr

Ayutthaya Historical Park, Ayutthaya

Okay, so we know we’re cheating a little by listing not one, not two, but a whole load of temples in Thailand for our final point here, but when it’s the UNESCO-attested wealth of the Ayutthaya Historical Park, who could possibly blame us? This sprawling patchwork of crumbling stupas and shrines dates all the way back to the 12th century, and was the capital of old Siam before it boomed to become the heart of the largest city on the planet in the 1700s. You’ll spot heads of Buddha emerging from tree vines in Wat Phra Mahathat, the massive chedis of Wat Phra Si Sanphet, and haunting ruined temples like Wat Thammikarat. Getting around by bike or boat are the best options.

Can you think of any more temples in Thailand that simply must be on the menu for TEFL teachers hitting the Land of Smiles? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below. Or, is it high time you got qualified and working abroad? Why not check out our offering of placements in Thailand?


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