With 93% of the population professing the Buddhist faith, it is no wonder that Thailand - the land of smiles - is also the land of temples. There are temples dating back to the 17th century, temples with buildings made out of glass or wood, and even a temple that forms a unique art exhibition. One thing they all have in common? The architecture and craftsmanship is nothing short of spectacular. Take a walk through some of Thailand’s most beautiful temples that every Buddhist pilgrim or visitor should visit in their lifetime.
Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai
Part art exhibit, part religious sanctuary, Wat Rong Khun is unlike any temple you will find anywhere in the world. It is the brainchild of Thai visual artist Chalerm Kositpitat, whose unique touch marries the contemporary and the ancient. The temple’s snowy white exterior is a far cry from the usual gold colour scheme typical of Buddhist wats; and visitors will find intricately carved motifs, images of Buddha and statues of mythical creatures, as well as murals interspersed with references from pop culture, such as Freddy Kreuger from the horror film Nightmare on Elm Street, Michael Jackson, Hello Kitty and even Superman. Works on the temple are ongoing, so there’s no telling what new designs visitors will discover.
Wat Samphran, Amphoe Sam Phran
Located off the beaten path about 40 kilometres west of Bangkok, Wat Samphran is rarely mentioned by tourist guides or travel books. Those who stumble across it, however, are typically stunned by the pink, 17-storey temple, which appears wrapped in the clutches of a gigantic dragon sculpture curling its way across the building. A staircase leads up to parts of the sculpture, but as the temple is poorly maintained, some parts have been cordoned off to visitors. The temple is said to have been built somewhere in the 1980s, although its origins, such as who designed it, are still shrouded in mystery.
Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew, Sisaket Province
The story behind Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew, also known as the Temple of A Million Bottles, is an inspiring one. It was said that local Buddhist monks came together to look for ways to help waste disposal, and began collecting glass beer bottles so they wouldn’t end up in landfills. The bottles were used as tiles for the roof, pillars and to adorn walls, while bottle caps were used to create mosaics. Today, the temple complex’s 20 buildings are made from over 1.5 million empty Heineken and Chang beer bottles, and has won global awards for their efforts in sustainable architecture.
Sanctuary Of Truth, Pattaya
At first glance, the Sanctuary of Truth looks like it dates back thousands of years: although it was actually commissioned by a Thai businessman in 1981. Built entirely out of wood, the 105-metre-tall building sits pretty by the river and harkens back to the Ayutthayan period - widely considered the golden age of Buddhism in the region. Filled with detailed sculptures, carvings and statues, the temple draws from various ancient Buddhist artistic styles, such as Dravidian, Angkorean, Chinese, Srivijayan and Thai. Building is expected to be completed by 2050.
Wat Pho, Bangkok
Wat Pho, or The Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is one of Thailand’s most visited attractions and among the oldest temples in the country. Steeped in history, it is known as a royal temple where the ashes of ancient kings are enshrined, aside from being the birthplace of the traditional Thai massage. It is also home to the largest collection of Buddha images, numbering over 1,000, as well as the statue of the giant reclining Buddha, which towers at 15 metres-high and 46-metres long, with soles inlaid with mother of pearl.