BANGKOK TEMPLE HOPPING DIY BUDGET TRAVEL GUIDE (Wat Arun, Reclining Buddha, Grand Palace)

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UNDERSTANDING BANGKOK

BANGKOK, the vibrant capital of Thailand, is rich on food, top attractions and fun folks. But what really underpins its strong sense of culture is its gold-spired Buddhist temples which are spread out around the city to at least 400 in number. The most famous among these temple complexes are the Grand Palace, Wat Pho (or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha), and Wat Arun (or the Temple of Dawn). 

Wat Arun during blue hour at sundown, as seen from across the river at Sala Rattanakosin Rooftop Bar.

Going around the three temple complexes has been a usual thing to do for most tourists in Bangkok as it makes for a good morning activity, a weekend trip or even for a full day itinerary whether you are in group or alone. 

As the temples are a popular attraction, it comes as no surprise that these places are crowded and a breeding ground for touts and scammers. This travel guide aims to help you keep away from the possibility of getting into the traumatic swindle and learn tips on how to get the most of your experience while going around the temple complex.

walkway to the upper terrace of the Grand Palace, left side of Wat Phra Kaew

THE THREE MAJOR TEMPLE COMPLEXES IN BANGKOK

The temples in Bangkok are strongly influenced by Buddhism which take up the greater part of Thailand as far as religion is concern. These temples have become a central part to the cultural and architectural scene in the country. In Bangkok, the most known and celebrated temples are the ones located at the banks of Chao Phraya river – Wat Arun, located on the west part, and Grand Palace and Wat Pho on the east side. All are about few minutes away from each other, whether on foot or by ferry. Read below for the details of each temple.

WAT ARUN (TEMPLE OF DAWN)

The main prang of Wat Arun which stands 70 meters high.

Wat Arun or the Temple of Dawn derives its name from the Hindu god Aruna, who is often personified by the radiations of the rising sun. True enough, Wat Arun gleams in golden hues as the sun goes up at dawn and settles down at dusk creating one of the most photographed spectacles over the waters of the Chao Phraya river.

steps to the top part of the main prang

Wat Arun is notable for its 70-meter tall tower-like spire (or prang in Thai) in Khmer style at its center, which is surrounded by four smaller satellite prangs that are plastered with lime, seashells and tin-glazed broken porcelain tiles that produce a beaming glow when hit by a sunlight.

At my back is the main entrance to the prangs. Buy a ticket for 50 THB before walking inside.

After the temple went through a major restoration from 2013 through 2017, the top most part of the main prang where visitors used to climb to get a full view of the Chao Phraya river has been barred with gates and is now inaccessible. A charge of 50 TBH is collected to enter to the prangs.

Few steps to the right of the prangs is the Ubosot or the Ordination Hall. To get to it, one must go through its passageway which is guarded by two giant demon figures at the entrance that goes straight to a courtyard surrounding the hall. This part of Wat Arun is free of entrance fee.

Tourists donning a Thai costume at the entrance to the Ordination Hall.

How to get to Wat Arun?

  • Using BTS, take the Silom line to Saphan Taksin (or the S6) station. Fare is 21 THB. Go out through Exit No. 2 and walk down the stairs for about 5 minutes to Sathorn pier where boats for Chao Phraya river await. Expect 2 lanes to buy a riverboat ticket. Choose the lane for the “orange flag” riverboat (the one used by locals) and pay 3 THB only to Pier 9 where Wat Arun is located. The boat trip takes about 15 minutes.
  • Note: The other lane is targeted to tourists who opt for a river tour, which comes with a very steep price.
The Ordination Hall.

Opening hours (prang area only) : 8:00AM to 5:00PM. Note: I was able to enter the Ordination Hall free of charge as early as 7AM where I witnessed the monks on their morning prayer.
Time to spend: 1 to 2 hours
Author Rating: 5/5

At the gardens in between the prangs and the Ordination Hall.

Tip for photographers: The best spot to capture a full view of Wat Arun during sunset is right across the river at Tha Tien pier at any of its rooftop bars. To get there, take a cross-river ferry at the docking area adjacent to the Ordination Hall, it’s only 10 steps away from the Pier 9 docking area. Ride to Tha Tien (N8) pier is about 2 minutes. Fare is 4 THB. You will arrive at Tha Tien market. Go out and walk to your desired bar. Be there as early as 4PM so you can choose a better seat.

List of rooftop bars for a nice Wat Arun sunset experience:

  • Sala Rattanakosin Rooftop Bar (where I stayed and bought coffee for 160 THB, use of tripod is not allowed in this bar.)
  • Eagle Nest Bar
  • Eight Sight Story

WAT PHO (RECLINING BUDDHA)

The massive upper body part of the Reclining Buddha.

Wat Pho is yet another highly regarded and first class royal temple complex of Thailand. It is one of the oldest and largest Buddhist temples in the country with an area encompassing for about 80,000 square meters.

