Buddhist Art in Thailand: Bangkok's Main Buddhist Temples

Buddhist Temple of "Wat Pho"

Thailand Pictures: Beautiful mosaic stupa in Buddhist Temple of Wat Pho, Bangkok.
Thailand Pictures: Beautiful mosaic stupa in Buddhist Temple of Wat Pho, Bangkok. | Source

The Three Main Buddhist Temples of Bangkok: Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho & Wat Arun

On an international scale, Thailand has probably distinguished itself more in traditional religious sculpture than in any other form of art. Its most famous sculptural output has been its bronze Buddha images, appreciated around the world for their originality and grace; nevertheless, Thailand has produced a vast array of intricate, meticulously ornate religious architecture and sculptures that are just as admirable, and even more beautiful than the well renowned sculpted Buddhas.

This article presents in detail the three most impressive and beautiful Buddhist Temples of Bangkok, "Wat Phra Kaew", "Wat Pho" and "Wat Arun", portraying its rich and unique architecture, as well as the multiple creative decorations within them: sculptures in different materials such as stone, gold leaf and mosaic; colorful paintings of ancient epic stories with surprising golden highlights; tapestry with golden applications, lovely gardens, and oriental designs that can't help but captivate even the more difficult to please aesthetic mind.


Buddhist Art: Architecture & Sculpture

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Diversity of Buddhist sculptures in  Wat Phra Kaew Temple, Bangkok, Thailand.One of Wat Phra Kaew’s iconic statues. Bangkok, Thailand.Buddhist architecture and design at its fullest; Buddhist Temple of Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Thailand. Unusual chapel that stands out of the mainstream styles; Buddhist Temple of Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Thailand. Example of the beautiful and detailed mosaic rooftops that abound in Wat Phra Kaew’s Buddhist Complex. Bangkok, Thailand.  Buddhist complexes often contain protruding, elongated, cylindrical building elements, covered with mosaic, multicolored patterns, like the one shown in this picture. Wat Phra Kaew Buddhist Temple, Bangkok, Thailand. Singular religious building with rare structural elements and design, unique to Wat Phra Kaew Buddhist Temple in Bangkok, Thailand.Golden leaf layering is amply used in the Buddhist Temples and other religious structures within Wat Phra Kaew’s ground. Bangkok, Thailand. Exuberant, golden window frames enrich the Buddhist temple’s architecture. Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok, Thailand.  Buddhist art often includes elephant images and sculptures like these ones. Buddhist Temple of Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Thailand.
Diversity of Buddhist sculptures in  Wat Phra Kaew Temple, Bangkok, Thailand.
Diversity of Buddhist sculptures in Wat Phra Kaew Temple, Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
One of Wat Phra Kaew’s iconic statues. Bangkok, Thailand.
One of Wat Phra Kaew’s iconic statues. Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
Buddhist architecture and design at its fullest; Buddhist Temple of Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Thailand.
Buddhist architecture and design at its fullest; Buddhist Temple of Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
Unusual chapel that stands out of the mainstream styles; Buddhist Temple of Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Thailand.
Unusual chapel that stands out of the mainstream styles; Buddhist Temple of Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
Example of the beautiful and detailed mosaic rooftops that abound in Wat Phra Kaew’s Buddhist Complex. Bangkok, Thailand.
Example of the beautiful and detailed mosaic rooftops that abound in Wat Phra Kaew’s Buddhist Complex. Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
Buddhist complexes often contain protruding, elongated, cylindrical building elements, covered with mosaic, multicolored patterns, like the one shown in this picture. Wat Phra Kaew Buddhist Temple, Bangkok, Thailand.
Buddhist complexes often contain protruding, elongated, cylindrical building elements, covered with mosaic, multicolored patterns, like the one shown in this picture. Wat Phra Kaew Buddhist Temple, Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
Singular religious building with rare structural elements and design, unique to Wat Phra Kaew Buddhist Temple in Bangkok, Thailand.
Singular religious building with rare structural elements and design, unique to Wat Phra Kaew Buddhist Temple in Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
Golden leaf layering is amply used in the Buddhist Temples and other religious structures within Wat Phra Kaew’s ground. Bangkok, Thailand.
Golden leaf layering is amply used in the Buddhist Temples and other religious structures within Wat Phra Kaew’s ground. Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
Exuberant, golden window frames enrich the Buddhist temple’s architecture. Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok, Thailand.
Exuberant, golden window frames enrich the Buddhist temple’s architecture. Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
Buddhist art often includes elephant images and sculptures like these ones. Buddhist Temple of Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Thailand.
Buddhist art often includes elephant images and sculptures like these ones. Buddhist Temple of Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Thailand. | Source

Planning on visiting Thailand?

