Seen one temple, seen them all, right? With an estimated 34,000 Buddhist temples in Thailand, and lots of them similar in appearance, some tourists jokingly say they get ‘templed-out’ when sight-seeing. But not all Thai temples are the same. And you don’t have to be spiritual or an avid culture lover to admire the skill of the design or the beauty of the surroundings.
Check out this list of Thai temples that are anything but ordinary and select which ones to visit on your next holiday to Thailand. Some of them, like the White Temple in Chiang Rai, are well-known and relatively easy to reach. But there are others, like the temple pictured above in Udon Thani that are off the beaten track and will require more effort to visit. Listed here in alphabetical location order is our editor’s pick of 25 of the most unusual and amazing wats (Buddhist temples) in Thailand.
1) Ayutthaya: Wat Niwet Thamprawat the church temple
Wat Niwet Thammaprawat is the only wat in Thailand that is designed to look like a Western cathedral. The temple design reflects the admiration King Rama V had for European architecture and can be found a short distance away from Bang Pa-In Palace in Ayutthaya. And to make the wat even more unusual, monks from the temple operate an old-fashioned cable car that brings visitors across the Chao Phraya River.
2) Bangkok: Wat Yannawa the boat temple
If you’re staying in Bangkok, Wat Yannawa is a convenient temple to reach by public transport. Despite this, it isn’t that well-known to overseas visitors and most miss out the chance to see one of Bangkok’s more unusual temples. And what makes it distinctive is the boat-shaped shrine hall with chedis designed to look like masts. Located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River just a short walk away from Saphan Taksin BTS Skytrain station, the boat design was completed during the reign of King Rama III (1824–51). The king commissioned the design to remind future generations about the important role the traditional Chinese-style junk boats played in the development of Bangkok.
3) Bang Saen: Wat Saen Suk the hell temple
While most Buddhist temples feature serene Buddha images and are often a place of tranquility, that isn’t always the case. Located in Bang Saen close to Pattaya in Chonburi province, Wat Saen Suk is a ‘hell temple’ with graphic images and sculptures depicting what awaits those who don’t live a moral life. Although Thai Buddhists believe in reincarnation, in Thai culture there is also thought to be a period between death and being reborn where the soul temporarily resides in either a heavenly location or a hell-like place. There are a number of hell temples around Thailand, with Wat Saen Suk one of the biggest.
4) Chiang Mai: Wat Srisuphan the silver temple
Located to the south of Chiang Mai’s walled Old Town area is one of the most unusual temples in Northern Thailand. Wat Srisuphan is situated in the Wualai neighbourhood, the traditional silver-making district of Chiang Mai. There has been a temple on this site since the early 1500s and it has undergone a number of redesigns and renovations in subsequent years. The most recent was in 2004 when the temple evolved to include the expertise of the local silversmiths. The main ordination hall (ubosot) is a striking, silver-coloured structure which shimmers in the sunlight. Although most of the work is carried out using zinc and alloy, precious silver is used for the holy images inside.
5) Chiang Rai: Wat Rong Khun the white temple
Located a short distance from the centre of Chiang Rai city, Wat Rong Khun is better known to many tourists as the White Temple. A dazzling temple that blends contemporary and classic design features, don’t miss Wat Rong Khun if you are visiting Chiang Rai.
The unique temple is the work of the Chiang Rai artist, Chalermchai Khositpipat. The temple is full of symbolism representing Buddhist heaven and hell. The incredible artwork is a labour of love and an act of faith by the Thai man who has invested large amounts of his own money to create one of Thailand’s most impressive temples. Work began on the White Temple in the late 1990s and is expected to continue for a number of years to come.
6) Chiang Rai: Wat Rong Seua Ten the blue temple
Construction of the new temple on this old site was completed in 2016. Wat Rong Seua Ten has a similar design style to Chiang Rai’s White Temple and Phuttha Kabkaewa, a student of Chalermchai, has been credited with the artwork here. Unlike the White Temple, photography is allowed inside the main hall which features an elegant white Buddha image and intricate artwork on the walls and ceiling.
7) Chiang Rai: Wat Huay Pla Klang
Wat Huay Pla Klang is another of the relatively new additions to the temples in Chiang Rai. As you approach the temple, it is the massive 260 feet (80 metre) high statue of Kuan Im (the Goddess of Mercy) that draws the eye. The serene white figure sits on top of a small hill with visitors able to climb the stairs in the interior for views over the area. Adjacent to the main temple building is a 9-tiered pagoda.
8) Hat Yai: Phra Maha Chedi Tripob Trimongkol the stainless steel temple
This temple in the southern Thai city of Hat Yai includes the world’s first stainless steel chedi. Phra Maha Chedi Tripob Trimongkol was constructed to honour King Rama IX and to commemorate the 60th anniversary of his succession to the throne in 2006. The chedi shimmers in the daylight and looks equally impressive at night when it is illuminated.