Just like its two neighbors, Wat Pho is a temple complex in full swing consisted of carefully designed ordination hall, courtyards, chedis and a school where the traditional massage was originated and is still being taught.

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Wat Pho is prominent for housing over a thousand collection of Buddha images and the massive Reclining Buddha with a foot sole that is nifty inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Behind the reclining statue are 108 bronze bowls that represent the different characters of Buddha, which are believed to send good fortune if you drop coins into it.

The reclining Buddha from head to foot. Notice the beautiful inlays at the sole.

Opening hours: 8:00AM to 5:00PM
Entrance fee: 100 THB
Time to spend: 1 to 2 hours
Author rating: 4.5/5

How to get to Wat Pho?

The nearest port from Wat Pho is Tha Tien pier which can be accessed from Wat Arun by a cross-river ferry for about 4 THB. To get to Wat Arun, read the information above, on the designated section (How to get to Wat Arun?)

Once at Tha Tien pier (N8), walk out through the market. Outside, you will see street food vendors and further ahead is the Wat Pho temple complex.

The small chedis outside the Reclining Buddha hall.

Note: You need to wear a proper dress and leave your footwear in the free plastic bag provided outside the hall before entering to the reclining Buddha.

THE GRAND PALACE

The upper terrace of the Grand Palace, left side from the entrance.

Dripping in glitter and gold, Grand Palace, the former residence of the royal family is another major tourist attraction at the fringes of the Chao Phraya river. The temple complex is divided into two main zones: Wat Phra Kaew or the temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Royal Residence which is break into 3 courts that serve as venue of royal ceremonies and location for government offices.

Wat Phra Kaew is the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand as it enshrines the highly respected emerald Buddha, which is made of a single block of jade of about 26 inches tall in a yogic posture. This part of the Grand Palace imposes a strict dress code. Visitors are required to wear long pants and shirts with sleeves, feet must not be showing the heels.

Wat Phra Kaew as seen from the main entrance.

Opening hours: 8:30AM to 3:00PM
Entrance fee: 500 THB
Time to spend: 2 to 4 hours
Author rating: 5/5

How to get to the Grand Palace?

  • Go to Saphan Taksin (or the S6) station using the Silom line of the sky train. Fare is 21 THB. Walk up to Exit No. 2. Take the stairs down to Sathorn pier where you can buy a ticket to Ta Chang Pier (N9), the closest port to the Grand Palace. Choose the ticket lane for the “orange flag” boat. Fare is only 3 THB. Boat trip takes about 15 minutes.
  • Once at Ta Chang Pier, walk up north to the walls of the Grand Palace. Follow the signs. For about a 5-minute walk, you should find the main entrance.
A demon figure facing a golden stupa and some chedis at the courtyard of the Grand Palace.

Things to know before visiting the Grand Palace:

  • From the main entrance, the ticket booth is about a 2-minute walk. Follow the walkway from the gate.
  • Wat Phra Kaew which shelters the emerald Buddha is located upon entry of the first door from the ticket booth.
  • Try to visit during the first or last hour. The situation in the Grand Palace can become rowdy because of the flock of tourists which numbers to a fifty in a group, not adding up the loud tourist guides on their megaphone giving instructions as its assigned group go on a tour.
  • Because of high volume, visitors are not allowed to go back and forth in any area in the Grand Palace. Once you enter the Royal Residence area, you will no longer be allowed to go back to Wat Phra Kaew and its nearby halls and shrines.
  • The Grand Palace is the earliest to close among the three temple complexes.
  • The Grand Palace is close during Songkran and birthday anniversary of HM, the king.
The Royal Residence area.

TEMPLE HOPPING SAMPLE ITINERARY

Below are 2 samples of DIY itinerary covering Wat Arun, Wat Pho and the Grand Palace, good for full day which assume a party of one and will set back a budget of 1,280+ THB per person, excluding expenses for souvenir and other incidentals.

If you are easy to “temple out”, you can reduce the itinerary to half day, either on the morning or afternoon with 1 hour allotment to each temple.

The Fun-sized Traveller at the walkway to the entrance of Wat Arun Ordination hall.

Things to consider for this Temple Hopping DIY itinerary:

  • The itinerary uses the Chao Phraya riverboat as the main transport in transferring from one temple to another, which is the most ideal in getting around considering how heavy the traffic situation in Bangkok can be. Boat operating hours is from 6:00AM to 7:00PM, and comes in every 20 minutes after the morning rush hour.
  • Riverboat fare for short distance (one port away) is 4 THB while for long distance is 15 THB.
  • The itinerary assumes that the traveler chooses an accommodation within Khao San road for easy access to the Chao Phraya river.
  • The two samples start either at Wat Arun (because it’s an open place and not ideal for a noon-time activity especially on a very hot day) or at the Grand Palace (because it’s a crowded place most of the time and is best visited during the first hour of opening). Whereas, Wat Pho is allotted as a mid-day activity because most of its areas are covered courts.
Royal residence hall at midday.

