No trip to Bangkok would be complete without a visit to one of the city’s major temples to witness the importance of Buddhist practices in Thai culture. Traveling to the sanctuaries, known as wats, is best done in the mornings, when crowds and temperatures are both low. You’ll immediately be drawn to the buildings’ glittering exteriors and impressive architecture, but it’s important to prepare for a strict dress code before attending the sites. Many temples will rent wraps or provide visitors with neon green robes—a less-than-flattering outfit choice—but places like Wat Phra Kaew are more serious about the restrictions, so it’s best to dress appropriately from the start. Often, the wats also serve as home to Bangkok’s monk populations, so don’t be surprised if you see them wandering the grounds in saffron-colored robes. Read on for five temple experiences that serve as a beautiful and peaceful contrast to the vibrant nightlife in Thailand’s capital city.
Mixing grand history, Instagram-worthy shots, and relaxation, Wat Pho easily wins my pick for top places to spend an afternoon. If you’re pressed for time, just see the famed reclining Buddha or, better yet, budget several hours to tour the sprawling grounds, and indulge in a massage at the national massage school, located on site.
Directly across the river from Wat Pho sits Wat Arun, one of the most recognizable spots in Bangkok. I recommend arriving just before sunset to climb up the spire. All Bangkok temples adhere to a dress code and, even though wraps are available to rent, making the short but steep climb in a sarong can be tricky to navigate modestly.
Wat Phra Kaew
Home to the Emerald Buddha (which was actually meticulously carved from a single piece of jade) Wat Phra Kaew is a sprawling and impressive complex best managed with the help of an audio recording or personal tour guide. Be sure to shrug off locals offering services outside and hire a guide inside, someone affiliated with the wat.
Before heading to Chinatown, make a 30-minute stop at Wat Traimit to see the Golden Buddha. This gleaming monument is the world’s largest gold statue and has an impressive estimated worth. There is a small Chinatown heritage museum on the third floor, but skip that and walk 10-minutes to the main attraction.
If you’re in Bangkok in November, the large-scale temple fair and candlelight processions at Wat Saket should jump to the top of your to-do list. During the other 11 months, the beautiful murals and 360-degree views at the top of the neighboring Golden Mount will show you a peaceful side of this chaotic city.