9) Kanchanaburi: Wat Tham Seua
Not to be confused with the temple of the same name in Krabi (see below) it’s also worth pointing out that this temple has nothing to do with the infamous Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi. What makes this temple worthy of inclusion here is the scenic backdrop. If you’re visiting some of the more famous attractions in Kanchanaburi, make time too for a stop at Wat Tham Seua.
10) Krabi: Wat Tham Seua (Tiger Cave Temple)
Centuries ago, a tiger lived in the cave here. The animal’s memory is still honoured with a shrine inside the cave and main temple, but it is the clifftop shrine beyond the cave that makes Wat Tham Seua so special. Walking to the summit is an arduous task in the Krabi heat with more than 1,200 steps leading up the 600 metre high cliff. But those that do make it are rewarded with spectacular views over the Krabi countryside, mountains, and out to the estuary beyond. Carry plenty of water and remember no matter how hot and sweaty you get, this is still a religious site so stay respectfully dressed and leave the bikinis and swimwear for the beach.
11) Lampang: Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat and the floating pagodas
The mountain of Doi Pu Yak in the northern Thai province of Lampang is the serene location for another extraordinary temple that requires visitors to put in some legwork. In addition to the formal name of Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat Phrachomklao Rachanusorn, the temple is also known as Wat Phrabat Pu Phadaeng. The ‘floating pagodas’ at the top of the mountain give an added dimension to this unique temple experience.
12) Nakhon Pathom: Wat Samphran the dragon temple
Located 25 miles west of Bangkok, Nakhon Pathom is home to one of central Thailand’s more unusual man-made attractions. Wat Samphran was officially registered as a temple in the 1980s with the giant dragon that encases the pink tower making a striking addition to the landscape. Although dragons can be seen at some Chinese-style temples in Thailand, the serpent-like creatures more commonly used in Thai temple design (often on staircases) are known as nagas.
Some of the temple monks were found guilty of serious crimes and subsequently imprisoned in 2004. The temple is still open with different monks, but the spiral staircase inside of the tower hasn’t been maintained very well and isn’t always open to the public.
13) Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat): Wat Ban Rai the elephant and turtle temple
The unique feature of this temple in North-East Thailand is the shrine in the water. Shaped like an elephant, the structure features millions of pieces of ceramic mosaic tiles. The clever design means that while it looks like an elephant from the ground, when viewed from above it takes on the appearance of a turtle.
14) Nan: Wat Noy the smallest temple in Thailand
The smallest temple in Thailand (‘noy’ means small in Thai) is so small you can’t actually go inside. Located in the picturesque grounds of the Nan National Museum, this unique temple looks like a shrine or spirit house. In the picture above you can just make out the small white structure beneath the tree on the far left. According to local history, the ruler of Nan had this special temple built following a visit by King Rama V to the city in the late 1800s. The story says that the Nan nobleman was speaking with the king about the number of temples in Nan, but miscalculated the figure and told the monarch one less than the actual number. To atone for the error and ensure the king was in fact in possession of the true number, Thailand’s smallest temple was quickly constructed from white limestone. Standing just 6 feet (2 metres) wide and 10 feet (3 metres) tall, look out for this unique temple if you visit Nan.
15) Phatthalung: Wat Khua Suwan
Phatthalung is off the main tourist trail, but it is home to one of Thailand’s most stunning natural attractions, the Thale Noi wetlands. The provincial capital is also an enjoyable place to explore for a few days with the interesting Wat Khua Suwan being one of the city’s main attractions. Beyond the main temple buildings, climb the stairs to enter a cave full of Buddha statues. A separate staircase leads you part way up the mountain where you can enjoy impressive views over Phatthalung and the mountain of Khao Ok Thalu in the distance.
16) Phayao: Wat Tilok Aram the temple on the lake
Visitors to the picturesque town of Phayao shouldn’t miss the opportunity to take a boat trip out on the lake known as Kwan Phayao. The manmade lake was created in the 1930s as part of an irrigation project. While the project helped local people, it also meant that a number of buildings were lost. This included the historic temple of Wat Tilok Aram that dates back to the 15th century. Today, a floating platform and Buddha image on the lake sits directly above the submerged ruins of the ancient temple and the site remains an important place for local people to visit.
17) Phetchabun: Wat Phrathat Phasornkaew
Without your own transport, the temple in Phetchabun province is one of the more difficult to reach on this list. But if you can make it to Wat Phrathat Phasornkaew you won’t be disappointed. The stunning design of the white temple and the statue of the five Buddhas complements the gorgeous mountain scenery of Khao Kho. Wat Phrathat Phasornkaew also features a pagoda shaped like a lotus flower with surfaces covered with countless mosaic tiles and shards of colourful pottery. With work completed in 2004 this is another new, but welcome addition to Thailand’s list of unusual and amazing temples.