SAMPLE ITINERARY 1

ActivityTimeBudget
Breakfast6:00AM150 THB
To Phra Arthit pier
(nearest from
Khao San)
7:00AM
To Wat Arun7:30AM15 THB
Wat Arun Activities
Wander Around
Ordination
Hall
8:00AM
Wander Around the
Prangs
9:00AM50 THB
Take a riverboat to
Wat Pho
10:00AM
Wat Pho Activities100 THB
Visit the reclining Buddha10:30AM
Wander around Wat Pho11:00AM
Lunch (outside Wat Pho)12:00PM150 THB
Walk for 10 minutes or take a ferry to the
Grand Palace for 4 THB
(Tha Tien to Ta Chang pier)
1:00PM
Grand Palace Activities1:30PM500 THB
Visit the Emerald
Buddha
2:00PM
Wander around
nearby shrines
2:30PM
Wander around the
Royal Residence
courtyard
3:00PM
To Sala Rattanakosin
Rooftop Bar for dinner and
Wat Arun sunset
experience
4:00PM300 THB
Back to hostel at Khao San (Tha Tien to Phra Arthit pier)7:00PM15 THB
Socials at Khao San
road
8:00PM 
Lights out!11:00PM
The Grand Palace, as captured while riding a riverboat from Wat Arun.

SAMPLE ITINERARY 2

ActivityTimeBudget
Breakfast6:00AM150 THB
To Phra Arthit pier
(nearest from Khao San)
8:00AM
To Grand Palace
(Ta Chang pier)
8:30AM15 THB
Walk to Grand
Palace main entrance
9:00AM
Grand Palace Activities9:30AM500 THB
Visit the Emerald Buddha10:00AM
Wander around
nearby shrines
10:30AM
Wander around the
Royal Residence courtyard
11:00AM
Go to Wat Pho on foot for 10 minutes or by ferry for 4 THB (Ta Chang to Tha Tien Pier)11:30AM
Lunch (outside Wat Pho)12:00PM150 THB
Wat Pho Activities100 THB
Visit the reclining Buddha1:00PM
Wander around Wat Pho1:30PM
take a cross-river ferry to
Wat Arun (Tha Tien to Pier 9)
2:30PM
To Wat Arun3:00PM4 THB
Wat Arun Activities
Wander Around
Ordination Hall
4:00PM
Wander Around the Prangs4:30PM50 THB
Take a riverboat to Wat Pho5:30PM4 THB
To Sala Rattanakosin Rooftop Bar for dinner and
Wat Arun sunset experience
6:00PM300 THB
Back to hostel at Khao San (Tha Tien to Phra Arthit pier)7:00PM15 THB
Socials at Khao San road8:00PM 
Lights out!11:00PM

BASIC COURTESY WHEN VISITING THE TEMPLES

  • Dress properly. Wear clothes that would cover the shoulders and knees. Avoid tight-fitting trousers, see-through clothes and ripped jeans. Wear a pair of footwear that would hide the heels.
  • Remove your shoes, shades or hats and refrain from taking photos while at the temple worship area.
  • When taking photos with the Buddha, try not to turn your back to it as you do when taking a selfie and avoid raising yourself higher than its image as you pose.
  • Treat the monks with utmost respect. Do not disturb them as they pray and avoid pointing at them either by your finger or feet as you speak with them.
A wide-angle shot of the main prang of Wat Arun with 4 smaller prangs surrounding it.

TIPS IN GETTING AROUND THE TEMPLES IN BANGKOK

  • The temple hopping activity is exhausting especially when going around mid-day under the scorching heat of the sun. Make sure to have breakfast, bring extra clothes, wear hats and bring a bottle of water. Water fountains are available at the Grand Palace in case of refill.
  • Beware of scams, especially outside the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. The scammers would look like a person in authority, wearing a police uniform or would introduce themselves as teachers. They will inform visitors that the temples are closed and would offer for tuktuk ride tour which would take you to souvenir shops. When you encounter them, decline politely and proceed to the main entrance of the temple.
  • Wat Pho and the Grand Palace are only a block away from each other. Feel free to walk. If you opt for a taxi or tuktuk, make sure to agree for a set price or ask the taxi driver to use the meter before going.
  • Read and research about Buddhism and the history of Thailand before going to better appreciate the temples.
  • The best time to visit is early in the morning or late in the afternoon, and on weekdays when there is less crowd and audience halls are mostly open to the public.
Khao San road at night.

BANGKOK TOUR SERVICES BY KLOOK

If you opt to go on a tour instead of DIY, below are some tour services offered by Klook around Bangkok and the nearby Ayutthaya:

For more services, use the search box below:

Klook.com

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