11 July 2024

There’s no better time to explore Bangkok’s royal temples than the present.

Admiring the exquisite architecture of Buddhist temples during the day has long been more popular with foreign visitors than with Thais, who prefer to stay out of the hot sun. Now though, the Culture Ministry is offering local night owls an opportunity that really shouldn’t be missed. With the cooler weather forecast to last into the first few days of 2024, what could be more enjoyable than an evening stroll around 10 of Bangkok’s best-known temples rendered even more beautiful thanks to artful lighting?

The illuminations, which also cover the National Museum, are part of the government’s “Thailand Winter Festival” running from December 24 to January 2.

The “10 Illuminated Temples and National Museum” activity aims to draw the public to visit the country’s important cultural landmarks while enjoying the beautifully lit-up architecture that has a different aesthetic from daytime. For a thorough exploration, we suggest setting aside at least 3 evenings to cover all 10 temples, the closing time of which has been extended to 9pm. The ideal time to start your stroll is around 5pm.

Here’s what you need to know.

Wat Ratchabophit Sathitmahasimaram

Wat Ratchabophit Sathitmahasimaram Ratchaworawihan is the official temple for two reigns – King Rama V and King Rama IX. The temple has a unique layout with its vihara (assembly hall) and ubosot (ordination hall) joined by a circular courtyard with a gilded chedi standing at the centre. Built in Sri Lankan style, the chedi contains a relic of Buddha. Of particular interest is the interior of the ubosot, which is in Gothic revival style.

Wat Ratchabophit//Photo by Prasert Thepsri

Wat Ratchabophit//Photo by Prasert Thepsri

Wat Phra Chetuphon (Wat Pho)
Wat Phra Chetuphon Wimol Mangkalaram Rajwaramahawihan, commonly known as Wat Pho, is one of 10 first-class royal temples in Thailand. King Rama I rebuilt the temple and it was the official temple of his reign.

Home to the Reclining Buddha, it also stands out as one of the earliest centres for public education in the country. Additionally, Wat Pho holds Unesco recognition. It is the birthplace of Thailand’s traditional Thai massage, which continues to be both taught and practised at the temple.

Wat Mahathat  

Wat Mahathat, a pivotal temple in the early Rattanakosin era, is a ,nother of the 10 highest-class royal temples. Constructed during King Rama I’s reign, it is situated on Tha Prachan Road near Thammasat University. The temple accommodates Maha Chulalongkorn Buddhist University, the leading centre for Buddhist education in Thailand, and offers meditation classes for foreigners.

Wat Mahathat//Photo by Veena Thoopkrajae

In celebration of its 338th year, Wat Mahathat hosts diverse activities, such as merit-making, traditional Thai music performances, cultural shows, meditation sessions, and illuminations. Visitors can park at Sanam Luang until 10pm during this period.

Wat Traimit (Temple of Golden Buddha)

Wat Traimit, on Charoen Krung Road near Hua Lamphong and Yaowarat, is a second-class royal temple of the Worawihan class, originally named Wat Sam Chin due to a legend involving three Chinese individuals who collaborated to build it. The interior houses the Phra Maha Mondop, enshrining the priceless Buddha image, Phra Phuttha Maha Suwanna Patimakon or Luangpho Thong Kham. This revered Buddha image contains a significant amount of pure gold.

Wat Prayurawongsawat Worawihan (Wat Prayun)
The ancient white stupa of this 19th-century Buddhist temple complex, which was built in the reign of King Mongkut (King Rama V). contains the Buddha’s relics. This stupa was recognised with Unesco’s Cultural Heritage Conservation Award of Excellence in 2013.

Wat Suthat Thepwararam (Wat Sutat)

Constructed by King Rama I in 1807, the temple underwent further construction and decoration by Kings Rama II and Rama III.  This temple contains the Buddha image Phra Sri Sakayamuni which was moved from Thailand’s old capital of Sukhothai. At the lower terrace of the base, there are 28 Chinese pagodas symbolizing the 28 Buddhas born on this earth. Wat Suthat also contains Phra Buddha Trilokachet in the ubosot and Phra Buddha Setthamuni in the sala kan parian (meeting hall).

Wat Arun Ratchawararam Ratchawaramahawihan (Wat Arun)
Well known among tourists as Temple of Dawn, the temple is situated on Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River, opposite side to Wat Pho and the Grand Palace.  Although the temple has existed since at least the 17th century, its distinctive prang (spire) was built in the early 19th century during the reigns of King Rama II and Rama III.

Wat Benchamabophit Dusitvanaram

Wat Benchamabophit Dusitvanaram, designed by King Rama V’s half-brother Prince Naris, a great artist of the era, is widely known as the Marble Temple. The architecture of Phra Ubosot defines Bangkok’s ornate style with high gables, stepped-out roofs, and elaborate finials. The temple features Carrara marble pillars, a marble courtyard, and two large singhas (lions) guarding the entrance.

Wat Benchamabophit//Photo by Prasert Thepsri

The interiors are adorned with crossbeams of lacquer and gold, and shallow niches in the walls display paintings of important stupas from all over Thailand. Visitors should not miss the cloister around the assembly hall (vihara), which houses 52 rare images of Buddha in different styles from Japan, Bhutan and China to Dvaravati.

Wat Ratchanatdaram

Located at the intersection between Ratchadamnoen Klang and Maha Chai roads, the temple’s elegant structure Loha Prasat (literally means iron palace) can be seen from afar. Those going to Michelin-starred Jay Fai eatery would surely see the temple. The name of the temple means “temple of the royal niece” as King Rama III ordered it to be built for  Princess Somanass Waddhanawathy, who later became the first consort of King Rama IV.

Wat Rakangkhositaram (Wat Rakang)

Wat Rakangkhositaram Woramahaviharn, situated on the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River near Siriraj Hospital and the renowned Wang Lang Market, dates back to the Ayutthaya period. Initially built during that era, it was later restored and designated a royal temple by King Taksin of the Thonburi Kingdom. The temple’s name, Rakang (meaning bell), originated when a bell was discovered in the temple compound during King Rama I’s reign. Upon moving to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the king exchanged the bell for five new ones and renamed the temple Wat Rakhangkositaram.

Wat Rakang//Photo by Prasert Thepsri

This temple, also known as the temple of the highly venerable monk Somdej Toh (1852–72), is a must-visit. Not to be missed is the “Ho Phra Trai Pidok” (tripitaka hall), adorned with beautiful and precious Thai paintings.

The National Museum
Located inside what was once the Front Palace (Wang Na) or the residence of a viceroy, the National Museum Bangkok ranks among Southeast Asia’s biggest museums. Nighttime visitors will be able to pay respect to the country’s sacred Buddha image, Phra Buddha Sihing, and admire murals created during the early Rattanakosin era inside Phutthaisawan Throne Hall at this remarkable museum.

National Museum//Photo by Kanokchan Patttanapicha

Normally, this museum in Bangkok’s Phra Nakhon district is open from 9am to 4pm only. Admission is free during this period.

For more on the National Museum, go to:

https://www.thaipbsworld.com/night-at-the-museum/

By Thai PBS World Feature Desk