Thailand is unique in that it’s the most Buddhist nation on Earth, with around 95% of the population identifying as practising Theravada Buddhists. This fact permeates daily life in several ways, from monks walking the streets to collect alms to festivals tied to auspicious dates, too, of course, the Buddhist temples.
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, 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.
Many temples are open to tourists — just be sure to dress appropriately (closed-toed shoes, shorts/pants that cover the knee, no bare shoulders) and 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. 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.
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 and the twin temples on the lake, Wat Klong Chang and Wat Chong Kham.
Another gem is Wat Ban Den near Mae Taeng, which is one of the largest temple complexes in Chiang Mai.