Among hundreds of tourist attractions in Thailand, Temples or ‘Wat’ are a place that most foreigners would like to visit. With different styles of architecture and art depending on different parts of the country and its peaceful atmosphere, temples can attract and bring the real feeling of Buddhism and Thainess to foreigners.


Temples have been important in Thai society for over 700 years since back to the ancient times, when the Sukhothai Kingdom was the capital city of Thailand. Theravada Buddhism, under the patronage of the great king Ramkamhang, had been accepted to be the strongest religion in the land. There were many royal temples built for the royal family and local temples built for common people to perform religious rites and make merit. The stone Inscription of 1292 A.D. which is the primary source for historians to study about Sukhothai mentioned that Sukhothai people frequently made merits at temples and observed religious percepts, especially during the Buddhist lent period. Furthermore, temples also provided Buddhist education for monks to learn the Tripitaka and spread Buddhism. Therefore, temples in the Sukhothai period were the sign of public peace and the glory of Theravada Buddhism in the early kingdom of Thailand.


After the death of the great king Ramkamhang, the Sukhothai Kingdom seemed to decline due to the royal family’s weakness and finally was annexed to Ayutthaya Kingdom which was the second capital city of Thailand. During the Ayutthaya period, Theravada Buddhism was still the most popular religion among citizens and temples were considered to be the community centres where people came for religious and social purposes; they regularly made merits, paid respect to Buddha and had meetings with their friends. There were a lot of royal ceremonies, which were influenced by Brahmanism, created and held in temples such as the consecrated water drinking ceremony and the swing ceremony. In addition, temples in this period also had a vital role in education. The royal family usually sent their male-line children to ordain as a monk and stay in temples to learn language, morals, and how to use weapons, and in the late Ayutthaya period, a person who wanted to be a public servant had to complete his education in a temple first. It could be seen that Ayutthaya temples were not only a place for religious matters, but also a foundation of knowledge for Thai people.


Although Thailand had been involved in many wars during Thonburi and the early Rattanakosin period, every king tried to protect the religion and reconstruct temples by imitating the Ayutthaya’s style. All national treasures such as religious books, literature and Buddha images, which once were destroyed in the wars, were restored again and that is why temples in this period were a symbol of stability and prosperity of the land.


In contemporary times, temples have become an essential part of Thais’ lives. People usually go to temple in Buddhist holidays and some important festivals such as Song Kran to make merit and make wishes for themselves and their loved ones. Moreover, people also go to the temple for family traditions such as birthdays, marriage ceremonies and funerals. Temples are the place that can help people realize happiness and grief at the same time which corresponds to the Buddha’s doctrine, everything in the world is changeable, therefore people should live carefully and not adhere too much to the happiness.


Temples have a close relationship with all classes of Thais, in terms of religious, social, and education issues, throughout the centuries. Although temples in the modern times are not a place for studying anymore, because of the development of the national education system, modern Thais still go to temple for performing religious rites. When foreigners visit temples in Thailand, they will be able to see different generations of Thais come together to make merit by giving food to monks and worship the Buddha with incense sticks, candles and flowers. Foreigners might have a chance to see other special rites such as the candlelit procession if they visit temples during Buddhist holidays. Therefore, apart from beholding gorgeous architecture and mural paintings, religious activities in temples are also available for foreigners to observe and engage in. That is the best way for them to learn more about Thai cultures, and also to feel the soul of Thai people.


Written by Kruu Pafan