Thailand is a country famed for its abundance of temples celebrating a handful of different beliefs and cultures.
There are thought to be over 40,700 Buddhist temples – or wats, to give them their Thai name – alone in Thailand, and each has it’s own history and cultural significance.
While beauty and splendour characterise many of Thailand’s temples, there are a few that have something extra.
A glimpse of je ne sais quoi. Some may say, the X Factor.
We like to call it a little slice of mystery. Perhaps it’s something to do with unusual styles of architecture, interesting origin stories or a storied past. Regardless, these temples carry with them a sense of enigma that make them a must-see on your Thailand bucket list.
Let’s take it away…
1. Wat Rong Khun
Although purporting to be a Buddhist temple, Wat Rong Khun – better known by many as the White Temple – is really more of a living artwork thanks to its intricate and unusual architecture and rich symbolism.
Chalermchai Kositpipat, a Chiang Rai artist, redesigned the original Wat Rong Khun in the late 1990s, using ฿40 million of his own money in an effort to honour the Lord Buddha and achieve immortality. Although the temple is open to visitors, the renovation is still ongoing and not expected to complete until 2070.
Bright white in colour and flecked with shards of glass, Wat Rong Khun symbolises both the purity and the wisdom of the Buddha. Particular structures within the temple complex convey further Buddhist symbolism, including the Gate of Heaven, The Bridge of the Cycle of Rebirth and The Golden Building, symbolising the shallow bodily pleasures. The Ubosot main structure combines classical Thai architecture and art together with more modern, western symbols like Michael Jackson, Terminator, Hello Kitty and Harry Potter.
2. Wat Phra Dhammakaya
Resembling something more akin to a huge spaceship rather than a temple, Wat Phra Dhammakaya is actually the focal point for the Dhammakaya movement, an offshoot of Buddhism founded in the 1970s which emphasises the reality of the True Self in all living things.
The temple is home to around 300,000 Buddha images, 3,000 monks and other worshippers, and is a venue associated with mass meditation and prayers. In terms of inhabitants, it is now the largest temple in Thailand which can see congregations numbering 100,000.
Although the temple was once under scrutiny for embezzlement, these claims have since been disproved and apologised for.
3. Wat Phra Kaew
Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is probably one of the most famous Thai temples thanks to its interesting history and its location in the Grand Palace complex of Bangkok. It’s also regarded as the most sacred of all Thai temples.
The Emerald Buddha inside the temple – which is actually made of jade – was thought to have been found in Chiang Rai in the 15th century before being relocated to Bangkok in the 18th. Its legend is woven from India where the saint Nagasena prophesied the Emerald Buddha would bring “prosperity and pre-eminence” to whichever country it found itself in. As such, the image is regarded as the protector of Thailand and is only allowed to be touched by the King or the Crown Prince.
Wat Phra Kaew itself is a beautiful temple and the focal point of the Grand Palace, attracting thousands of visitors every day. Intricate, grand design is complemented by symbolic Buddhist imagery and decoration throughout.