Thailand is unique in that it’s the most Buddhist nation on earth, with around 95% of the population identifying as practising Theravada Buddhists.
There are an estimated 40,000 Buddhist temples in Thailand. Thai temple architecture, while sharing influences with other Southeast Asian styles, is also unique. Typically comprising a multi-building complex, Thai temples, or wats, feature a tall, bell-shaped stupa. Beside that, there are ordination and sermon halls, a space for shrines and Buddha images, and a residence for the monks. Temple roofs are often quite striking, with multiple tiers and gables ending in long, thin ornaments called chofahs.
Temples in North Thailand
Most temples are open to tourists. Please be sure to dress appropriately (closed-toed shoes, shorts/pants that cover the knee, no bare shoulders). Also act respectfully (no hats, sunglasses, smoking, gum chewing, or overly loud talking, and remember to remove your shoes before entering worship areas and to wield your camera thoughtfully).
In North Thailand, there are many Buddhist temples of great interest. Most of them are Lanna style, but there are also Shan (Tai Yai), Burmese, Mon and Chinese temples. Some of the most famous temples are Wat Prathat Lampang Luang in Lampang, Wat Prathat Haripunchai in Lamphun and Wat Prathat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai. Lampang has some really beautiful Burmese/Shan style temples such as Wat Sri Chum and Wat Rong Si Muang.
Numerous other temples are worth visiting. We think of the Shan temple Wat Ku Tao with its characteristic “Watermelon Stupa” or Wat Srisuphan aka the “Silver Temple”, both in Chiang Mai. Towns like Mae Hong Son have Burmese influenced temples such as Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu. The twin temples on the lake, Wat Klong Chang and Wat Chong Kham, are magnificent as well.
Another gem is Wat Ban Den near Mae Taeng, which is one of the largest temple complexes in Chiang Mai.