Out of all the Buddhist countries in the world, none have a more robust selection of temples than Thailand. This isn’t surprising, since this Southeastern country has the second highest Buddhist population ratio after Cambodia. Boasting over 64.4 million Buddhists, over 93% of Thailand’s population follows this exotic religion. While this pales in comparison to the 185 million Buddhists throughout China, Thailand’s extremely high density of temples and followers make it one of the biggest representatives of the religion.
This unquestionable allegiance isn’t surprising, since Southeast Asia was the catalyst for one of the most popular forms of Buddhism. When Theravāda Buddhism spread from Southern India to Sri Lanka, it eventually made its way to Southeast Asia in the 11thcentury. By the 13thcentury, this orthodox form of Buddhism had spread throughout Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. This led to the replacement of both Mahayana Buddhism and Hinduism that had previously grown in popularity during the 7thcentury.
Fueled by an unmatched passion for Buddha, both Lanna and Thai rulers dedicated untold resources to building temples. This hefty investment of funds and faith made Buddhism an extremely important part of Thai culture. In many ways the two are inseparable, since they have blended together over time. Today 40,717 Buddhist temples are scattered throughout Thailand. Over 33,902 remain in use to day, which provides plenty places for devotees to worship.
Even if you don’t believe in Buddhism, there’s no denying of the beauty of their temples. Each wat is decorated with elaborate designs that depict a slew of fictitious characters that range from dragons to monkey kings. While many are inlayed with gold, others are nestled in caves and placed on top of mountains. In this article we will go over the most breathtaking temples that we have seen during our extensive travels throughout Thailand. The sheer amount of effort and planning that went into creating these wats is jaw dropping, so prepare to be blown away by this list!
Most Amazing Temples In Thailand
Temple #1: Wadthampla Maesai – While this wat’s location is breathtaking, what truly makes it special are its unique features. Nestled 35 km North of Chiang Rai in a town called Mae Chan, this temple sits halfway in-between Chiang Rai and the border town of Mae Sai. While the town itself is a trading post for the Akha and Yao Hill people, their temple steals the show. When entering the main temple area, visitors will notice that most of the trees are shaking. This is due to the fact that a robust population of monkeys occupy the area.
These monkeys are noticeably more mild mannered than their counterparts in Lopburi. This surprisingly amicable disposition is a blessing, since this temple would be extremely dangerous if the monkeys were dicks. From the rafters of the buildings to the trees, literally every part of the property is teeming with monkeys. The more you look, the more monkeys suddenly jump out of the scenery.
After visiting the main temple, visitors can take a tour of the ancient Chedi monument in the back. This gorgeous shrine is covered in gold sheets and flanked by a series of alters that depict every animal imaginable. From monkeys to roosters, worshipers can pick which deity they burn incense and leave donations to. While this is a breathtaking display of faith in the middle of the jungle, it’s far from the main attraction.
When walking past the monkey filled trees, visitors are confronted with a set of stairs that are adorned with Nagas. These guardian serpents wind around both sides of the stairs during the journey up the jungle mountain. After about ten minutes of climbing, you will reach a gorgeous vantage point that showcases the entire surrounding valley. Despite being a tempting place to stop, those who continue hiking will reach the real treat.
When the stairs end, the real adventure begins. Faced with a narrow opening in-between two cliffs, visitors have to pass two shrines before reaching the entrance of the cave. Both of these statues feature bizarre figures that look half human and half monkey. They are easy to miss, since they are embedded into the sides of the cliffs. After paying respects to these bizarre deities, visitors can continue down the cavern until they reach the cave.
Boasting an interesting warped formation, you have to watch your head while climbing into the cave. Once inside, visitors are greeted by a huge chamber that has a hole in the top of the roof. This opening allows rays of sunshine and jungle mist to pour into the cave. These effects give the cave an undeniably mysterious vibe that’s reminiscent to something Indiana Jones would explore. Once your eyes adjust, you will see at least a dozen shrines throughout the cave. While some are traditional Buddha statues, others are Buddha heads that are installed on stalactites.
