That is a bit of a misleading heading because I will only report on those temples that we have personally visited and get my tick of approval. These are mainly in the area close to where we live, which is in the northern part of Isaan, and therefore they obviously only form a small proportion of the choice available in all of Isaan, a region covering the whole northeast of Thailand. Having said that of the thousands of wats on offer, even if I had seen them all, only a very small number would be worth mentioning. The local village (moo ban) temples, which make up the vast majority of wats, are mostly built to a budget and to a pretty standard design – seen one you’ve seen them all.
The temples in my list here have mostly been covered elsewhere in the blog under various headings so this post pulls all of those stories together in the one place. There are some very impressive wats around if you know where to look that definitely aren’t on the Trip Advisor top 10, which are mostly based around the major urban centres. Some of the most spectacular or interesting are often hidden away in the countryside and unless you have your own transport they are difficult to find and get to. They are worth the effort though as I hope the following will prove.
I have listed these entries vaguely from west to east (left to right on a map) and north to south (top to bottom) to give some sort of order you can work through if you are a tourist or a resident of the region. I have included GPS coords for each wat in various formats, which honestly is the best way to find places here. Relying on Google directions or signage is a sure way to lose a day in Isaan rural backroads. I guarantee that what looks simple on a computer screen or iPad ends up being a nightmare in reality 🙂
Some temples are included because of their quality architecture while others may have average temple structures but offer an interesting aspect to them. For example to see how Thais pick lottery numbers – go to Wat Kham Chanot, want a hike in the hills – try Wat Pa Thum Pra Phukao, for a wat stuck to the side of a cliff Wat Tham Sang Tham or Wat Phu Tok should be on your list.
I have provided links to the original posts on my blog that cover each temple in more detail. They are often part of a larger story so you may have to go looking for the temple reference or just enjoy the whole post.
Wat Pa Huay Lad – nearest town: Dan Sai
Phu Ruea in the hills west of Loei is an area well known because of the number of plant nurseries situated there. It is also the home to a couple of wats that I would recommend stopping to visit. The first of these has a slightly Buddha-land theme with sculptures more for photo opportunities than their spiritual significance. All good fun. Google Maps HERE. Original post HERE
Wat Neramit Wipattasana – nearest town: Dan Sai
One of my absolute favorite wats in Thailand. It has everything – peaceful surroundings, beautiful gardens, stunning buildings and everything is meticulously maintained. Situated just outside the small town of Dan Sai it is a pleasant drive through the hills to get here. I first discovered this place in 2014 and have been back many time since. Google Maps HERE. Original post HERE and a 2017 entry HERE.
Buddha Hill – nearest town: Loei
This entry isn’t actually a wat, just to confuse you. However it is a wonderful place to stop and enjoy the peacefulness of the location set on a hilltop overlooking the Loei countryside. The Buddha shrine is within an army base so it is immaculately presented and maintained. Google Maps HERE. Original post HERE and a more recent entry HERE.
Wat Pra Putthabat Phu Kwai Ngoen – nearest town: Chiang Khan
Chiang Khan itself is pretty light-on with quality temples so it was a pleasure to find this newly constructed chedi Wat Pra Putthabat Phu Kwai Ngoen hidden away a few minutes off the main road the 211 heading towards Nong Khai (east). Make sure you check out the rabbits. Google Maps HERE. Original post HERE
Wat Pa Phu Kon – nearest town: Chiang Khan
This is one of those temples situated in the middle of absolutely nowhere that you sometimes come across in Thailand. It is one of the better know wats in the area and very well supported by visiting Thais. The building itself is spectacular but the main attraction is the reclining Buddha inside made from 43 marble blocks each of which weighed 15 – 30 tons imported from Italy. Highly recommended. Google Maps HERE. Original post HERE
Wat Pha Tak Suea – nearest town: Nong Khai
This wat is at the top of a hill which overlooks the Mekong River, about an hour’s drive east of Nong Khai, has a glass walkway set over a cliff edge with great views over the surrounding area. There is a temple here as well and new buildings being constructed but most people probably visit to see the skywalk. Well worth a visit. Original post HERE (2017) and HERE (2016) Google Maps HERE.
