Thailand’s religious sites span more than 11 centuries. The materials used to build them invariably determine how much of each site can be seen today. Hindu-Buddhist Khmer temples were built of stone and, where restored, are fairly complete. Generally, all that is left of the wihans and bots of the Buddhist temples at Sukhothai and Ayutthaya are foundations and stone pillars, though some stone structures such as chedis and mondops are still standing. There are many fine examples of later Lanna and Rattanakosin Buddhist temples.
Khmer (9th to 13th Centuries)
Stone temple complexes, or prasats, in Northeast Thailand were built by the Khmers. Most have staircases or bridges lined with stone nagas (serpents) leading to a central sanctuary which is usually decorated with carved stone reliefs depicting Hindu myths and topped by a prang (tower). The two most important Khmer sites in Thailand are Prasat Hin Khao Phnom Rung and Prasat Hin Phimai.
Sukhothai (Mid-13th to 15th Centuries)
The cities of Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai witnessed the most radical architectural leap in Thai history. Amid sacred Khmer ruins, King Si Intharathit and his successors built wihans and bots to house Buddha images. Chedis, modeled on Sri Lankan bell-shaped reliquary towers, were added. Vast new temple complexes, such as Wat Mahathat, sometimes incorporated a unique development, the lotus-bud chedi.
Ayutthaya (Mid-14th to Late 18th Centuries)
The architects of Ayutthaya looked to the past, subtly modifying such features as Khmer prangs and Sri Lankan-style chedis. Temple buildings were ornate structures, with elaborate hang hong and door and window pediments. Few bots or wihans survived the Burmese sack of 1767; one exception is Wat Na Phra Men.
Lanna (mid-13th to 19th Centuries)
Religious buildings during the Lanna period in the North were inspired first by Dvaravati architecture, then later by Sukhothai, Indian, and Sri Lankan styles. Lanna’s golden age was in the 14th–15th centuries. Unfortunately, few buildings remain from this period. Later 18th-19th-century wats, seen in such towns as Chiang Mai, often feature intricate woodcarving, gilded hang hong, and murals.
Rattanakosin (late 18th Century to Present)
After the devastation of Ayutthaya, the Thais attempted to recreate their lost past. The first bots and wihans built in the new capital, Bangkok, were similar to Ayutthayan structures; the most notable examples can be seen at Wat Phra Kaeo. Later temple buildings were grander and more elaborate. In the 19th century, buildings such as Wat Benchamabophit and Wat Rachabophit were built incorporating Western elements. The Rattanakosin style is also known as the Bangkok style.