Temples in Thailand are like Starbucks in America, easily found on every street corner. Some are simple and plain, some are neglected and degrading, while others are fantastic and extravagant.
If you have the time and inclination, you also have many opportunities to observe Buddhist culture and religion up close and personal. Buddhist meditation sessions can be observed for example at certain times in the evening, and as long as you are respectful, you can enter a temple or Wat at ease.
If hanging out with Buddhist monks is your thing, there are plenty in Thailand, walking the streets to and fro, grabbing a boat taxi or even using the ATM.
Temples (Wats) in Thailand serve two functions, fistly holding religious functions and ceremonies and secondly housing monks. If you are keen to have your picture taken with a monk, I recommend a certain amount of deference, as they seem to get annoyed quickly when finding themselves an impromptu tourist attraction.
In Bangkok, we made certain to see three main temples, Wat Phra Kaeo, Wat Chetuphon (or Wat Pho) and Wat Arun. Additionally, we strolled through the Grand Palace complex which is adjoining Wat Phra Kaeo and is included in the admission price.
Our first visit was to Wat Chetuphon, where the great reclining Buddha was housed. We are getting our fill of giant buddhas on our travels, and this one was no less interesting. Housed in a large rectangular temple structure the reclining Buddha seems as long as a football field, painted gold, with feet adorned with intricate carvings. Admission will set you back 50 Baht per person.
Second was our visit to Wat Phra Kaeo and the Grand Temple. Admission was a little on the expensive side at 350 Baht per person, but if you are interested in temples this one is worth the visit. The temple is adorned with a myriad of interesting icons and imagery, including many Hindu influences. The Emerald Buddha, constructed of jade, is another big tourist draw and housed within Wat Phra Kaeo as well. Somewhere in the large temple footprint they even have a rather larger replica of Angkor Wat located in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The Grand Palace had some nice building facades I suppose and a couple of well manicured lawns surrounding, but did not hold much interest for us.
Lastly, we headed to the west side of Chao Phraya River, to visit Wat Arun. If you are traveling at any time on one of the river boats (river taxis) you will likely see Wat Arun directly on the western shoreline. Compared to Wat Phra Kaeo and Wat Chetuphon, Wat Arun is an intricately designed structure constructed out of basic materials, sea shells we were told. Releifs adorning the sides of the temple are plastered with bits of colored tile for decoration. The temple also provides an excellent view of the nearby riverfront, the Bangkok skyline and the Grand Temple. The view comes at a slight cost, as you must fearfully tread up a staircase that seems to fall back on you it is so steep. Admission is an attractive 50 Baht.
If you are in budget commando mode, you can get extremely cheap tuk tuk fares to the temples, 10 Baht for example, in exchange for a quick visit to the local jewelry or suit warehouse. They will try and sell you something for your troubles at the shop, but they are not too pushy, and the tuk tuk drivers get a free tank of gas for their trouble and you basically get a free ride.
One last tip, the temples will provide appropriate pants and shirts if you are without but some do require appropriate dress. Wat Phra Kaeo is the only temple we needed to put on pants or sleeved shirts, but you may find others.
Enjoy the temples of Bangkok and the rest of Thailand!