There are more than 40,000 Buddhist temples (wat) in Thailand. Yes – 40,000!
That number seems crazy high, but spend some time in the tropical Southeast Asian country, and it’s easy to believe. Hidden in the jungle, high up on mountain tops and right in the middle of busy cities, you can’t venture far without encountering these unique places of worship.
The Wat Arun (“Temple of the Rising Sun”) and Wat Pho (“Temple of the Reclining Buddha”) temple complexes sit opposite each other on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. Because of their beauty and accessibility, they’re among the most visited in the world. The first time we saw them, in June 2013 during our backpacking trip across Southeast Asia, we were amazed – never before had we seen structures so intricate and colorful. They literally sparkled in the sun!
When we returned in March 2018 – this time with better cameras in tow – we felt a lot more prepared for our afternoon in the sun. Here are a few anecdotes to help you prepare for you visit.
There’s a strict dress code. Skirts, dresses or shorts above the knee are not allowed. Tank tops are also prohibited, including for men. Because it’s often so hot in Thailand, we bring sarongs and cover ourselves before entering the temple complexes. If you don’t have a sarong or don’t want to bring one, you can rent one on-site. Maxi skirts and dresses, and shorts that reach the knee, should be OK.
Follow the codes of conduct. Buddhism is all about mindfulness, so any time you visit a temple it’s important to be self-aware. In addition to dressing modestly, don’t show up to the temple complexes under the influence, and try keep noise to a minimum. You should also heed the posted signs; we noticed far more during our most recent visit than we did in 2013. Most notably, visitors aren’t allowed to sit on the stairwells or banisters anymore.
Be flexible when it comes to photographs. The complexes can get crowded, especially during peak season, and their angular designs can make them difficult to photograph in their entirety. However, the many corners make it possible to get some really stunning photos of the stairways and walkways with no other tourists in them – you just have to be patient. There are also a lot of opportunities to get creative with your photographs – look for unique points of view, take close-up shots and watch how the sun shifts as you circle the complex.
Time your visit well. The complexes are the most quiet in the morning, making for excellent photos, and the temperature tends to be cooler. However, some insist that the best time to visit is during sunset – especially Wat Arun, which lights up at night. The choice is yours.
It’s easy to get from one to the other by boat. The temple complexes are almost directly opposite from each other, and there’s a cheap shuttle boat that goes back and forth, back and forth all day. The ride takes only a few minutes (basically, the amount of time it takes to dodge other boat traffic), and costs just 3 baht. You can board the boat from the docks near the temples – just follow other tourists or ask someone if you are having trouble locating them.
Arrive satiated and hydrated. And bring extra water. Food options, especially around Wat Arun, are limited and are a bit more expensive than elsewhere in the city. You don’t want to have to cut your visit short because you’re dying for a drink or bite to eat! (Also, since it can be so humid in Thailand, it’s crucial to up your water intake, anyway.)
Bring cash. The entry fees for Wat Arun and Wat Pho are 50 baht and 100 baht, respectively. The ticket offices near at the entrances don’t take credit cards. You will also need 3 baht in coins to cross the river from one temple to another.