Bangkok: A city filled with wonder and an idea that brings to mind an ancient world of foreign fantasy. The very name inspires thoughts of curly-toed shoes, golden headdresses and elaborately-designed tunic dresses or exotic, towering temples covered in gold. Just about everyone dreams of visiting Bangkok and experiencing that ancient world for themselves. It’s no wonder that this fascinating city has such a hypnotic pull on citizens from all over the world. Bangkok was first recorded as existing in the early 15th century, though it is speculated to be much older than that.
The problem with having that much history and that much time to create enchanting structures to honor the past and the present is that there is just too much to do in one trip. Too many temples, too many museums and too many shrines. How is one to know which are worth visiting and which can be put off until a future visit?
To help you with this question I have compiled a list of temples that will give the discerning traveler a wide variety of cultural experiences while visiting Bangkok. We were in Bangkok for five days and visited 14 temples along with many other sites in that time. We were up before dawn, back at the hotel after dark and going non-stop every single day. We wanted to see as much as we possibly could! Since this mode of travel is not for everyone, I decided to share with you my top temple picks for having an enjoyable, leisurely trip to the most visited city in the world.
Wat Arun, The Temple of the Dawn
If there is no other temple you visit while in Bangkok, visit Wat Arun. Wat Arun has been around since around 1768. Before the temple that is currently there, there were two other temples, Wat Makok and Wat Chaeng, which is what some of the locals still call this magnificent structure. It was an early morning walk by the ruins of the previous Wat Chaeng that inspired King Taksin to design Wat Arun in 1768. In the mid-1800s, Kings Rama II and Rama III made modifications to the temple to make it as it appears today.
HOURS – 8:30 to 5:30.
PRICE – 50 Baht
LOCATION – There are several ways to get to Wat Arun. The easiest would be to take a taxi, but if you want to get there a more unique way, you can take a river boat from Sapphan Taksin boat pier to pier 8. From here you can hop a small shuttle boat to get to the other side of the river. Or, you can do a Chao Phraya River Tour and either have that boat dock at the Wat Arun pier or just get off there. There is a 20 baht fee to alight at the Wat Arun pier.
Wat Traimit, The Temple of the Golden Buddha
Wat Traimit is pretty cool. This temple was built in 2010 specifically to house the world’s largest solid gold statue which is estimated to have been made around the 13th-14th centuries. This temple doesn’t have the same ‘awe factor’ as some of the older temples do since it is so much newer, but it’s hard to press that point when inside lies something of a marvel in and of itself. The golden statue enshrined in Wat Traimit stands 9.8 ft tall and is valued at about $250 million. Good luck trying to steal it, though. The statue weighs 5.5 tons.
HOURS – 8:30 to 5:00.
PRICE – 40 Baht for the temple and 100 baht for an exhibition about the history of the Golden Buddha on the second floor. We opted not to do that, so I cannot say whether or not the exhibit is worth the price. Several reviews on TripAdvisor say it is interesting and informative, so it could be, depending on how much you like learning about history. 😉
LOCATION – The easiest way to get to Wat Traimit is by taxi or tuk-tuk.
Wat Ratchanatdaram Worawihan and Loha Prasat Monastery, The Temple of the Royal Niece and The Metal Castle
This temple was a bit of a fluke visit. We passed it on the way back from Wat Saket and were fascinated by the 118 foot tall structure, which turned out to be a monastery. The temple portion of this complex was begun in 1846, but it wasn’t completed until during the early 20th century and received it’s name because it was built by King Rama III for his niece, Princess Mom Chao Ying Sommanus Wattanavadi, the future wife and queen consort of King Rama IV. The monastery was begun shortly thereafter and was originally intended to be a small temple, but it blossomed into the magnificent meditation chamber and residence for the monks that it is today. Atop the monastery there are 37 spires which represent the 37 virtues toward enlightenment. As the brochure for Loha Prasat states, there were only three monasteries ever built with metal roofs and this one is the last remaining. What is really fascinating about the monastery (aside from the architecture) is the maze of corridors inside. They really are fun to wander around and down each hallway is something new and interesting, whether it be beautiful shrines, a variety of statues, text carved into the walls or plaques telling interesting facts. We had a lot of fun wandering around this ‘castle’ and visiting the temple on the grounds. In 2005 Loha Prasat was submitted to UNESCO for consideration of becoming a future UNESCO Heritage Site.
HOURS – 8:30 to 5:00.
PRICE – The temple grounds are free, but there is a 20 baht ‘donation’ box by the entrance. There was nobody watching it when we were there, but I’d recommend donating since the entire complex is well worth the donation.
LOCATION – Wat Ratchanatdaram Worawihan can be found at the intersection between Ratchadamnoen Klang and Maha Chai Road. There is no public transit stop nearby, so the best way to get here is by using a taxi or a tuk-tuk.
Wat Saket, The Golden Mount
Wat Saket is possibly the oldest temple complex in all of Bangkok. This temple dates back to the Ayutthaya period, which lasted from 1350-1767. The temple has been renovated several time with the most recent being in the early 1900s. We really enjoyed visiting this temple. The walk up the hill (213 steps) provides some beautiful views of Bangkok along with various little gems along the way. There are several nooks and crannies in the wall supporting the structure filled with a variety of mini shrines, statues, carvings and flora. If you pay attention, you will find a few short pathways that lead off the main path and provide some pretty scenery and nice views. One of the really nice things about this temple is the feeling of peace and serenity that pervades the grounds. You will also love the panoramic views of the city.
