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Visiting Bangkok’s lesser-known temples with Tours By Locals! Wat Ratcha-Orasaram & Kalayanamit Thailand.

travel bloggers gold buddha statue bangkok

Let’s start this Thailand temple diary in a fitting way… with an Italo Disco song!

“One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster
The bars are temples but the pearls ain’t free,
You’ll find a god in every golden cloister
And if you’re lucky then the god’s a she.
I can feel an angel sliding up to me!”

Wat Arun Ratchawararam

I think you can tell we had a fun time exploring Bangkok temples, with Tours By Locals! Our insider guide took us on a fully customized journey that included the demon protectors of Wat Arun…

bangkok emerald buddha temple gate gods

… and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. (How do you like my “sun protection schoolgirl” outfit of the day?)

tours by locals bangkok thailand tour

I can’t stand basic, big group tours — which is why I teamed up instead with Tours By Locals. They link travellers with passionate local guides, and create a custom itinerary off the beaten track. 

My friends and I were keen to see Thai Buddhist art and spirituality, without crowds elbowing us. Our guide Kay listened to our preferences, and delivered by taking us to obscure temples (like Wat Kalayanamit) that were literally empty of tourists. 

learning thai cartoon bangkok

As you’ll see, the day tour was a joy, and left us buzzing with knowledge and inspiration. Kay picked us up and gave us an overview of Thai Buddhist culture, along with a primer on helpful phrases. Becky Hawkins made this terrific reaction drawing of her and her “shoulder angel”! 

thai protector lion gods statues

I have been to Thailand twice before, but it’s always a joy to return (and this was the first visit for Yukiro, Naomi, and Becky). Even though Bangkok is now an extremely popular destination, you can still enjoy the warm, welcoming Buddhist culture. 

row gold buddha statues thailand

So many temples, so little time… There are over 400 “wats” in Bangkok alone. The most famous ones (Wat Pra Kaew, Wat Arun, Wat Pho) are certainly worth seeing if you’re here for the first time. Kay made sure we got to peek around Wat Arun, but focused most of our tour on temples where tourists rarely tread. 

thai gold buddha statue

A reflective moment in front of the Golden Buddha statue at Wat Arun Ratchawararam. Also known as the Temple of Dawn, it dates back to the 17th century, and is known for its glowing exterior at sunrise. (More photos at the end of this post.)

Wat Phra Kaew statue gate

We also said hello to the giant demon yaksha, guarding the Grand Palace at Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). Don’t avoid these sacred sites, simply because they’re popular — they’re among the most impressive ones in Thailand. 

chinese thai buddhist temple bangkok

We struck a balance by visiting those two landmarks quickly, and then took our time to wander around two little-known temples on the outskirts of Bangkok.

(I’m wearing a Boy UV umbrella, Mary Wyatt London shirt, Lola Ramona heart bag, and Japanese plaid skirt similar to the ones below.)

bangkok obscure buddhist temple

We’re at Wat Ratcha-Orasaram, a royal monastery built in the Ayutthaya period. The prince was influenced by both Thai and Chinese art, hence the unusual temple colors and carvings. 

Wat Kanlayanamit bangkok

Can you spot Yukiro beneath the colored eaves and white pillars? You can see I’m not exaggerating when I said there was nobody else around during our visit. In bustling Bangkok, it was a joy to take our time to meander through this peaceful monastery. 

temple hopping bangkok sketch

We said hello to the resident golden Buddha icon. Becky Hawkins made this drawing that gives you a sense of the ornate detail of the altar. In this unhurried atmosphere, she and Naomi could take all the time they wanted to draw their surroundings. 

thailand devil demon sculpture

Yukiro and I mosied around and took photos of the fascinating details. Of course we were drawn to the metallic demon on this red door, with a fierce grimace and horns. 

thai buddha gold seated statue

Love the elegant features of the Buddha, sitting in the lotus position. The chandeliers, candles and surrounding murals add to the radiant feeling of the room. 

white buddhist stupas bangkok

As a fan of minimalist design, these white stupas spoke to me. (They house the remains of Buddhist monks and nuns, or sacred relics.)

bangkok monastery sketch drawing

Naomi Rubin sketched the residence of the monks. It was surrounded by shrubbery that looked like it had been pruned by Edward Scissorhands! She has been posting these travel drawings as part of her web comic Moonsprout Station; you can read the Thailand dispatches here.

gold buddha fan in front face

We were glad to have our Tours by Locals guide Kay with us, as he introduced us to these secret spots and answered all our questions. Whats’s the deal with the fan in front of the Buddha’s face? Is he being coy? Kay explained this traditional fan with a long handle was made of talipot palm leaves, and used to cover the face while chanting.

bangkok buddhist temple big bell

We dared not disturb the Buddha’s repose by ringing the giant bell.

