A trip to Bangkok wouldn’t be valid without visiting the famous Grand Palace and the surrounding temples. In fact, Bangkok boasts thousands of temples within its city limits! Most of the bigger ones are located within Banglamphu, so if you’re pressed for time here are the 5 must see temples of Bangkok.
1.WAT PHRA KAEW (TEMPLE OF EMERALD BUDDHA)
Located within the grounds of the Grand Palace, the Wat Phra Kaew is regarded as one of the most important temple in Thailand. Built in 1785 after the relocation of the capital from Thonburi to Bangkok, the temple is lavishly adorned by holy buildings, statues and pagodas.
It’s hard not to spot the The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew from afar, because this place is huge! As the Wat Phra Kaew is built within The Grand Palace, you’ll be paying the same entrance fee of 500 baht for both. It is definitely one of the most expensive site, but also most worth it.
Furthermore they have a strict dress code, so no shorts or anything too revealing. They do however provide various cover ups, like this sarong I am wearing for a small deposit fee of 200 baht. I wished I brought it home with me as the skirt was beautiful, and 200 baht is a small fee to pay. I was confident I can find it elsewhere, but to no avail.
THE EMERALD BUDDHA
The main attraction for the Wat Phra Kaew is of course, the Emerald Buddha. On contrary to popular beliefs, the statue is not made out of emerald, but instead out of jade. Raised on a high platform and measuring just a mere 66cm, the statue is regarded as the most holy Buddha statue in Thailand. Only His Majesty the King (or the Crown Prince in his stead) is allowed to be near it. You will find local pilgrims and monks flocking to the temple to pray, along with the daily hordes of tourists.
AROUND WAT PHRA KAEW
There’s plenty to do within the grounds of Wat Phra Kaew. With over 100 buildings consisting of temples and pagodas, you will find yourself deeply immersed with the Buddhist complex. I easily spent three hours wandering around from one temple to another. One of my favourite was the scaled model of Angkot Wat, which was built under the order of King Rama IV when Cambodia was under the Siamese control. There was also beautiful mural painting depicting some old Buddhist tales. I would recommend coming early in the morning to avoid the mid afternoon crowd, as the complex closes at 3pm.
2. THE GRAND PALACE
Although this is not exactly a temple, I am including it in the list as the complex is surrounded by a lot of temples you can visit (like the Wat Phra Kaew). Once a former residence for the King, The Grand Palace is undoubtedly one of the city’s most famous landmark. For 150 year its has served as the Grand Palace for the King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of the government. Now it’s used mainly for official ceremonies, and within its walls were also the Thai war ministry, state departments and the mint.
The Grand Palace is definitely spectacular. I love the intricate details, the beautiful garden and spiral golden shrines on the top of the Palace. Here you will find art students lounging under the tree, sketching away on their notepads recording the beautiful architecture.
Furthermore they have the Royal Guards manning the perimeters ala Buckingham Palace, which I found thoroughly amusing.
HOW TO GET THERE
I was staying in Khao San road within the area of Banglamphu, hence from early on I knew these sites were just twenty minutes walk away. If you’re planning on traveling by foot, don’t forget to request for a map and pack a few snacks and bottled water. Similarly you may opt for tuk tuks, and pay 10 – 20 baht for that short distance. (And if you’re not careful, they might take you for a detour to a jewellery shop for extra commission). Taxis are also widely available, just be sure to ask for metre and watch out for the traffic.
Traveling via public transport? Take the BTS Skytrain to Saphan Taksin. Depending on where you’re coming from you may need to change train at Siam. From Saphan Taksin station make your way down to Sathorn Pier and take Chao Phraya Express Boat to Tha Chang (pier N9). Local boats will cost you 13-15 baht, watch out for orange or green flag. Don’t bother taking the tourist boat (150 baht) unless that’s your kind of thing. IGNORE any scams and touts trying to tell you the Grand Palace is closed!
