Thailand loves its temples! There are more than 40,000 of them in Bangkok alone and each one is just stunning. Most visitors will have at least a couple of temples on their “must-see” list when they visit The Kingdom, but which ones are really worth the visit?
In Thailand’s humid heat and incessant sunshine, one must carefully plan their day trips so as to see the best sites without over-exerting one’s self. Sometimes the biggest and most famous tourist attractions are not really the most impressive or most worthwhile. In this guide, I will introduce a few ways for Bangkok travellers to see some of the most interesting temples in the easiest ways possible.
This is possibly the most impressive and simultaneously least visited temple in Bangkok. However, with recent extensions of the BTS Skytrain now stopping at Chang Erawan, it is likely this imposing and wonderful spot will become a little busier. Tickets are 400 Baht for foreigners and half that for Thai nationals.
Even after seeing photos online of the gargantuan three-headed elephant, the sheer scale and grandness of the thing will take your breath away just for a second. At 29 meters tall, made of copper which has turned green in the elements, Erawan weighs 250 tonnes and is completely hollow. Erawan comes from Hindu mythology in which he is known as Airavata, who was tasked with carrying Hindu god Indra.
The surprising thing about Erawan lies within his belly. Once inside the pink pedestal on which Erawan proudly stands, You can go down into the basement and work your way upwards through the three layers of the universe, the underworld which is filled with mythological snakes “Nagas,” the human world, and the heavens.
This is no ordinary Buddhist temple. The shrine is dedicated to religion and mythology in a very inclusive manner. Theravada Buddhism, Hinduism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Christianity are strongly represented with four intricately carved pillars depicting key scenes from each religion. The stunning stained-glass, domed roof of the second level represents Mount Meru. In Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist cosmology Mount Meru is the centre of the universe.
From the mezzanine, you can walk up the spiral staircase in the right hind leg of Erawan or take the elevator in the left leg. The third floor in the body of Erawan represents Tavatisma, the celestial realm of the gods and is a rounded, etherial chamber. The roof is covered with a stunning mural of celestial bodies and star maps in moody blues and shining gold. Ancient statues line the walls and a central alter hosts a tall gold Buddha surrounded by various offerings.
Part shrine, part museum, all of the artifacts and statues on display are authentic antiques coming from Europe, as well as vases from the Chinese Ming and Qing dynasties, and Buddha statues dating all the way back to the Ayutthaya era (1351–1767). The eccentric millionaire Lek Viriyaphant built The Erawan Museum exclusively to hold his collection of antiquities and to share them with generations of Thai people in the future. Sadly, Lek Viriyaphant died before the completion of his masterpiece in 2004.
Erawan’s surrounding gardens are beautiful and peaceful. As this museum is not very big or crowded, it is the perfect place for older, or less mobile visitors to Bangkok. It is not as overwhelming as most attractions and offers plenty of shady places to rest by trickling ponds.
Long Boat Temple Tour
Want to see all the temples without getting out of your seat? This is for you! Go to Saphan Taksin pier on the Chao Phraya River (There is a BTS Skytrain stop at the pier) and negotiate with the people who hold up sign boards offering long boat tours. You can have a whole boat to yourself for 1000-2000 baht for a 1+ hour tour of the canals around on the other side of the river. Boats usually enter the canal system at Dao Khanong or Bang Pa Kaeo and work their way inland and then north to pop back out onto the Chao Phraya around Wat Aurn and then return you to Saphan Taksin.
On your journey through the old river ways, you will see at least twenty temples! If you want to stop at any temples for a walk around, you can let your boat driver know and he or she will accommodate. Make sure to look out for a seated black buddha, and a giant reclining golden buddha. Go with friends and turn temple spotting into a game. Along the way, a little old lady in a small boat will paddle towards you selling her wares. Be sure to buy a drink and purchase an extra one for your boat driver. It is tradition. She even has icy cold beers!
Wat Arun, Grand Palace and The Emerald Buddha
Some might say that a visit to Bangkok is not complete without a visit to the Grand Palace.
A great way to tick some landmarks off the bucket list is to take a boat to Wat Arun for a quick walk around to get some snaps of the incredible artistic details of the temple. This place will not need much of your time, it is gorgeous, but there is not much to do there. Then, get on the shuttle boat to take you just across the river to The Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha, If you arrive at around 2:30pm you can spend an hour there before they close and time your exit with a beautiful afternoon drink or dinner overlooking the river with a view of Wat Arun from any one of the riverside restaurants and bars.
Eat and Drink with a View
Favourite spots for food and drink to watch the sunset are; Eagle’s Nest, The ROOF, Eat Sight Story Deck, and Sala Rattanakosin. Each of these locations offers the perfect view and some of them will even give you a glimpse of The Grand Palace at night, which is spectacular.
Note: Be aware of scams. Taxi and tuktuk drivers tell tourists that the Grand Palace is closed for a holiday and then offer to take them to another attraction instead. Do not go with them!
The Ancient Siam
The Ancient Siam is a weird and wonderful place; a massive park constructed in the shape of Thailand, full of important landmarks which are positioned in their approximate location on a map of Thailand within the park. The park was created by the same eccentric millionaire who built The Erawan Museum; Khun Lek.
Here you can see 120 points of interest including 50 replicas of cultural sites from around Thailand, and 19 original cultural artefacts which were moved to the park for restoration and exhibition. These are not miniature landmarks, most of them are actual or near-actual size. You get to cruise around the park in a golf cart which makes this the perfect activity for the less active visitors or just for us lazy folk. The park tickets are 700 Baht for foreigners and the golf cart will run you 350 baht for the first hour and 200 for each hour after that.
The most impressive addition to the park has to be the Golden Temple with its gorgeous reclining Buddha and immense golden prayer room full of seated Buddhas. The park provides an education into the Buddhist religion, the mythological tales, and the ways that they become one when history meets fairytales.
Religious places have certain rules which apply when visiting. Both men and women should be well covered in long pants or skirts, and shirts which cover shoulders. Most temples provide wraps which visitors can borrow to cover up, some attractions charge a fee for this service. Put a scarf and sarong in your bag for an easy cover-up.