In Thailand being a Buddhist country, temples play an important role in everyday life for Thai people. People go to the temple for merit making, prey to the Buddha for things such as good health, good fortune and wealth and to seek advice from monks. It is customary for young boys to ordain as a monk and live in the temple for a while, some for a short time, some for longer.
It is believed that Buddhism was introduced to Thailand about 2,200 years ago when the emperor of India, Ashoka the Great, send monks to a great number of countries including Thailand to spread Buddhism. Nowadays, the vast majority of Thai people is Buddhist.
Although Thai temples area called “Wat”, meaning temple, this term refers to the temple complex consisting of various buildings like the Ubosot (ordination hall), the Viharn where important Buddha images are kept and a Chedi, where Buddhist relics are enshrined.
There are literally tens of thousands of Buddhist temples in Thailand, most of which are active. More than 200 have been given the status of Royal Temple, which are divided by importance into first, second and third class. The most important and sacred temple in Thailand is the Wat Phra Kaew temple, located on the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok. This temple holds the emerald Buddha, the most sacred and revered Buddha image in Thailand.
6 Temple of the highest grade of the first class Royal Temples
Some of the most important and best known temples are located in the capital Bangkok, such as the Wat Pho (the temple of the Reclining Buddha), the Wat Arun (the temple of Dawn), the Wat Mahathat and the Wat Suthat.
Outside Bangkok the Wat Phra Pathom Chedi in Nakhon Pathom and the Wat Phra Phutthabat (the temple of the Buddha’s footprint) in Saraburi are the temples of the highest importance. These six temples are of the highest grade of the first class Royal Temples.
Apart of being of great spiritual and social importance, Thai temples are among the most beautiful, impressive structures to be found. Temples of many different architectural styles can be found in Thailand; the Lanna temples of Northern Thailand look very different from the Rattanakosin temples in Bangkok or from the Khmer style temples of North Eastern Thailand.
Thai temples are beautifully, ornately decorated and very colorful buildings in various sizes and architectural styles. Inside a Thai temple you will find very huge and small Buddha images and magnificent mural paintings showing tales from the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Indian epic Ramayana or from the Jataka, the stories telling about the previous lives of the Buddha.
Because the temples are sacred places of great importance to Thai people, please dress appropriately when visiting a temple. Always take off your shoes before going inside a temple and wear long pants or a sarong like long dress, covered shoulders and long sleeved shirts.
For an overview of the structures inside the Buddhist Wat, read temple terminology.