There are more than 40,000 Buddhist temples in Thailand—so where do you start? Full of history and always overseen by giant buddha statues, these are the places locals come for prayer, and travelers tour for magical experiences. While some believe that if you’ve seen one Buddhist temple, you’ve seen them all, these seven famous—and wildly distinctive—temples prove that dead wrong. Here’s our hit list of the ones you’ll definitely want to add to your itinerary.
Why it’s worth a visit: Wat Pho is one of Bangkok’s oldest and largest temples. Visit to see the 46-meter long statue that gives the temple its nickname: “Temple of the Reclining Buddha.” Symbolizing happiness and Buddha’s passing into Nirvana, the statue lays passively on its side, face content, and feet soles laced with mother-of-pearl. You’ll want to cap a long day of exploring with a traditional Thai massage, especially because Wat Pho is the birthplace of the practice—the temple’s Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School was the first massage school ever opened in 1955.
Where it is: In Bangkok’s core, right next door to the south to the historic Grand Palace. Between these two sites, you could spend an entire day in this part of the city.
Entrance: 100 baht
Open 8 am-5 pm
Wat Rong Khun
Why it’s worth a visit: Wat Rong Khun is one of the most recognized temples in Thailand. Known as “The White Temple,” its design borrows from both traditional Thai architecture and modern pop culture. Colored white instead of the typical gold to symbolize Buddha’s pure nature, it’s a piece of art as much as it is a place of worship. The temple has been under construction since 1997 and continues to add new sections and repair damage from the 2014 earthquake.
Where it is: Chiang Rai district in northern Thailand.
Entrance: 50 baht
Open 8 am-6 pm
Why it’s worth a visit: The main attraction is the Golden Mount, a man-made hill in Bangkok’s old city. A spooky, vine-covered cemetery sits at the bottom, and a view of Bangkok awaits at the top of the roughly 300 steps up the golden chedi. The temple’s annual Loy Krathong festival in November makes it especially worth visiting during that time of year for fairground games and rides; however, increased crowds mean the line to ascend the Golden Mount often extends down the street.
Where it is: In Bangkok’s old city, south of the Phanfa Bridge.
Entrance: 20 baht
Open 7:30 am-5:30 pm
Why it’s worth a visit: Remember the reclining buddha from Wat Pho? That relaxed statue lived here first. Wat Arun’s five surrounding towers—or prangs—are made of colorful Chinese ceramics, and their construction lasted two monarchical reigns: that of King Rama II (1809-1824) and King Rama III (1824-1851). You can climb up the main prang for views of the river and surrounding landmarks. The best time to get a picture of Wat Arun and its surrounding towers is at sunset…from the other side of the river in Bangkok. Despite being most photogenic at dusk, its nickname is the “Temple of Dawn,” named after Aruna, the Indian God of Dawn.
Where it is: Across the Chao Phraya River from Bangkok.
Entrance: 50 baht
Open 8:30 am-5:30 pm
Why it’s worth a visit: There’s a story behind this temple you should know before you go. In the 1950s, workmen transporting a large plaster casing through the temple dropped it, cracking the plaster and revealing a five-ton, solid gold buddha statue dating back to the 13th century. It is now considered the biggest gold statue in the world and is valued at a whopping $250 million! The temple’s white and gold exterior makes it one of the most eye-catching temples in Thailand.
Where it is: In Bangkok’s Chinatown
Entrance: 10 baht
Open 9 am-5 pm
Wat Phra Kaew
Why it’s worth a visit: The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is the most visited temple in Bangkok for a good reason. This important temple is elaborately decorated with holy buildings, statues, and pagodas, and doesn’t house any monks. The revered Emerald Buddha statue itself, at just 26 inches, clearly isn’t the biggest buddha statue in the country, but it’s culturally significant. It’s carved into a block of jade rock (“emerald” in Thai refers to the deep green color, not the gemstone), and wears a royal robe which changes each season, an important ritual performed to usher good fortune to the country. The most photographed part of the temple is the massive golden chedi of Phra Sri Rattana, which can also be seen on Thailand’s one baht coin.
Where it is: Bangkok, within the grounds of the Grand Temple and just north of Wat Pho.
Entrance: 400 baht
Open 8:30 am-4:30 pm
Wat Lan Kuad
Why it’s worth a visit: Of all the must-see temples on our list, Wat Lan Kuad is the quirkiest, least conventional, and most controversial. Located in the province of Sisaket, roughly 370 miles northeast of Bangkok, this temple was built out of roughly 1.5 million recycled glass bottles. The Temple of a Million Bottles is a never-ending game of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”—beer bottles make up the entire structure from the bathrooms to prayer rooms. The Buddhist monks in Sisaket began collecting the glassware in 1984, and eventually convinced local authorities to begin sending them more until they could build the temple. Why? Glass bottles don’t lose their color, provide good lighting, and are easy to clean. If you visit today, you’ll see mainly green bottles (Heineken) and brown bottles (Chang).
Where it is: Sisaket province
Entrance: Donation only
Open 8 am-5 pm