By Lisa on Sep 25, 2013 with Comments 3
As Bangkok is our Destination of the Month at the moment, you might have noticed that I have used the word Wat many times when talking about the temples in Bangkok. But what’s a wat?
What’s a Wat?
Basically a Wat is a temple. More Specifically, a Wat is a Buddhist Temple. The word is used in other southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia and Laos too, not just Thailand.
Technically a temple has to have at least three Buddhist monks before it can qualify as a wat, as well as boasting teaching quarters and a large image of Buddha, but the term is much more loosely used nowadays and even the shrines in people’s homes in Bangkok are sometimes referred to as wats.
So a wat, then, is a Buddhist place of worship, like a Christian church or an Islamic mosque.
Wats are normally lavishly decorated and beautifully designed. They make for the most architecturally stunning visits in Bangkok.
Wats in Bangkok
In Bangkok, these brightly decorated temples are like jewels dotted around the city and make stunning landmarks for visitors and locals alike.
Each wat is different, making for very interesting places for visitors wishing to tour Bangkok.
Here are a few of the best wats in Bangkok:
Wat Phra Kaew
Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, forms part of the Grand Palace complex in Bangkok and is Thailand’s most sacred temple.
The sacred Emerald Buddha itself is actually quite tiny and is housed in the main edifice, inside which worshippers sit for hours mesmerised by the tiny image. No photography is allowed inside this part of the temple.
There are legends about the Emerald Buddha, which is actually made of jade, stating that it was found in India, by a monk, or that it came from Chiang Rai protected by elephants…
Wat Phra Kaew is the most emblematic of Bangkok’s temples due to its golden chedi which can be seen from far around and which is often featured in photos of Bangkok and this temple.
It is also one of the largest temples and, combined with the Grand Palace, will take a whole day to visit.
Practical Information about Wat Phra Kaew
Price: For non-Thais, the combined entrance ticket for Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace costs a whopping 400 baht which is nearly 10€, making it the most expensive monument I visited in Thailand.
You might hear that if you go after 4pm there is a reduced rate, but I asked when I was there and was assured that the entrance fee is the same regardless of the time of day and if you go after 4pm you only get one hour to visit before it closes.
When to visit: The complex is open daily all year round and is only closed to the public when the royal family requires the private use of the Grand Palace.
The best time of day to visit is either early morning before it gets too busy or late evening when the crowds have thinned.
Dress code: It seems that the dress code depends a bit on the day and who you talk to. The last time I visited I was wearing a short dress which finished well above the knee and I was admitted with no problem. My friend, on the other hand, was wearing shorts, which even though they were much longer than my dress, were not permitted and he had to use some of the strange jogging-style pants that are provided for visitors’ use.
They say that shoulders should be covered and also that open-toe shoes are not permitted. But I was wearing flip-flops and no one said a word to me.
Your best bet is to steer clear of shorts and cover shoulders and feet and then you know that you won’t have to chance it.
Wat Pho is the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. The temple had to be built around this huge golden Buddha rather than the statue being brought to the temple.
Wat Pho is one of the largest and oldest temples in Bangkok and is directly adjacent to the Grand Palace.
The image of the Reclining Buddha is 43m long and 15m high. It completely fills the temple, leaving space enough only to walk around the edge, passing the bronze bowls into which donations are placed to contribute towards maintenance of the wat.
Outside the main temple building is a huge patio in which 91 chedis and more than 1,000 Buddha images can be found as well as 16 gates around the outside of the grounds guarded by Chinese giants carved out of rock.
Thai Massage at Wat Pho
Wat Pho is known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage and is home to one of the earliest massage schools. The students offer massages to visitors to the temple and it is considered one of the best places in Bangkok to have a massage.
Even though I myself am a fan of Thai massage, I have to say that when I had a massage at Wat Pho during my visit to Bangkok in 2009 I was not impressed and found it far too hard. I remember it being economical but I have only returned to Wat Pho to see the temple, and have not since indulged in a massage.
Practical Information about Wat Pho
Price: It costs only 100 baht to go into Wat Pho and this price includes a complimentary bottle of drinking water. For Thai nationals there is free entry.
The Thai massage is extra and there are different options.
When to visit: Wat Pho is open daily from 08:00 until 17:00. I have been in the morning and in the evening, and the evening was perfect as there were hardly any people there at all, just before the complex closed.
Dress code: Visitors are expected to be properly attired with long trousers or skirt and full shoes. Shoulders should be covered.
When I went I was wearing the same short dress as at the Grand Palace as it was the same day and no one said anything. I was also wearing flip flops. My friend didn’t have a problem with his shorts this time either.
Wat Arun has existed since the seventeenth century but it’s prang (spires), which make it so distinctive, were added in the nineteenth century.
Wat Arun, known as the Temple of Dawn is one of the most characteristic temples of Bangkok and is right on the bank of the Chao Phraya River.
Find out here why Wat Arun is called the Temple of Dawn.
Find out here why Wat Arun is the most photogenic temple in Bangkok.
Practical Information about Wat Arun
Price: It only costs 50 baht to visit Wat Arun, considerably cheaper than other Bangkok temples. Everything at Wat Arun is outside so there is less upkeep than at other temples.
When to Visit: Well, this is the Temple of Dawn, so if you can visit at dawn you will see the first sunlight shimmering on its prangs. Failing that, last time I was there, I visited at sunset and that was pretty magical too.
Dress code: Okay, this time I did have to cover up! It seems they are more strict with dress code here than at other temples and I had to cover my legs by tying a sarong around my waist. So when you go to Wat Arun be careful.
This is one of my favourite temples in Bangkok. Unlike the others, it is a modern wat from the last century. Its whitewashed walls look clean and neat against the backdrop of the busy city.
The large temple is crowned by 37 metal spires that represent the 37 virtues towards enlightenment.
The interior is minimal and maze-like; every corridor looks the same. Once you find the stairs you can walk up floor after floor to the roof terraces from where there are amazing views over Bangkok.
Find out here why Wat Ratchanadda is my favourite Bangkok temple.
Practical Information about Wat Ratchanadda
Price: Wat Ratchanadda is free to enter.
When to visit: You can visit anytime you like; the temple is open and welcoming at all times. It’s worth going in the morning as there is a market in the grounds.
Dress code: You are expected to dress appropriately and modestly but there is little chance of anyone prohibiting you from entering.
Your favourite Wat
How about you? Have you been to Bangkok? Which wat do you recommend? what about temples in other parts of the world? And how will you answer the next time someone asks you “what’s a wat?”
About the Author: Lisa, born and grew up in England, live in Mallorca, Spain... Have visited more than 20 countries, have twice as many to yet visit, love sharing experiences....