So many to see
Of the roughly 600 temples found in Bangkok, most travellers hit only the big draws like Wat Pho, Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Traimit. These are popular for good reason, but many of the non-touristy temples can offer a soothing canal-side atmosphere, exceptional artwork or something completely different. Read on to find the lesser-known temples that are worth a look.
The wats are arranged here from north to south in two segments: temples on the east side of the river run from Wat Thewarat Kunchorn to Wat Yannawa, while those on the west side in Thonburi run from Wat Suwannaram down to Wat Kamphaeng. Serious temple buffs could hit all of them in two days—one on the east side of the river and another on the west. Or you could pick a few to sprinkle into a more typical sightseeing excursion in Bangkok.
Wat Thewarat Kunchorn
This sleepy temple sits beside Thewet pier and fresh market along the Chao Phraya River in the Dusit area and was established before Bangkok became the Thai capital in 1782. Evocative murals in the 19th-century ordination hall display celestial beings riding clouds above monks contemplating skeletons and dying people. But the highlight is the attached Golden Teak Museum, a centuries-old teak hall first built way up in Phrae and later reconstructed in Bangkok. Among the wide pillars and intricate carvings sit life-like fiberglass statues of revered Thai monks.
Wat Thewarat Kunchorn Worawihan (also spelt Devaraj): 90 Sri Ayutthaya Rd (next to Thewet Pier on the orange flag river ferry line); T: (02) 281 2430; museum open Tue-Sat 10:00-17:00 and admission is 30 baht.
Dev Mandir Hindu Samaj
Built in 1969 as a centre for Punjabi Hindus, this temple stands just down the street from Wat Suthat and the Giant Swing in the old quarter. Though not as well known or photogenic as Sri Maha Marriaman Hindu Temple down on Silom, it’s worth a stop to see 21 colourful images of Hindu deities that were imported from India, including Shiva the destroyer, the elephant god Ganesha and the goddess Lakshmi. Offerings of flower garlands pile up around this pantheon in the temple’s main hall, one of the best places in Bangkok to see Hindu worship in action.
Dev Mandir Hindu Samaj: 136/1 Siripong Rd (across from the east side of Wat Suthat); T: (02) 223 8494; devmandirbangkok.com
Usually overlooked by travellers exploring the Rattanakosin historic district, this 19th-century temple features a five-century-old Buddha image made mostly of gold. It also hosts the original wooden building that served as Thailand’s first primary school and collects donations of sepak takraw balls—an unusual quirk. Known as Wat Mahan for short, the temple sits across the street from the Chinese-style Chao Paa Sua (Tiger) Shrine, which fills up with incense and joss paper offerings sold along the pavement.
Wat Mahanapparam (also spelt Mahan Pharam): 261/4 Tanao Rd (200 metres south of Ratchadamnoen Ave.); T: (02) 622 3372
Those who wander inside this easy-to-miss 19th-century wat will find marble leading to a white mondop topped by four bodhisattva faces on each side—similar to the ancient tower at Angkor Thom in Cambodia. King Rama IV established the wat and a statue of this notably religious monarch sits in one of the mondops. His ashes are enshrined at the base of the principle Buddha image in the ordination hall, where you’ll also find a mural depicting him gazing up at the stars. The compact temple is rather hidden across from Wat Ratchabophit and next to Saranrom Park.
Wat Ratchapradit Sathitmahasimaram Ratchaworawihan: Corner of Soi Saranrom and Atsadang Rd (just northeast of Saranrom Park and Wat Pho); T: (02) 622 2076
This large temple was established in the late Ayutthaya period and also goes by its original name: Wat Liap. The original ordination hall was partially destroyed by Allied bombs during World War II and later reconstructed with a four-sided design. Each is adorned with a depiction of a Hindu deity on their vehicle: Brahma on Hamsa the swan, Indra riding three-headed elephant Erawan, Vishnu atop man-bird Garuda, and Rama riding a chariot held by monkey-warrior Hanuman. There’s also a towering prang sporting green, white and yellow floral mosaics like a scaled-down version of Wat Arun’s prang.