Lonely Planet Discover Thailand (Full Color Country Travel Guide)
Lonely Planet Discover Thailand (Full Color Country Travel Guide)

Amazon's Top #1 sold travel guide to Thailand (2010 edition)

 

Buddhist Art in "Wat Phra Kaew" Temple

Wat Phra Kaew is one of the three main Buddhist Temples in Bangkok: it has mesmerizing artistic religious architecture, sculptures, paintings and gardens, and is one of the most majestic and divinely designed sights to visit in Bangkok.


Wat Phra Kaew is also known as the temple of the "Emerald Buddha", which is one of Thailand’s most famous and highly revered Buddha images. The Emerald Buddha is located in the main chapel of the Wat Phra Kaew Buddhist Complex. It is actually not made from emerald, but from jasper, a green, shiny translucent semiprecious stone resembling emerald.

The Emerald Buddha has been coveted by neighboring countries such as Laos, which national forces seized it at one point and took it to Luang Prabang; fortunately for Thai devotees, it was recapture and is now an icon of national pride.


The Emerald Buddha is heavily guarded and can be visited from a distance, following strict etiquette rules. Photography is not allowed within its housing temple and thus, no photo of the Emerald Buddha is shown in this article.

Wat Phra Kaew's Unique Decorative Style

The different buildings within the Wat Phra Kaew Buddhist Complex give example of the multiple decorative styles developed by Thais throughout history; all of them showcase the importance of religion in Thai culture, as well as their high regard for Buddha.

The detail with which each temple is decorated, from rooftops to bottom, from the outside walls to the interior, is very impressive; every little piece of the entire structures is thought about and included in the artists work; a lot of effort must have been put into this Buddhist Temple to make it what it is today.

Images say more than a thousand words so please go ahead and review the pictures I have included.


Buddhist Art's Beautiful Details

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Delicately painted mosaics, such as this one, are part of the Buddhist decorating style. Wat Phra Kaew Buddist Temple in Bangkok, Thailand.  Elegant tapestry of the main chapel, which houses the famous Emerald Buddha sculpture. Wat Phra Kaew Buddist Temple in Bangkok, Thailand.  A hallmark Thai image. Pictures of Bangkok, Wat Phra Kaew Buddist Temple in Bangkok, Thailand.  Meticulously decorated Buddhist building exterior walls; example of Wat Phra Kaew’s Buddhist Art & Design. Bangkok, Thailand.  Wat Phra Kaew Buddist Temple in Bangkok, Thailand.
Delicately painted mosaics, such as this one, are part of the Buddhist decorating style. Wat Phra Kaew Buddist Temple in Bangkok, Thailand.
Delicately painted mosaics, such as this one, are part of the Buddhist decorating style. Wat Phra Kaew Buddist Temple in Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
Elegant tapestry of the main chapel, which houses the famous Emerald Buddha sculpture. Wat Phra Kaew Buddist Temple in Bangkok, Thailand.
Elegant tapestry of the main chapel, which houses the famous Emerald Buddha sculpture. Wat Phra Kaew Buddist Temple in Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
A hallmark Thai image. Pictures of Bangkok, Wat Phra Kaew Buddist Temple in Bangkok, Thailand.
A hallmark Thai image. Pictures of Bangkok, Wat Phra Kaew Buddist Temple in Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
Meticulously decorated Buddhist building exterior walls; example of Wat Phra Kaew’s Buddhist Art & Design. Bangkok, Thailand.
Meticulously decorated Buddhist building exterior walls; example of Wat Phra Kaew’s Buddhist Art & Design. Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
Wat Phra Kaew Buddist Temple in Bangkok, Thailand.
Wat Phra Kaew Buddist Temple in Bangkok, Thailand. | Source

Buddhist Art Paintings

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Buddhist paintings of Wat Phra Kaew; Murals depicting the Ramakian epic stories. Bangkok, Thailand.  Buddhist paintings of Wat Phra Kaew; Murals depicting the Ramakian epic stories. Bangkok, Thailand.
Buddhist paintings of Wat Phra Kaew; Murals depicting the Ramakian epic stories. Bangkok, Thailand.
Buddhist paintings of Wat Phra Kaew; Murals depicting the Ramakian epic stories. Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
Buddhist paintings of Wat Phra Kaew; Murals depicting the Ramakian epic stories. Bangkok, Thailand.
Buddhist paintings of Wat Phra Kaew; Murals depicting the Ramakian epic stories. Bangkok, Thailand. | Source

Lining the inside walls of the temple complex are recently restored murals of the "Ramakian", name given to the Thai version of the Indian Ramayana epic stories. Originally painted in 1782-1809, these murals illustrate the entire Ramakian in clockwise order.


