3 Nonthaburi temples -- socks optional
Anyone with an interest in Thai Buddhist culture has shuffled through the holy trinity of Bangkok temple grounds -- Wat Po, the Grand Palace and Wat Arun. The crowds, the heat and the scheming tuk tuk drivers are all part of the experience.
And don't forget the decency police who kindly provide you with a pair of ragged old socks if your ugly toes are showing. Try not to think about the possible foot fungus the old man who wore them before you could have been harboring.
It doesn't have to be like this. There are some cool Nonthaburi temples just down the river that give great insights into Buddhist culture, where admission is free and the surroundings are actually conducive to meditative reflection.
Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat
The kind of temple compound where supernatural Thai movies might be filmed, Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat is eerily quiet. Centuries-old towering trees give the place a shaded, twilight-y feel, even in the afternoon.
Next to the Chao Phraya River, this old Nonthaburi temple is actually a royal monastery constructed under the command of King Rama III in honor of his mother and grandparents. Construction was completed during the reign of King Rama IV in the 1850s.
Colorful murals and a combination of Thai and Chinese architecture dominate Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat. Next door is the incredible Kanchanaphisek Park, a 40-acre green space filled with interesting monuments -- it even has a playground and fitness area free for public use.
Getting there: Hop aboard one of the long tail boats that depart every 20 minutes from Nonthaburi Pier for the five-minute trip to the temple.
This monastery near to the Chao Phraya River is popular for its massive meditation center, which is open to all visitors. There are a few traditional temples and a large glass meditation hall with stunning murals inside.
The real attraction is the hand-carved Ruean Thai Pavilion. Construction began in 2001, using golden teak, mahogany and red wood.
The great thing about Wat Sanghathan is its lush, riverside surroundings -- impossible to find at any of the inner-city Bangkok temples. You’re in the jungle now, baby. Enjoy.
Getting there: Take a ferry from Nonthaburi Pier to nearby Bang Si Muang Pier then transfer to one of the waiting minibuses that head to the temple regularly. Tel: +66 (0)2 447 0799.
Wat Boromracha Kanchanapisek Anusorn
This wat is unique in this area for two reasons. First, it’s Chinese. Second, it was finished only last year. Opening its doors to the public in March 2008, the four-story Wat Boromracha Kanchanapisek Anusorn took 12 years to build. And all the hard-work is evident.
The wat was designed by a Chinese architect with the help of a team of Thais. Most of the materials were imported from China, including 10,000 tiny bronze Buddhas, granite columns and carved wooden murals. This is stuff you won't find in any Bangkok temple. Or anywhere in Thailand, for that matter.
Getting there: Take the Chao Phraya Express Boat to Nonthaburi Pier. From there, hop in a taxi for the 15-minute ride to Bang Bua Thong district.
To catch the Chao Phraya Express, take the BTS Skytrain to Saphan Taksin and follow the signs to the pier. There are two different types of express boats. The ones with orange flags stop at 20 piers on the way to Nonthaburi (13 baht) while the boats with yellow flags are quicker, stopping at 10 different piers (18 baht).