Thailand is a land of culture and customs, full of temples and palaces. Thai people appreciate beauty in every form and this is reflected in the design of the buildings and structures throughout the land.
The exquisite detail, architecture and beautiful design of Thailand’s temples and palaces are truly a feast for the eyes. For anyone who appreciates art, culture and religious and royal history, this particular destination is definitely for you. After all, Thailand is the land of a thousand temples.
The Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha
The Grand Palace is a must-see in Bangkok. For 150 years the palace complex was home to the king and also to the entire government, including the country’s war ministry, state departments and the mint. Thai kings stopped living in the palace around the turn of the 20th century. However, the complex still remains the seat of power and the spiritual heart of the Thai kingdom. The Grand Palace has an area of 218,400 square metres and is surrounded by walls built in 1782. The length of the four walls is 1,900 metres. The outer court, near the entrance, used to house government departments in which the king was directly involved, such as civil administration, the army and the treasury. Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is located in one corner of this outer court. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is the most famous Buddhist temple in Thailand, and at the heart of the temple itself is a fabulous Buddha image, carved from a single piece of jade. This image is the holiest and most revered of religious objects in Thailand today. Though no royalty currently reside in the inner court, it is still completely closed off to the public. Despite the proximity of the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, there is a distinct contrast in style between the very Thai Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the more European-inspired design of the Grand Palace (except for the roof, which is very Thai). Other highlights of this complex are Boromabiman Hall and Amarinda Hall, the original residence of King Rama I and the Hall of Justice.
Wat Arun, known locally Wat Chaeng, or the Temple of Dawn, is located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. It is easily one of the most stunning temples in Bangkok, with a design that is very different from other temples in the country. Wat Arun is partly made up of colourfully decorated spires and stands majestically over the water. This Buddhist temple is an architectural representation of Mount Meru, the centre of the world in Buddhist cosmology. In the mythology of Tibetan Buddhism, Mount Meru is a place that simultaneously represents the centre of the universe and the single-pointedness of mind sought by adepts. Thousands of miles in height, Meru is located somewhere beyond the physical plane of reality, in a realm of perfection and transcendence. The four-corner prang of Wat Arun, which houses images of the guardian gods of the four directions, reinforces this mystical symbolism.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
The holiest shrine in northern Thailand, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is approached by a steep flight of 300 stairs flanked by green trees and guarded by 16th-century Naga (dragon) figures. An easier, if less atmospheric, route is via an adjacent funicular. This temple is part of Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, a richly forested area supporting 330 species of birds. The park also includes Phuping Palace and Mon Tha Than Falls, the latter believed by some to contain evil spirits. Doi Suthep Mountain rises about 1,000 metres above sea level, and there are fine views over the city of Chiang Mai to be had from the temple’s lower terrace. The terrace is surrounded by large bells that are rung by pilgrims to bring good luck, and in the northwest corner of the terrace is a statue of the legendary elephant that chose the site of the temple. Enclosed by a frescoed cloister, the upper terrace is home to a tightly packed complex of small shrines, bells, golden umbrellas and Buddha statues. Shoes must be removed and shoulders must be covered before entering this sacred area. In the centre of the upper terrace is the great chedi, a 16th-century expansion of the 14th-century original. The dazzling gold-plated temple is modelled on Wat Phra That Haripunjaya in Lamphun, formerly the greatest temple in the Chiang Mai region.
Wat Sri Suphan
Located in Chiang Mai province, Wat Sri Suphan, or the Silver Temple, is one of the oldest temples in the area. Built during the Mangrai dynasty in 1500, the temple has been renovated and redesigned a number of times. In 2004, under the abbot, Phra Kru Phithatsuthikhun, rather than using standard temple renovation techniques, utilized the skill and knowledge of local silversmiths. This is most evident in the design of the main ordination hall. The result is a silver-coloured building that shimmers in the sunlight and is full of intricate details. The architecture is Lanna style and most of the work was carried out using alloy and zinc, with precious silver being reserved for the holy images. These three-dimensional images portray stories of Buddhism, Dharma puzzles and the history of the temple.
Wat Suthat Thep Wararam
Wat Suthat, famously known for its towering red giant swing that stands at its entrance, is one of the oldest and most impressive temples in Bangkok, a royal temple of the first grade, one of 10 such temples in Bangkok. It features an elegant chapel with sweeping roof, magnificent murals and exquisite hand-carved teakwood door panels. Wat Suthat is perhaps more famous for the giant swing than its impressive interior architecture. Standing at 21.15 metres between Wat Suthat and Bangkok City Hall, the swing’s two towering red pillars and elaborately carved crossbar are unmistakable from afar. As for the temple, the cloistered courtyard, surrounding the main chapel, boasts 156 images of Buddha along the outer walls and four entry gates individually hand-carved with intricate details. The wall frescoes inside the main chapel, detailing the previous 24 incarnations of the Buddha, employed Western painting technique with perspective science, which is unique to this temple. Lining the outer walls are Chinese stone sculptures and eight-tier hexagonal pagodas, believed to have been shipped as ballast with the Chinese trade junks.
Text by Dennis Latif | Photos courtesy of Tourism Authority of Thailand