Thailand is a marvel. Traveling through this remarkable country excites the senses, triggers the imagination and leaves visitors in awe of its beauty, character and culture. Cheap flights to Thailand make it easy to access from many major European cities and moving about within the country is relatively inexpensive. It is a destination well worth a visit.
Capital city Bangkok is a hub for all travellers. It is also home to some of the most impressive Buddhist temples (or wats) in the world. The word wat roughly derives from the word for monastery or temple and is a place of worship that features an enclosing wall which provides a spatial barrier from the secular world.
While the design of the buildings within a wat are themselves striking in their own right, it is the smaller elements that truly dazzle; the murals, the mystical imagery and the religious practices which help create a rich tapestry of colours, textures, sounds and smells.
For Thais, wats are an important part of everyday life, while for tourists they are an attraction to behold. When visiting Buddhist temples it is important to remember and respect the spiritual practices that take place on the grounds. Many of the wats reflect important elements of Thailand’s history; they have sustained wars and invasions, they have helped spread Buddhism throughout the country and they are home to some priceless pieces of art and religious artefacts.
If you’re venturing to Thailand for a limited amount of time, there are a few temples that you absolutely must see. In Bangkok Wat Phra Kaew is a magnificent place which features bold colours and remarkable details. Wat Phra Kaew culminates in Thailand’s most exalted image, the Emerald Buddha. While the Buddha itself is modest in size, the collection of offerings that surround the statue are far from it.
Also in Bangkok, Wat Po is an impressive temple complex buzzing with schoolchildren, monks and even masseuses. Wat Po is a working temple and very much the centre of the community. It is above all, a place to observe and reflect. The main attraction for tourists within Wat Po is the 43m-long reclining Buddha. But it would be a shame to simply see this and leave. Be sure to take in the towering spires, the details in the carvings, the sounds, the silence and the peaceful calm of this beautiful wat.
Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand is another wonderful place to visit. There is no shortage of activities to keep visitors occupied in this mountainous metropolis but there are two temples here that must not be missed.
Wat Phra Singh is popular with Thai tourists because of the treasured image of Phra Sihing. While this is worth seeing, the beautiful Lanna murals in the Viharn Lai Kham that surround the image are particularly eye-catching. Dating from the mid-19th century, these illustrations have faded but the images of elephants, armies and early Western travellers are still powerful and legible.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is the other must-see temple just 15km outside of Chiang Mai. Arguably the most important site for visitors, it is definitely most visible. This wat sits nestled into the side of Doi Suthep roughly 3,000ft above sea level among majestic mountains and breathtaking scenery. This wat was built by King Gue-Na in 1383 and houses a massive copper palace (22m high) which is covered in gold and contains holy relics of Buddha. This wat is an important destination for Buddhist pilgrims who visit the site year round. To access this incredible temple visitors can climb 300 steps or use a cable car.
Visiting wats is a wonderful way to understand Thai culture. Buddhism is an important part of life for many Thai people and the temples built to exalt and worship Lord Buddha are places of peace, contemplation and calm, things which every holiday could use more of.