Within the same grounds of Wat Phra Kaew is Bangkok’s Grand Palace, which used to be the royal residence. Today, it is used by the king in certain official ceremonial occasions. The interior is usually closed to the public, but the external beauty of the palace is worth the visit.

Buddha Sculptures & Images

Thai Buddha sculptures depict the image of Buddha in different postures, according to the period in Buddha’s life they are aiming to represent:

  • Reclining Buddha: exact moment of Buddha’s enlightenment and death.
  • Sitting Buddha: Buddha teaching or meditating; if the right hand is pointed towards the earth, Buddha is shown subduing the demons of desire; if the hands are folded in the lap, Buddha is turning the wheel of law.
  • Standing Buddha: Buddha granting blessings or taming evil forces.
  • Walking Buddha: Buddha after his return to earth from heaven.

Buddhist Art in "Wat Pho" Temple

Dating from the 16th century, Wat Pho is the oldest and largest Buddhist temple in Bangkok. It is a big complex that comprises several buildings, including temples, chapels, stupas and schools.


The main temple of the complex houses the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand: a 46m long by 15m high (151ft long by 49ft high) Buddha sculpture, finished in gold leaf.


The reclining Buddha position of this sculpture symbolizes the passing of Buddha into final Nirvana. The Buddha's soles display 108 different auspicious characteristics of Buddha, called "láksànà", represented by spiraling circles, and pursuit by all Buddhist followers (see picture below).

Thailand’s Largest Reclining Buddha Sculpture

Reclining Buddha sculpture located in the Buddhist Temple of Wat Pho. Bangkok, Thailand.
Reclining Buddha sculpture located in the Buddhist Temple of Wat Pho. Bangkok, Thailand. | Source

Buddhist Art in Wat Pho: Sculpture, Paintings & Design

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A beautiful image of art and peaceful surroundings in the Buddhist Complex of Wat Pho. Bangkok, Thailand. Head of the largest Reclining Buddha Sculpture in Thailand. Wat Pho Temple, Bangkok.Lamp posts were also included in the artistic design of elements within the Buddhist Complex of Wat Pho. Bangkok, Thailand. Beautiful stone sculptures guarding the entrance to the Buddhist Stupas’ ground. Wat Pho Buddhist Complex in Bangkok, Thailand.
A beautiful image of art and peaceful surroundings in the Buddhist Complex of Wat Pho. Bangkok, Thailand.
A beautiful image of art and peaceful surroundings in the Buddhist Complex of Wat Pho. Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
Head of the largest Reclining Buddha Sculpture in Thailand. Wat Pho Temple, Bangkok.
Head of the largest Reclining Buddha Sculpture in Thailand. Wat Pho Temple, Bangkok. | Source
Lamp posts were also included in the artistic design of elements within the Buddhist Complex of Wat Pho. Bangkok, Thailand.
Lamp posts were also included in the artistic design of elements within the Buddhist Complex of Wat Pho. Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
Beautiful stone sculptures guarding the entrance to the Buddhist Stupas’ ground. Wat Pho Buddhist Complex in Bangkok, Thailand.
Beautiful stone sculptures guarding the entrance to the Buddhist Stupas’ ground. Wat Pho Buddhist Complex in Bangkok, Thailand.

As is the case with Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho has beautiful images everywhere you look. The precise detail with which each element of Thais' religious structure and beliefs is represented, has no equal and is quite flabbergasting. Every art expression is present in this enchanting place and makes a huge contrast with the most humble and simple-hearted monks that lurk around.


One of my favorite designs in the Wat Pho complex is the flowered mosaic lamp-posts that illuminate the area, even illumination was thought of in a detailed, artistic, worth of the god way (see pictures on the right and below for reference).



Wat Pho also has the biggest collection of Buddha images in the country, and is the national center and school for the teaching and preservation of traditional Thai medicine, including world known Thai massage techniques. The Wat Pho Thai Massage School is a respected learning center that offers courses in both general Thai massage and foot massage.


