There are over 40,000 temples in Thailand, and while each and every one is memorable, there are three that remain the most legendary of them all: Wat Arun, Wat Pho, and Wat Phra Kaew. Here, everything you need to know about Bangkok’s three most iconic temples.
Wat Arun is found on the western banks of the Chao Phraya River in Thonburi. It towers over the waterway when visitors approach by boat, and it is one of the main structures gracing the river. The temple is also known as the Temple of the Dawn and Wat Chaeng by locals. The Khmer-style main prang, or tower, is found at the core of the temple and is one of its most memorable attributes. It is over 82 meters tall and was recently under construction, however, the scaffolding has since been removed. At the top of the tower, visitors are able to see both Wat Pho and the Grand Palace across the river. Other than the prang, the temple reflects Chinese-influenced architecture throughout with lovely foliage mosaic tiles decorating the religious structure.
The temple of Wat Arun was built during the Ayutthaya era and made well-known by General Taksin. He and his army came across the temple at dawn on their way to fight the invading Burmese at the time. He then named the structure the Temple of the Dawn. After he became king, he made the temple part of his royal compound. The temple used to reside in the capital of Thonburi before Bangkok was designated the new capital. The temple was also known as Wat Chaeng and Wat Makok.
What to know before you go
There is a ฿50 (approximately $US1.50) entrance fee into the temple, and visitors must wear appropriate clothing (no knees or shoulders showing) in order to enter. The temple is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Wat Pho is found just opposite Wat Arun and is venerated by all Thais. Otherwise known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, the temple is renowned for just that. The giant golden Buddha stands at 15 meters high and 46 meters long and sits at the core of the religious structure. The Buddha is housed in the Phra Buddhasaiyas (Viharn Phranorn). It is the largest reclining Buddha image in Thailand and is adorned with gold leaf. The giant Buddha is not the only thing to be seen at this amazing temple, which also consists of a large courtyard decorated with Chinese-style statues made of vibrant tiles and ceramic stoneware. Other amazing structures making up Wat Pho include the Pavilion, a library of traditional Thai massage inscriptions, the Phra Maha Chedi Si Rajakarn, a group of four huge pagodas surrounded by a white wall with Thai-Chinese style gates and colour-glazed tiles, and the main chapel, otherwise known as Phra Buddha Deva Patimakorn.
The temple of Wat Pho was constructed in 1782 during the reign of King Rama I. The Reclining Buddha was not built until 1848, however. King Rama’s ashes are in the boht, or ordination hall, of the temple, which was built when King Rama III was in power. The site where the temple is found today used to be where Wat Phodharam was located but was later replaced with Wat Pho.
What to know before you go
There is a ฿100 (approximately $US3) entrance fee into Wat Pho that includes a free bottle of water. Visitors must take their shoes off before entering the structure that houses the Reclining Buddha. Visitors must also wear appropriate clothing (no knees or shoulders showing) in order to enter. The temple is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Wat Phra Kaew
At the heart of Bangkok’s old city is the temple of Wat Phra Kaew. The temple is made up of three sections, or courts, that make up the extensive grounds of the religious structure. Wat Phra Kaew, otherwise known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, houses a number of sacred objects with the most important being the Emerald Buddha that gives this temple its name. The Buddha, or Phra Kaew Morakot, is not made from emerald like its name leads visitors to believe. Instead, it is carved from a single block of jade and adorned with pure gold clothing. It is found inside the ubosot (ordination hall). Visitors are not actually allowed to touch or even get close to the Buddha as it is so revered. The Buddha is about two feet tall and sits several platforms above the floor.
The temple of Wat Phra Kaew began construction in 1785, just a few years after the construction of the Grand Palace began. A new palace was needed because the capital of Thailand was moved from its previous location of Thonburi (where Wat Arun is located) to Bangkok. King Rama I was the founder of the new dynasty that began during this time: the Chakri Dynasty. The highly revered Emerald Buddha that resides here is believed to have been created in 43 BC in the ancient city of Pataliputra in India. Others believe it came to Thailand from Sri Lanka, but its actual origin remains to be proved.
What to know before you go
Wat Phra Kaew is found on the grounds of the Grand Palace, and there is a ฿500 (approximately $US15) entrance fee to get into both. This religious structure is the strictest of them all, and visitors cannot show any part of their legs and must cover the entirety of their shoulders in order to get in. It is recommended to wear a shirt that covers your shoulders instead of bringing a shall or coverup, as some guards may not let you in case you take off the shall upon entering the Grand Palace. The temple is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
How to get there
There are two ways in which visitors can get to these temples. The first and most scenic route is to take the Chao Phraya River express boat. The tickets, regardless of where you depart, are ฿15 (approximately $US.50). We suggest taking the exact route we did: starting at Wat Arun, taking the ferry across the river to Wat Pho, and ending your day of exploration at Wat Phra Kaew. You will get off at the Tha Tien pier, or pier N8. This pier is actually for Wat Pho, but the boat also runs across to Wat Arun as the Tha Tien pier is currently under construction. The boat runs from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.