Buddhism still plays a major role in traditional Thai culture and visiting a few of the Kingdom’s magnificent temples offers a golden opportunity to learn more the place of spirituality in modern Thai society.
The colourful history of Thailand goes back thousands of years and throughout that time, temples and shrines have always played an important part in the country's culture and religion.
Everywhere from the lush southern islands like Phuket and Samui to the bustling streets of Bangkok, temples still have an important role in local life, and are frequented regularly by the local people.
A trip to see these magnificent places of worship, known locally as “wats” can also be a stimulating way for travellers to learn a little more about Buddhism.
Below is a little inspiration on the top shrines and temples to visit during your time in Thailand.
Big Buddha Temple
For travellers enjoying Koh Samui, the Big Buddha shrine is the first stop on the temple trail. Situated on the northeast corner of the island, the Big Buddha –known locally as ‘Wat Phra Yai’ – is a gleaming 12-metre statue of the seated Buddha. Erected in 1971, this glowing monument often catches visitors’ eyes if they are entering Samui by plane. If you visit Wat Phra Yai, you will notice the rich scent of incense in the air, which is often burnt by locals who make pilgrimages to the statue to leave offerings of fruit and flowers at its base. This shrine is also particularly spectacular to behold once night has fallen.
Wat Plai Laem
Wat Plai Laem is also positioned in the northeast corner of Samui island, and provides visitors with an insight into Chinese-Thai spiritual beliefs, and is home to a striking statue of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion. While Plai Laem is a relatively new temple, its architecture reflects hundreds of years of spiritual belief and tradition in Thailand. Visitors can make a small donation if they would like to feed the huge, hungry fish that inhabit the serene lake that surrounds the temple.
Over om Phuket, temples play just as important a role in local life as they do on Koh Samui. Visitors and locals often flock to Wat Chalong where highlights include Poh Than Jao Wat, one of the temple’s Buddhist statues. Legend has it that two local men won the lottery many times after paying homage to this statue, which is located in the old hall of the temple to the west. Visitors should also make time to take in Wat Chalong’s Grand Pagoda, which dominates the temple. Decorated with breathtaking illustrations of the Lord Buddha’s life story, the pagoda is an excellent place for visitors to learn a little more about Buddhist teachings.
Constructed in 1911, Jui Tui plays an important role in Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival – one of the biggest events on the island’s spiritual calendar. Jui Tui is a homage to Chinese beliefs on the island, and is dedicated to Tena Hu Huan Soy, the god linked to performers and dancers. Over the years, the temple has undergone several restorations, and it is possible to see an intriguing display of photographs that tell the story of the temple throughout the years. The temple is home to three large altars, each of which features statues of Chinese Gods. The image of Jui Tui is set in the middle, with a dog and a chicken on each side, as these animals were said to be his favourite pets during childhood.
If you are visiting temples in Thailand, it is important to remain respectful at all times, as the wats are still sacred places of worship for local people. As such, visitors should emulate the behaviour of the Thai people around them at all times. Firstly, it is important not to position yourself above any image of depiction of the Buddha. Make sure your outfit covers you up – it is important that your shoulders, chest, stomach or legs are not on show – no matter how hot it is. Furthermore, be prepared to remove your shoes as a mark of respect when you enter the sermon hall and the Chedi of any temple. If you want to worship in the same way as the Thai locals, it is fine to light candles and incense, just make sure you leave a donation.