Wat Ratchaburana Ratchaworawihan (aka Wat Liap): 119 Chakphet Rd (just east of the east end of Memorial Bridge and south of Pak Khlong Talad); T: (02) 221 9544
Gurudwara Sri Guru Singh Saba
Built in the early 20th century, this imposing Sikh place of worship looms above Pahurat Road in Little India. A broad golden dome tops the structure, one of the largest gurudwaras found outside of India. At the main prayer area on the sixth floor, a copy of Sikhism’s holy book, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, sits atop a flower-lined altar. The next floor up is full of reading rooms where you’ll usually find Sikhs busy reciting the 1,530-page tome. Respectful travellers are welcome to share in a free vegetarian breakfast on the second floor every morning—ask one of the men on the ground floor and both men and women will receive an orange cloth to cover their heads.
Gurudwara Sri Guru Singh Saba: 571 Chakphet Rd (100 m south of the east end of Pahurat Rd and west end of Yaowarat Rd); T: (02) 221 1011
Wat Hua Lamphong
Blending Thai and Chinese customs, this temple exemplifies the generous spirit of Bangkokians who stream in at all hours to donate towards providing coffins for the less fortunate. After donating any amount (500 baht buys a coffin but smaller donations are fine) in the building marked “Ruamkatanyu Foundation,” write your name on the pink certificate and paste it on a coffin. Then take the white certificate and burn it alongside incense in the neighbouring Chinese shrine. The wat also features a large ordination hall topped with two emerald-coloured elephants and mother-of-pearl designs on the windows.
Wat Hua Lamphong: 728 Phra Ram IV Rd (next to Sam Yan MRT Station); T: (02) 233 8109
Wat Suan Phlu
One of the Silom area’s few temples is graced by several kinaree (part bird, part praying angel) depictions rising from swirling patterns atop the 19th century ordination hall. Mosaics of light-blue glass punctuate the hall as the gaudy Lebua State Tower provides an urban backdrop. Elsewhere on the grounds you’ll find old monks’ quarters made of teak and Asian rosewood with gingerbread trim, and a reclining Buddha in a shrine room. There’s also a well-preserved teak ho trai (scripture hall) that has been converted into a shrine honouring Kuan Yin, the East Asian bodhisattva of compassion.
Wat Suan Phlu: Charoen Krung Soi 42 (near Shangri La Hotel and 300 m north of Saphan Taksin BTS Station and Sathorn river ferry pier)
The main draw at this quirky “boat temple” is a wihaan shaped like a 19th century Chinese trading junk, which was added by King Rama III and remodelled to its current appearance in the 20th century. The wat also features an Ayutthaya-period ordination hall so fragile that it needs to be sheltered by a secondary roof. In the main hall sit hundreds of sets of relics (ashes and bone fragments) from revered Thai monks and, supposedly, the Buddha and his chief disciples. Up top stretch glittering prasat spires that clash with the “ghost tower” located across the road. Wat Yannawa is also a major meditation venue conveniently located beside the river and the skytrain.
Wat Yannawa: 40 Charoen Krung Rd (just south of Saphan Taksin BTS Station and Sathorn river ferry pier); T: (02) 672 3216
Sitting near the Bangkok Noi Canal in an old part of the city where Burmese prisoners were once executed, this ancient temple has a tidy square plan with a few structures rising from the open stonework floor. Step inside the ordination hall to glimpse exquisite murals depicting the Buddha’s enlightenment, celestial beings and early 19th century scenes from Siam, including some showing Westerners. Painted by two of the most talented artists of that era, the murals surround a large Buddha image cast in the Sukhothai style. A visit can be combined with the nearby Baan Bu bronze village.