HOURS – 8:30 to 5:00.
PRICE – The temple grounds are free, but there is a donation box at the top of the hill. Nobody monitors if you put in a donation or not, but it would be polite to put some baht in there as a thank you for letting visitors in.
LOCATION – The easiest way to get to Wat Saket is by taxi or tuk-tuk, though you can also take a water taxi, which will drop you a short 5-minute walk from the temple.
Wat Phra Kaew, The Temple of the Emerald Buddha
The final temple on my list is found inside the Grand Palace complex. The Grand Palace was built in 1782 with Wat Phra Kaew being finished in 1785. The Emerald Buddha was brought to the Grand Palace when it was completed in 1782 and then moved to the temple when it was finished. There are various legends surrounding the Emerald Buddha with no concrete date as to when it was actually made, though some of the legends place it as being made in India 500 years after Lord Buddha reached nirvana, though nobody knows exactly when that was. Another legend shows it as existing in the lands that are now Cambodia during 457AD. During the proceeding centuries, it changed hands several times before landing in present-day Laos for several hundred years before Rama I became king of what is now Thailand and brought the statue to Wat Phra Kaew. There are several disputations to these legends, some say it was made in Sri Lanka while other say it was made in Thailand in the 14th century. Will we ever know for sure where it came from? Probably not. It’s still fun to think about, though.
Another tidbit about the statue: it is not actually made of emerald. It’s true stone is jade. Why is it called emerald? Well, because the word emerald in Thai means deep green color. The actual complex of Wat Phra Kaew is quite grand. There are over 100 buildings and each is very ornate and beautiful. We spent several hours wandering around and taking it all in. I think one of my favorite parts of the temple was the scaled model of Angkor Wat. Very neat. There are other fascinating sights at Wat Phra Kaew and I recommend setting aside at least two hours to visit this temple. We were there for two and a half hours and didn’t get to see it all, but that’s because we were trying to photograph just about everything and didn’t realize it was as big as it was. Eventually, it closed and we had to leave. So, if you just like to go and wander without taking many pictures, about two hours should be fine. If you like to take lots of pictures, maybe give yourself three or more hours.
HOURS – 8:30 to 3:30 – We arrived around 1pm and it was VERY crowded. I’d recommend arriving in the morning as soon as it opens.
PRICE – The cost for this temple and the palace grounds is 400 baht. This price also include a ticket to The Pavilion of Regalia and a ticket for the Vimanmek Mansion Museum, which is offsite and can be used within 7 days.
LOCATION – You can take the BTS skytrain to the Saphan Taksin station or you can take the Chao Phraya Express Boat (no flag, an orange flag, or a green flag) to Pier 9 (Tha Chang). If you don’t want to worry about the hassle of figuring out which boat or dealing with train changes, you can always ride a tuk-tuk or take a taxi.
TIPS FOR VISITING THE GRAND PALACE
- They are very strict about respectful attire and will refuse to let you in if you are wearing shorts, a short skirt, a sleeveless and/or see-through shirt. If you are wearing anything like that, you will be required to either change or rent appropriate coverings.
- We didn’t like the price of the sarongs inside the grounds, so we went outside to where there were shops and people on the street renting clothes. I would not recommend doing this. If you want to buy something from a shop, go for it, but be wary of people on the side of the street renting clothing. We rented some pants for Troy and received a numbered ticket to receive our 100 baht deposit back, but when we came out after the temple closed, she was long gone. So, you should either dress appropriately or bring something to cover up with.
- They also require you to be wearing socks when walking around the complex, no bare feet allowed.
Conclusion and GPS My City Giveaway
Bangkok truly does have many fascinating and enchanting temples and a trove of cultural history. I wish everyone could see all of the beautiful temples Bangkok has to offer. On a short trip, though, these are my recommendation for must-see spots. The temples I have listed are the ones I feel will provide a person with the greatest opportunity to experience a variety of architectural styles as well as the possibility of learning the most about the Thai people, their history and their love of their Buddhist culture.
Another way you can make sure you’re maximizing your experience is by using a GPS My City app. GPS My City is a self-guided tour app that provides over 5,000 walking tours in over 470 cities worldwide. Each city walk offers a precise route map guiding you to the famous attractions, monuments and interesting sights as well as hidden gems. Whether you want to plan a trip around a walking tour route or you have some free time and want to see what neat places are around you, GPS My City has you covered.
These city apps normally cost $4.99 per city, but starting January 12th I’m giving away 20 free codes. These codes are good for one city map download of your choice. You can find a comprehensive list of cities offered here. If you’ve got a trip coming up this is a great way to plan your travel activities. If you don’t have a trip coming up, this could help you find fascinating local sites for you to visit or a great way to get a start on planning that dream vacation you’ve always wanted to take.
Enter before midnight on 1/11/16 to be eligible to win one of these great city walking tour maps and be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter to see if you are a winner. I will be announcing the winners throughout the day on January 12th and 13th. Please respond to the announcement to let me know where you would like your free code sent to.
Have you ever been to any of these temples? What did you think? Do you think I should have included any other temples?