18) Prachuap Khiri Khan: Wat Thammikaram and Mirror Mountain
The Wat Thammikaram temple complex is spread over two locations either side of the road at the northern end of Prachuap Khiri Khan Beach. At both sites you will see dozens of monkeys, but what makes this temple special is the panoramic views over Prachuap Khiri Khan from the top of the hill. Known locally as Khao Chong Krachok (Mirror Mountain) a shrine and small temple area sits on top of the hill. Make the climb up the 396 steps to admire the scenery. Keep your bags closed and don’t carry any food with you to prevent any unwanted attention from the lively macaques. If you have any energy left when you get down the steps, make the journey further around the bay to admire the beautiful teak wood temple at Ao Noi.
19) Samut Prakan: Wat Khun Samut Chin the temple surrounded by the sea
The temple in the village of Khun Samut Chin is a graphic demonstration of the effects of coastal erosion and rising sea levels. The rest of the village has been forced to relocate further inland and villagers have constructed concrete walkways to the wat. The temple can be reached over the silt at low tide, but it’s cut off at high tide with the sea surrounding it. Although part of the ordination hall does become submerged too, most of the interior has now been raised up to try and prevent it from disappearing into the Gulf of Thailand.
20) Samut Songkhram: Wat Bang Kung the banyan tree temple
Thailand’s smallest province is the location for one of the most photogenic Buddha images in the country. The seated Buddha image is housed in the old ordination hall of Wat Bang Khun in Samut Songkhram. Originally constructed during the Ayutthaya period of Thai history, the temple was subsequently abandoned. Nature took over with the roots of banyan trees enveloping the buildings. The temple underwent renovations in the 1960s and engineers realised that cutting down the trees would result in the destruction of the buildings. What is left behind now is one of the most striking views of a Buddha image to be found anywhere in Thailand.
21) Si Saket: Wat Larn Kuad the million bottle temple
The formal name of this temple in Si Saket in the Isaan region is Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaeo, but it is the colloquial name, Wat Larn Kuad (‘million bottle temple’), that explains what makes this temple so unusual. More than a million bottles have been recycled and used to decorate the temple buildings with the bottle caps also used to create mosaics. Most of the glass used is in the form of green and brown Heineken and Chang beer bottles. The monks began collecting them in the 1980s and it took around two years to complete the main building which is set around a concrete frame. The site has subsequently been expanded with donations of bottles coming from the local government. Other structures built using this unusual decoration include a crematorium, toilets, prayer rooms, and bungalows for the monks living area.
22) Suphanburi: Wat Sam Pasieo the Doraemon temple
At first sight there doesn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary about this temple in Suphanburi to the north-west of Bangkok. But the recently commissioned murals inside the temple have added some fun and unique features to the religious building. Incorporated into some of the artwork are hidden figures of Doraemon, Angry Birds and i-Pads. The idea is a subtle way to get younger visitors to look for the figures and at the same time think about the more serious themes of Buddhism depicted in the paintings. If you visit be sure to take a local guide with you so they can point out where the figures are in the murals. Doraemon and other cartoon figures can also be spotted around the temple grounds.
23) Udon Thani: Wat Sirindhorn Wararam the temple that glows in the dark
Located close to the border with Laos, Wat Sirindhorn Wararam in Udon Thani is an elegant sight in the daytime, but takes on a new look when the sun goes down. As night falls, the fluorescent paint that has been used on parts of the wat make the ‘Tree of Life’ on the temple wall and the floor in front of it glow in the dark.
24) Udon Thani: Wat Pa Dong Rai the lotus flower temple
Construction work on this new Udon Thani landmark was completed in 2019. The temple has been designed to give the appearance of a lotus flower sitting on the lake. The attention to detail continues inside the structure with large glass windows appearing as lotus petals and colourful murals depicting the lives of Buddha. Combine a visit to Wat Pa Dong Rai with a trip to the informative Ban Chiang National Museum located nearby.
25) Udon Thani: Wat Pa Phu Kon the colourful temple on the hill
The remote location of this temple high up on a hill in Udon Thani province means it isn’t the easiest to reach unless you have your own transport. But if you are travelling in the Udon Thani region this is a memorable location to visit. The interior design of the temple is just as striking as the exterior with the highlight being the magnificent 20-metre long Reclining Buddha made from marble.
Please travel responsibly and respect Thai culture. When visiting any temple in Thailand, cover your shoulders, avoid skimpy clothing, and take off your shoes and hat before entering the temple buildings. Respectable knee length shorts are OK at most of these venues. Although photography is allowed inside most of the temples, please take photos respectfully and observe any signs which say no entry or no photographs.