Wat Suwannaram Ratchaworawihan: Charan Sanitwong Soi 32 (just northwest of Thonburi Railway Station and one km northwest of Wang Lang river ferry pier); T: (088) 829 9946
Standing along the west side of the Chao Phraya River, Wat Rakang is always abuzz with people feeding fish, ringing bells and making merit. Architecturally it is attractive but not a knock out, although the Khmer-style spires and ordination hall with murals of praying deities and a seated Buddha in the meditation posture are worth a peek. The 18th century temple is best known for five enormous bells and a very old teak scripture hall in excellent shape. It’s easy to stroll south along the river to this “Bell Temple” after exploring Wang Lang Market.
Wat Rakang Kositaram Woramahawihan (also spelt Rakhang): Arun Ammarin Rd (just south of Wang Lang market and river ferry pier); T: (02) 418 1079
Wat Prayoon’s towering bell-shaped chedi is clearly visible from the Chao Phraya River. While this is the most noticeable feature of the large early 19th century wat, the main attraction is Khao Mor, an artificial hill with foliage draping over small chedis and ponds where turtles await the next bite of bread or banana. Strangely, the little hill is an exact replica of a mould left by the dripping of a candle that left King Rama III awestruck. Santa Cruz Church is a short walk to the north, and to the south, Wat Phichaya is also worth a stop to check out the Khmer-style spires and Chinese-style ordination hall.
Wat Prayoon Wongsawat (also spelt Prayura): Arun Ammarin Soi 4 (just northwest of the west end of Memorial Bridge); T: (02) 456 5592
Chee Chin Khor
Built in 2001, the eight-tier pagoda at this Chinese temple is another landmark that many travellers see when cruising the Chao Phraya. It’s the most recently constructed piece of a complex first established in 1952 by a Chinese-Thai “moral uplifting” society. You’ll also find ornate dragons; a hall with an upper room designed to look like a cave enshrining statues of Chinese sages; and a Muppet-like depiction of a feminine spirit who collects red Fanta at a riverside shrine. Beside the complex sits a handsome old Chinese-style house overshadowed by the Baan Chao Phaya condominium.
Chee Chin Khor Temple and Pagoda: Somdet Chao Phaya Soi 17 (just north of Baan Chao Praya Condominium and Khlong San cross-river ferry pier, which is accessible from Si Phraya Pier on the east bank of the river; turn right just north of Taksin Hospital off Somdet Chao Phaya Rd, then left, then right at Wat Thong Nopakhun; or come by longtail boat)
Wat Pak Nam
The main draw at this large and wealthy meditation temple in far western Bangkok is Maha Ratcha Mongkol, a modern-style 80-metre-tall chedi completed in 2012. Topped by 100 kilograms of gold, it towers over a canal and has four inner floors including a museum of Buddha images and a mesmerising dome-shaped mural adorned with depictions of Buddha meditating above a chedi made of emerald glass. Also don’t miss the old ho trai with lacquered walls at neighbouring Wat Absorn Sawan, and a giant Buddha seated atop elephant statues at Wat Khun Chan across the canal.
Wat Pak Nam Phasi Charoen: 300 Ratcha Mongkol Prasat Rd (walk one km north from Wutthakat BTS Station on Wutthakat Rd, turn left on Thoet Thai Rd then right on Thoet Thai Soi 28, walk past Wat Khun Chan and take the bridge over the canal); T: (02) 467 0811
A stone’s throw from the Artist House at Khlong Bang Luang amid a slice of deepest Thonburi, this obscure Ayutthaya-period temple features a crumbling ordination hall with a vivid mural of a standing Buddha overlooking a canal. There are also two ancient brick-and-mortar wihaans—in one you can shake out a kau cim stick and locate your fortune, in English, on a shelf; while a collection of antique Buddha images collect dust in the other. This is one of those quiet, haunting corners of Bangkok that few people know about.
Wat Kamphaeng Bang Jak: Soi Wat Thong Sala Ngam (from the west end of Charoen Sanitwong Soi 3, cross the canal bridge and go straight down the lane—a left by the canal instead takes you to the Artist House—then go left and the temple will be on the right just after a second bridge)
Unless otherwise noted, all of these temples are open daily from early morning to around 18:00 and are free to visit.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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