This ominous presentation is truly breathtaking, since it blends two of our favorite features. From mischievous monkeys to mysterious caves, this series of temples showcase the raw beauty of the jungle. It’s a refreshing escape from the tourist filled temples in major cities, since this wat is exclusively for locals. This rare sense of solace is what makes Wadthampla worth visiting even though it’s incredibly remote.
Temple #2: Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat Phrachomklao Rachanusorn (WatPhabatpuphadang) – To many visitors’ dismay, the journey to reach this wat is even longer than its name. Located in the Chaehom district of Lampang, this temple is easily four hours outside Chiang Mai. Despite this intimidating drive, it’s well worth the trip. While the main shrines are located at the top of the mountain, there are three levels to access. One is at the base of the temple, but the real action is further up the hill.
Only one narrow road climbs the mountain, so visitors have to take the collective. After careening around corners for about ten minutes, the collective truck reaches the second level. This is home to multiple smaller temples that mark the beginning of the trail up to the top of the mountain. Even though there are steps and railings, this leg of the journey is grueling for most.
After hiking for about an hour, visitors finally reach the final stage of the temple. This consists of multiple buildings that boast different shrines and vantage points of Chaehom. The view is absolutely stunning, since you are standing on towers that are balanced on top of an already tall mountain.
Out of the three vantage points, the stage neighboring the three white shrines on the cliffs is the most beloved. This one boasts a gorgeous Buddhist shrine that’s complimented with one of the most breathtaking views in Thailand. Just soaking in the scenery is a religious experience, so strap on your hiking boots and get ready for some divine intervention!
Temple #3: Wat Tham Chiang Dao – Even though the temple grounds start long before Chiang Dao Cave, the real magic lies deeper than we can imagine. Once visitors cross a bridge that hovers over a pond with bright turquoise water, they reach the cave’s entrance. While the first area is brightly illuminated, to go deeper you must hire a local with a petroleum lantern. As this mischevious light flickers in the darkness, visitors are guided through an extensive series of catacombs.
During the tour, the local guide will point out stalactites and stalagmites that resemble animals and mythological beasts. Multiple parts of the journey have shrines, which adds a fun burst of mystery to what lies next. While most of the cave tunnels are large, in some parts they are so narrow you have to duck and barely squeeze through. The entire time bats can be heard chittering away as they wonder who the hell is encroaching on their territory.
In total, three massive chambers can be explored. Clocking in at 735 meters, Tham Mah is the longest stretch. From there it’s followed by the 474 meter Tham Kaew and 660 meter Tham Nam chambers. At the end of the tour visitors stumble upon one final shrine, the sleeping Buddha. This is the most revered part of the temple, since it’s in the heart of the mountain. Even though this seems like a long journey, this is only a fraction of the catacombs. In total multiple caverns wind over 10 km throughout the entire mountain. While they aren’t accessible to tourists, the myths surrounding them are for everyone’s ears.
According to local legend, this cave was home to a reu·sĕe holy man hundreds of years ago. After spending lots of time in the cave, he managed to conviced the spirits to create multiple magic wonders. From making a stream flow from a golden Buddha statue to creating a city of mythical Naga serpents, the spirits exceeded expectations. Unfortunately, all these wonders are nestled deep inside the catacombs.
Even though we can’t visit them, it’s impossible not to wonder what lies deeper in the cave. Wandering around this never-ending series of catacombs and shrines proves that more is possible in life than we think. The energy radiating from these catacombs is so enchanting that it can’t be ignored by even the most jaded tourists. At the very least, it’s an epic feat of human ingenuity that showcases the immense dedication Buddhists have for their faith. This inspiring accomplishment makes it one of our favorite places in the world. You won’t find a temple this mesmerizing anywhere else, so don’t miss out on this adventure of a lifetime!