3. WAT PHO (TEMPLE OF THE RECLINING BUDDHA)
Located just behind the Grand Palace lies the the temple of Wat Pho, which is famously known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. And true to its name, this complex features a massive reclining Buddha that measures 46 metres long, covered in gold leaf. I find the Wat Pho to be far more relaxing than the Grand Palace, you can certainly take your time around the complex feeling at utmost peace. There were small gardens, stupas and beautiful bonsai trees lining the complex, along with buildings lavishly decorated with gold.
Entrance to the temple will cost you 100 baht complete with a complimentary water bottle to beat the heat. The complex also served as Thailand’s first public university, medicinal studies as well as Thai’s leading massage school. If you’re planning to experience the Thai massage then you’re definitely in good hands in Wat Pho, although booking in advance is advisory.
HOW TO GET THERE
Wat Pho is just a short 10 minutes walk from the Grand Palace. It is recommended to do the Grand Palace in the early mornings, before heading to Wat Pho in the afternoon. The temple is also accessible via public transportation. From BTS Skytrain, alight at Saphan Taksin and take the boat from Sathorn Pier to Tha Thien Pier (N8). Similarly you may opt for a meter taxi or a tuk tuk to get to the temple.
4. WAT ARUN (TEMPLE OF DAWN)
The Wat Arun is definitely one of my favourite temple in Bangkok, it is simply stunning. Situated on top of the river bank of the Chao Phraya river, it is regarded as one of Bangkok’s famous landmarks.
Boasting a spire (prang) of 70 metres high, you can easily climb the spire all the way to the top. I particularly love the colourful decorated spires with glass and Chinese porcelain details. A heed of warning, as the steps are really steep. I find getting down was the trickiest part as you would imagine yourself falling. The view from the top however was worth the climb as you can see the Chao Phraya river, the Grand Palace and Wat Pho from the top.
Entrance to the complex is only 100 baht, but like the Grand Palace there is a strict dress code. I was given this beautiful sarong (which I also regret not taking home!) to cover up my legs as I was wearing shorts for a small deposit of 100 baht. You could tell that I went to Wat Arun on a different day – and this was the following morning after the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. It was a lot quieter in the morning, and I love it. You get to walk around the complex, soak in all the details, and climb the steep stairs with no limitations. As the complex is pretty small I can’t imagine how ruthlessly crowded it can be.
HOW TO GET THERE
Located just opposite Wat Pho, the easiest way to get to Wat Arun was to cross the river. From Wat Pho, make your way to the Tha Tien Pier (N8) and hop on the shuttle boat for 3 baht. Similarly you may opt for a meter taxi. If you’re traveling on the BTS Skytrain, alight from Saphan Thaksin and get on the Chao Phraya river express from Sathorn Pier to Tha Tien Pier (N8).
5. WAT TRAIMIT
Located in Chinatown, the Wat Traimit is a modern temple famous for the golden Buddha statue. The statue was originally covered in plasters and went under the radar for decades. That is, until someone accidentally dropped it revealing the gold statue underneath. It was recently moved to Wat Traimit in 2010, with a museum located halfway towards the temple. Made of solid gold, the statue weights five and a half tons so stealing it is not possible. Also, how is it possible that no one questioned its weight all those years, not realising it’s made of gold?
How to get there
Wat Traimit is accessible via BTS Skytrain, alighting at the Hualamphong station. From Hualamphong it’s actually a short walk away, just be sure to have a map as it can get confusing. It is best to include Wat Traimit on the same trip to Chinatown as it’s located within the same area.
Similarly you may opt for a tuk tuk ride from the station. I actually squeezed in Wat Traimit as I waited for Chinatown to come out to life at 6pm. You may also use a meter taxi if that’s more convenient. Entrance for the temple is 40 baht, while the museum costs 100 baht.
OTHER NOTABLE TEMPLES
While there are plenty other temples worth visiting in Bangkok, these are the top 5 that you definitely must visit. Other notable temples you might want to try are the Wat Ratchanatdaram, Wat Benchamaphobit, Wat Prayoon, Wat Mahathat.