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What the Wat?

Top 7 Temples in Bangkok, Thailand

What the Wat? Top 7 Temples in Bangkok, Thailand

What the Wat? Top 7 Temples in Bangkok, Thailand

July 12, 2014 // In Asia, Thailand

A “Wat” is a temple, and there are 100s in Bangkok… How’s a traveler to choose? Here’s my top picks. Get your gold fleck and incense ready…

1. The Grand Palace & Wat Phra Kaew

GRAND INDEED! If you can only make it one temple while in Bangkok, this is the mother-load! Regarded as the most important temple in Thailand, Wat Phra Kaew is 61 acres of pure sensory overload: beautiful colors, intricate architecture, and gold gold GOLD. Home of The Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

 

2. Wat Arun

An iconic ancient landmark on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. This may have been my favorite temple in the city of Bangkok – I’m a sucker for historical allure! Visitors are allowed to climb the steps of the tallest prang – mind the vertigo, it’s STEEP.  Former home of the Emerald Buddha. Wat Arun is probably the closest you’ll get to a “ruin” inside Bangkok proper.

Wat Arun

 

3. Wat Pho – Temple of the Reclining Buddha

The largest Reclining Buddha in Thailand. You are smaller than one of its toes! 46 meters long x 15 meters high: That’s roughly half-a-football field long x 5 stories tall! Gold plated with intricate mother of pearl inlays. The surrounding grounds of the temple are more “old school” with lots of porcelain mosaics, similar to Wat Arun. (I was allowed on the grounds with a knee length skirt, but was given a brilliant lime green robe to cover up when in the presence of the Reclining Buddha, ha!)

Reclining Buddha

4. Ayutthaya -Ancient Historical City & Ruins, Former capital of Siam

I realize Ayutthaya is not in Bangkok (it’s an hour outside of it), but if you’ve made it all the way to The City of Angels, surely you’d want to see this UNESCO World Heritage Site! The former capital of Thailand (when it was known as Siam), Ayutthaya was sacked in 1767 by the Burmese. Though erosion and tree roots have begun to reclaim the city, Ayutthaya still stands, draped in orange silks and perfumed with incense.

Ayutthaya, Wat Mahathat
There are several areas to visit within the city – my two favorites were…

Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon… well preserved, lots of statues, and still active with gold flecking, monks, and prayers.

Wat Mahathat… a few acres of ruins and an amazing buddha head in a tree.

5. The Erawan Museum – Three Headed Elephant

Climb a winding staircase to a temple inside the belly of a giant elephant statue! How cool is that? This mega pachyderm may look rustic on the outside, but is oh-so-delicate on the inside (aww… aren’t we all?). The Erawan Museum‘s belly dons a techni-color grand hall, a dome of stained glass, and walls of intricate carvings. Follow the serpentine lion-dragon to the cosmic temple… then, roam the tranquil gardens outside filled with more mythological creatures. This hidden gem lies on the outskirts of Bangkok, in the Samut Prakan province. Take the BTS to the last stop at Bearing, then catch a taxi (less than 100 THB aka $3) to the temple.

The Erawan Museum

6. The Golden Mount

The best part about this temple is the ascent to it! Wander past waterfalls and misty buddhas as you climb the 300-step staircase, shaded by a tunnel of leaves and hanging vines. Gives a new meaning to “urban jungle”! The Golden Mount is a participatory experience… Hand ring the rows of prayer bells; Bang a gong; Purchase a bell, write a wish on it, and hang it at the top; Enjoy the breeze & chimes as you take in the panorama of the city.

7. Wat Benchamabophit – The White Marble Temple

The White Marble Temple was my first temple visit in Bangkok, and is a great “temple for beginners.” It’s quiet & friendly, with cute pedestrian bridges and canals behind it. There’s plenty of space to kneel inside the bot – take a breather and enjoy the Buddha.

! Temple Dress Codes !

This was my biggest battle with Bangkok! If I could do one thing over, it would be packing better temple attire. It’s a huge cultural difference I didn’t fully understand. I felt ashamed and unintentionally disrespectful, which made visiting these sacred sites rather awkward. People. Get. Upset. KNOW & Respect the Code!

The strictness of dress code was on a case-by-case basis… sometimes they’d let me in, sometimes they wouldn’t, depending on the sacredness of the site or who was manning the gate that day. The code was more enforced with “foreigners” (yes there are separate entry lines) – many times I’d be turned away, as a local wearing the same thing passed through. When I thought I finally figured it out with long cargo pants, I was told that women were not allowed to wear pants and must be in long skirts. I was constantly adding layers on top of my layers (which is NOT fun in Thailand’s sweltering humidity), so my advice to you – pack plenty of the following:

Men:
– Long lightweight pants
– Shirts with sleeves (t-shirts ok, collars encouraged). No tank tops.
– Easily removable shoes (must be barefoot in certain areas)

Women:
– Long skirt (Below the knee, better with full-length) or long sarong to wrap over your shorts (cannot be see-through. Must cover everything. )
– Shirt with sleeves (t-shirts ok, collars encouraged) – no tank tops. Try to hide the girls: Low-cut necklines are a usually no-no.
– light-weight cardigan (just in case the shirt is deemed too provocative)
– easily removable shoes (must be barefoot in certain areas)

All of the temples had somewhere nearby that you could rent/purchase additional layers if you find yourself in a bind. Some temples let you borrow them for free.

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* I would like to send out a special thank you to my long-time friend and Bangkok expert, Clark Rexrode. All of these temples were on his recommendation. As an ex-pat living in Bangkok, he was an AMAZING tour guide!

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