If you’re traveling around Asia, you’ll likely stop in the vibrant city of Bangkok. Of all the beautiful temples to explore in Thailand’s capital city, we’ve narrowed it down to three wats* you can’t miss in Bangkok.
Bangkok happened to be the final destination of our year-long trip around the world (110+ cities and 27 countries later) so it’s safe to say by this time in our travels we were wiser in the art of DIY budget travel. You don’t need to spend the money on an organized tour to visit the best temples in Bangkok, especially if you follow our guide below.
The following temples are in such close proximity that you could visit all of them in the same day, but if you have a little more time in the big city we would recommend splitting the visits between two days (this will also help prevent you from getting “templed out”). More on this below in our “recommended itinerary” section.
*Wat = Buddhist temple or monastery
Wat Pho – Temple of the Reclining Buddha
Wat Pho is a massive temple complex that is home to the famous reclining Buddha as well as a pavilion full of gorgeous, intricate and colorful architecture, and over 1,000 Buddha images. It also boasts the Thai Traditional Medical School, including the school of Thai massage, considered the spiritual home of Thai massage.
Cost: 100 baht ($3.21 USD) per person
Hours: 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Dress Code: Women are required to have their knees covered. The dress code is not strict on requiring women to have their shoulders covered with the exception of the actual reclining Buddha temple where both men and women will be offered a robe for free if their shoulders are exposed. Shoes are also to be removed when going inside temples (such as the reclining Buddha temple).
Tip: Arrive early (right at the opening time) to beat the crowds. We also recommend visiting on a weekday if possible.
Our Experience: Our cab driver tried to scam us on our way to Wat Pho, read our story here and learn how to avoid this common scam (among others that occur around temples in Bangkok).
To be honest, we totally forgot all about the reclining Buddha (embarrassing enough to admit) the morning we arrived at Wat Pho. We were more interested in the gorgeous, colorful architecture. After wandering around, taking photos (shown above) and visiting the gorgeous gold prayer room (shown below), we noticed tour groups were all huddled around a certain area so we decided to see what the fuss was about. Matt and I were handed robes to cover our shoulders and were instructed to take off our shoes. We knew whatever we were about to witness was going to be a big deal.
As we headed into the crowded temple, we saw the giant 150+ feet long reclining Buddha covered in gold leaf. We were immediately like “oh, that’s here?” laughing at our late realization (we had planned on visiting the reclining Buddha while in Bangkok, we just didn’t realize it was at Wat Pho when we first got there). The Buddha is blocked by several columns, so it is hard to get a good view of the whole body. The narrow hall was already crowded and we had to wait for people taking photos between columns to capture our own. The reclining Buddha is difficult to capture in its entirety in photographs due to the layout of the temple (this is where a wide angle lens would come in handy).
Wat Arun – Temple of Dawn
Wat Arun, Temple of Dawn, is located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River and sits directly across the river from Wat Pho. The design and decor of Wat Arun are unique from most temples in Bangkok.
Cost: 100 baht ($3.21 USD) per person
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Dress code: Women should have their knees and shoulders covered while visiting the temple. If you are not dressed appropriately, you can rent a cover-up for 20 baht with a 100 baht deposit that you will get back upon return (since my shoulders were exposed I had to rent a cover-up).
Our Experience: Honestly, you can see a lot of the temple from outside the grounds without paying to enter and we debated if it was worth paying to visit. We mainly decided to enter and pay because thought we might be able to climb the steps to the top level (which was recommended by our host in Krabi who had visited years ago). He told us they were steep and a little scary, but that the view from the top was incredible and worth the climb. Unfortunately, the top level of steps was roped off so we couldn’t climb them. As a result, we didn’t get the same view/experience that we believe people were previously able to.
But I found the unique tile work and details of the prang (tallest structure) were even more gorgeous up close. And the beautiful sound of the chimes attached to the top is something you can really only hear and appreciate after paying to visit Wat Arun. Therefore I would still recommend paying to visit unless you are really short on cash and/or time, as you can still get a great experience by visiting the surrounding grounds for free.
Again, as a popular tourist attraction, Wat Arun can be a magnet for scams. Read about the most common ones here and how to avoid them.
Wat Phra Kaew – Grand Palace
The Grand Palace is arguably Bangkok’s most famous political and religious landmark. Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), is the most important Buddhist temple of the Thai kingdom and is located on palace grounds.
Cost: 500 baht ($16 USD) per person
Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Dress Code: The dress code at the Grand Palace is strict and strictly enforced. Both men and women should have their knees and shoulders covered. From what we saw, there were no free or cheap cover-up rental services, but there were stores outside the premises (but inside the street security checkpoint) where you could buy overpriced clothing.
Tip: Arrive early (15-20 minutes before opening time) to beat the crowds. Wait across the street on the sidewalk directly across from the main entrance so that when the grounds open, you will be the first to enter (make sure to walk fast when it opens, as there will be a mad rush in!!). We also recommend visiting on a weekday!
Our Experience: We had to go through a security checkpoint complete with metal detectors (similar to airport screening) before entering the street where the Grand Palace is located. We thought that passing through the security screening would get us inside the Grand Palace grounds, but it only gets you on the same street as the public entrance to the Grand Palace.
We followed our tip (above) to be the first visitors on Grand Palace Grounds, and found the experience well worth it! The Grand Palace is not cheap and gets very crowded fast, so we were thankful to have a few moments of it in peace all to ourselves before the masses filed in.
You won’t see any photos of the Emerald Buddha on our blog as we did not sneak in a picture (it’s not allowed), so I guess you’ll have to go see it for yourself 😉 Although, spoiler alert – we found the gold Buddha and altar in the prayer room in Wat Pho to be just as (if not more) impressive than the Emerald Buddha. The Emerald Buddha is much smaller (26 inches tall).
We’ve broken down our recommended temple hopping itinerary if you have two days to temple hop and for if you only have one day. We originally planned to visit all three in one day (which is doable) but by the time we reached the Grand Palace the line was long, we were hungry, it was very hot out, and we weren’t dressed appropriately (see the dress code in the section above), so we decided we would come back early in the morning the day of our flight home. This ended up being a great decision!
Of course, if you have the time and want to split your temple visits up into three days, we would recommend going to each temple first thing in the morning when they open!
Two days to temple hop Bangkok
If you have at least a few days in Bangkok like we did, we recommend visiting Wat Pho & Wat Arun on one day and visiting the Grand Palace on another day.
Temple Hop Day 1: We recommend visiting Wat Pho first thing in the morning, then walking and taking the shuttle boat across the river to Wat Arun (which doesn’t get as crowded and takes less time to visit as there is less ground to cover). The shuttle boat only costs 4 baht (roughly $0.12 USD).
Temple Hop Day 2: We highly recommend visiting the Grand Palace first thing in the morning (before it opens) on another day.
One day to temple hop
If you only have one day to temple hop in Bangkok, rest assured you can do it all. We recommend getting an early start and visiting the temples in the following order:
- Grand Palace (arriving around 8 a.m. and waiting outside before it opens at 8:30 a.m.), then walk over to…
- Wat Pho, and end your temple hop by taking a 4 baht shuttle boat over to…
- Wat Arun.
You can’t visit Thailand without making a stop to one of its many islands! Check out our guide for 10 fun FREE things to do in Koh Samui, Thailand