Wat Ratcha-Orasaram bangkok

There was so much to see at Wat Ratcha-Orasaram, including sculptures of all sizes dedicated to the Buddha.

gold reclining buddha

In the Ordination Hall, we came across this giant gold reclining Buddha. Love the chill expression in his eyes. 

travel sketches art thailand

Becky Hawkins captured Kay in action. We couldn’t have seen all these temples and learned so much without his guidance. 

big gold feet buddha

Close-up on the Buddha’s extra large feet, with toes all lined up. 

sleeping side buddha statue bangkok

Looks like Yukiro wants to join Siddhartha in hanging out!

thai buddhist monk Wat Ratcha-Orasaram

We saw a few monks walking through the courtyards, wearing their signature vermilion robes over one shoulder.

thai traveling drawings

Becky Hawkins sketched these scenes from daily life in a Thai Buddhist monastery. 

thai protector statues door

Yukiro and I got some posing inspiration from these green yakshas.

gold leaf ancient buddha

Seeing art and architecture like this, firsthand… this is why we live to travel.

female travel bloggers thailand meditation

“When the mind is silent like a lake, the lotus blossoms.” – The Lotus Sutra

tours by locals guide thailand

Kay then took us to Wat Kalayanamit Varamahavihara — the name means “friendship.” Founded in 1825, this is one of the most tranquil temples in the city. (Once again, you can see there’s nobody around us!)

buddhist architecture bangkok

From the trees to the rooftop carvings, everything is richly yet subtly decorated. 

gold meditating thai buddha

Many Buddhists come to a Wat Kalayanamitr for New Years blessings. The gold Buddha statue has a slim frame and long earlobes, and is the only Thai temple to feature him in Palilai posture. 

red circular chinese temple door

Such fun to visit the “friendship” temple with friends I’ve known through thick and thin, for over 10 years now!

rare buddhist temmples thailand

The gold, red, and green details make the white structures stand out.

thai monastery monks

This wat is also a monk’s residence. If you come across any visitors here, they’ll be locals performing spiritual rituals. 

thailand travel blogging

When visiting Thai temples, you should cover your shoulders and knees. I’m wearing a short tartan skirt like the ones below (click to see).

buddhist temple carvings

Grateful to Tours By Locals for letting us see this special side of Bangkok. We would never have heard of these monasteries if it weren’t for Kay.

wat arun temple

We’ll finish off at Wat Arun. Kay took us here in the early morning so that we could avoid the hoards of visitors. We were transfixed by this towering prang, or Khmer-style tower, studded with porcelain carvings. 

wrong use buddha symbols tattoo

There were quite a few signs and billboards around Bangkok with this message: don’t use the image of the Buddha in tattoos, bar decor, and other ways they consider disrespectful.

Wat Arun Ratchawararam

This huge central prang is covered in stucco figures from Hindu and Buddhist mythology. The various levels symbolize the realms of existence.

bangkok temple of dawn carvings

These “Khon” figures have a heavy load on their shoulders, wouldn’t you say?

bangkok Wat Chaeng painting

Naomi Rubin made this gorgeous watercolor of the mythical demons, with arms and a foot raised. (In the next Bangkok posts, you’ll see more of her works. She and Becky added a new dimension to these travel stories through their art.)

wat arun temple tour guide

“Khob kun” to Kay for teaching us how to say thank you in Thai (and for taking us around on this fabulous day-tour.)

rainbow art bangkok thailand

Close-up on the artistic details at Wat Arun. Some of the 3D elements are seashells. 

wat arun art carvings

Ready for another Italo Disco refrain? 

“One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble
Can’t be too careful with your company
I can feel the devil walking next to me.”

white buddhist goddesses thailand

Elegant goddesses peered out from these arches. 

Demon Guardian statues holding wat arun

Work that asana (pose)! 

lola ramona heart purse bag stripes

Also known as Wat Chaeng, this temple is dedicated to Aruna (Hindu God of Dawn). Located by the river, these spires sparkle at sunrise and sunset. 

wat arun temple drawing ink

Becky’s take on the grand pagoda. Love how she captured the horse sculpture detail.

If you’re heading to Bangkok (or any major destination), give Tours By Locals a look. As you can see from our temple hop, they help you get the most out of your destination — with entirely bespoke private tours led by a fantastic guide. 

I teamed up with Tours by Locals in Luang Prabang, Laos as well: check out this travel diary of our waterfall trek. 

cross legged seated buddha

I hope you enjoyed our Bangkok travel photos and art so far, and there’s more to come. Leaving you with love and the Diamond Sutra:

Thus shall you think of all this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream;
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.

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3 Comments

  1. Yukiro
    Posted January 28, 2019 at 4:34 am | Permalink

    I love this post!! So much fun and GREAT architecture!!

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