Buddhist Art & Design + Peaceful Surroundings

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Detail of an unusual lamp-post. Wat Pho Buddhist Complex in Bangkok, Thailand.Tranquil interior garden. Wat Pho Buddhist Complex in Bangkok, Thailand.Buddhist monk. Wat Pho Buddhist Complex in Bangkok, Thailand.Some of the myriad stupas within the Wat Pho Buddhist Complex in Bangkok, Thailand. A green environment full with plants and flowers makes the Wat Pho Buddhist Complex even prettier.  Bangkok, Thailand. Set of chapels and stupas painstakingly decorated in different patterns and colors. Wat Pho Buddhist Complex in Bangkok, Thailand. Decorative detail of a mosaic stupa. Wat Pho Buddhist Complex in Bangkok, Thailand. Wat Pho Buddhist Temple, Bangkok, Thailand.
Detail of an unusual lamp-post. Wat Pho Buddhist Complex in Bangkok, Thailand.
Detail of an unusual lamp-post. Wat Pho Buddhist Complex in Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
Tranquil interior garden. Wat Pho Buddhist Complex in Bangkok, Thailand.
Tranquil interior garden. Wat Pho Buddhist Complex in Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
Buddhist monk. Wat Pho Buddhist Complex in Bangkok, Thailand.
Buddhist monk. Wat Pho Buddhist Complex in Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
Some of the myriad stupas within the Wat Pho Buddhist Complex in Bangkok, Thailand.
Some of the myriad stupas within the Wat Pho Buddhist Complex in Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
A green environment full with plants and flowers makes the Wat Pho Buddhist Complex even prettier.  Bangkok, Thailand.
A green environment full with plants and flowers makes the Wat Pho Buddhist Complex even prettier. Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
Set of chapels and stupas painstakingly decorated in different patterns and colors. Wat Pho Buddhist Complex in Bangkok, Thailand.
Set of chapels and stupas painstakingly decorated in different patterns and colors. Wat Pho Buddhist Complex in Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
Decorative detail of a mosaic stupa. Wat Pho Buddhist Complex in Bangkok, Thailand.
Decorative detail of a mosaic stupa. Wat Pho Buddhist Complex in Bangkok, Thailand. | Source
Wat Pho Buddhist Temple, Bangkok, Thailand.
Wat Pho Buddhist Temple, Bangkok, Thailand. | Source

Wat Arun by the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok

Buddhist Temple of Wat Arun in Bangkok, Thailand.
Buddhist Temple of Wat Arun in Bangkok, Thailand. | Source

Buddhist Art in "Wat Arun" Temple

Wat Arun is a striking temple located at the shore of the Mae Nam Chao Phraya River that crosses the city of Bangkok. It is named after the Indian god of dawn "Aruna" and has obviously Indian, but also Khmer cultural influences. Wat Arun has an imposing 82m (269ft) long stupa, covered by a mosaic of porcelain tiles brought by Chinese merchants, and left behind in one of their trips.

Buddhist Art Popularity Contest

Which Buddhist Temple did you like the most?

  • Wat Phra Kaew
  • Wat Pho
  • Wat Arun
See results without voting

More by this Author


Comments on Buddhist Art, Buddhist Temples & Buddha Sculptures of Bangkok, Thailand 8 comments

CyclingFitness profile image

CyclingFitness 4 years ago from Nottingham UK

The imagery looks fantastic. Thailand is definitely on my list of places I have to go at some point. Thanks for sharing CF


Claudia Tello profile image

Claudia Tello 4 years ago from Mexico Author

Hi CyclingFitness, I hope you do get to visit Bangkok and many other places in Thailand one day. The Buddhist art here presented is just a taste of the many wonders and beautiful things you will see. Thanks for your interest and feedback.


Jano 4 years ago

Very nice article and great pictures as well! Thailand is definitely one of the countries I want to vacation someday.


Claudia Tello profile image

Claudia Tello 4 years ago from Mexico Author

Hi Jano, I am glad you got the chance to read my article on Buddhist art and enjoyed it. Thanks for your comments and feedback! I hope you do visit Thailand one day, it is certainly worth it.


irene winniczuk 4 years ago

Thailand, your article makes us all want to go there fast


Claudia Tello profile image

Claudia Tello 4 years ago from Mexico Author

Thanks for your interest and comments Irene, I find the Buddhist art of Bangkok's main temples a true inspiration and admirable art form, just one of the many reasons to visit Thailand.


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK

These three temples are all so attractive and unique to look at, and great for photographers as your article shows. I suppose Wat Phra Kaew is the most spectacular in many ways, but I think my favourite is Wat Pho due to the distinctively patterned pagodas. It's also less crowded with tourists! A good introduction to the 3 temples which should be first on any tourist's list of places to visit


Claudia Tello profile image

Claudia Tello 4 years ago from Mexico Author

Hi Greensleeves, I totally agree with you, every tourist traveling to Bangkok must visit these three temples. I also found Wat Pho more enjoyable for the same reasons you mention; it is a quieter place to peacefully take in the beauty expressed through Buddhist art. Nevertheless, Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Arun are equally impressive and have their own charm.

Thanks for your interest and insightful comments.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working