Wat Noen Panao Wanaram – nearest town: Nong Khai
This is a hidden temple and most likely you will be the only person there. No busloads of tourists like at Wat Pho Chai, which I don’t think is worth the hype as a temple structure. Wat Noen is deceptive because it is actually set over a very large mostly treed area with many different structures so make sure you go for a walk around. Google Maps HERE. Original post HERE
Wat Phu Tok – nearest town: Bueng Kan
A bit of a cheat on my part because I haven’t been to this temple yet but it by all accounts it is one to have on your bucket list if you don’t mind heights. Located in the far north east of Isaan Wat Phu Tok is a three/four hour drive from Udon Thani. Set over seven levels with challenging climbs to get there this is one wat to avoid in the hot season. Google Maps HERE. Someone else’s words HERE
Wat Kham Chanot – nearest town: Udon Thani
A hugely popular temple with Thai people who visit mainly to get blessings and especially clues as to the next lottery numbers. Best avoided on weekends and Buddhist holidays as it will be overwhelmed with people. The main area is a small island covered with huge trees. There are no true buildings but a number of shrines. This is a great place to visit to watch other people. Google Maps HERE. Original post HERE and a later one HERE
Wat Bunyanusorn – nearest town: Nong Wua
This is a nondescript town on highway 210 the main road between Udon Thani and Nong Bua Lamphu where you’d normally not bother to stop. However if you turn at the intersection with the traffic lights there is a large wat is hidden away that is worth a visit. Google Maps HERE. Original post HERE
Wat Tham Klong Pane – nearest town: Nong Bua Lamphu
One of the better know temples in the region. Although the main Buddha hall/cave has been demolished prior to being totally renovated this wat is still worth visiting. Set in a large treed area there are buildings and sights scattered along the length of the road through the grounds. Make sure you feed the fish – find out how in my post. Google Maps HERE. Original post HERE and the recent one HERE.
Wat Khao Chong Chat – nearest town: Nong Wua
This wat is still under construction and has a way to go before being completed. I have included it because it is one of those large projects set in the middle of nowhere with potential for greatness at some stage down the track. How these places get started or find funding is a mystery but I have several of these in this list. Great views that I haven’t seen because we visited in the sugar cane burning smoky season. Google Maps HERE. Original post HERE
Wat Pathum Praphukao – nearest town: Nong Bua Lamphu
This is one of those wats I have included not for the temple structures but because it offers other benefits, in this case a great hike into the hills with sweeping views at the top. There are a few buildings at the base, nothing special, a very small cave with Buddha statues you can climb into towards the top and some monks’ accommodation. Google Maps HERE. Original post HERE and an update HERE
Wat Pha Phutthabat Phu Kao – nearest town: Nong Bua Lamphu
This is a temple really hidden in the backwoods – literally. The buildings as with most of the “pha” or forest wats use a lot of timber in their construction. The temple itself isn’t outstanding but the challenge of the trip to get there makes this a day out with a purpose. Google Maps HERE. No separate blog entry.
Wat Wiset Mongkhon – nearest town: Si Bun Ruang
I have been following the construction of this temple close to our home because it promises to be both quite beautiful and unusual. Although the traditional red, white and gold are the wat colours seen everywhere I enjoy the contrast of this temple with its pebblecrete walls and gray blue roof. There is lots of detail in the ornamentation, which you don’t see often in the village based temples. Google Maps HERE. No separate blog entry.
Wat Nong Kao – nearest town: Si Bun Ruang
This is a timber temple set deep in rural countryside on the outskirts of a small moo ban about a 40 minute drive from Si Bun Ruang. The four main buildings are beautifully maintained and present a classic example of this type of wat construction. Highly recommended. No entry on Google Maps (yet). Original post HERE.
Wat Pa Wai Luwan Anya Wari – nearest town: Si Bun Ruang
My guess on the phonetic spelling of the name. Another timber temple a few minutes down the road from Wat Nong Ko. If you want to see one of these wats under construction then this is a good one to visit. The main hall is complete but there’s another building next door that’s only about halfway finished. All lot of the work being done by two monks and a couple of elderly village people. No entry on Google Maps (yet). Original post HERE.
Wat Pa Sup Anun – nearest town: Si Bun Ruang
My guess on the phonetic spelling of the name. A very small forest temple being built literally just down the road from our home. In itself this is a minor addition to the temples of Thailand and nothing stunning in any way. However it made the list because if you want to see an example of the development of a totally new wat from the ground up hidden away in rice paddies then this is a nice example. The head monk a guy called Dit is delightful and it is worth a visit just to meet him. Google Maps HERE. No original post.
Wat Tham Sang Tham – nearest town: Si Bun Ruang
This is an unfinished wat built high on the side of a cliff in the middle of nowhere. Although the wat itself has potential only at this stage the cave is well set up and the views are excellent and worth the climb to the top. The small shrine on the intermediate level must be almost completed by now – we haven’t been for a while. Visit for something different. Google Maps HERE. My original post HERE
Wat Phu Thum Pa See Talat – nearest town: Si Bun Ruang
A guess at the name in English as the signage and Google Maps is all in Thai. I have included this wat even though you can’t get inside because it is an example of the massive Buddhist construction effort you find sometimes situated in a remote location the purpose of which is a mystery. It is a curiosity rather than a must see. It is on the way to one of my favourite wats so call in for a few photos if in the area. Google Maps HERE. My original post HERE
Wat Tham Chai See – nearest town: Si Bun Ruang
A guessed name spelling. One of my favourite wats not because of its beauty but because of the views and the amazing cave system you will never find without the help of the sole monk who has spent eight years developing it. It looks like a rock outcrop in the fields but offers so much more. From Si Bun Ruang it is a scenic drive to get there so a bonus. Google Maps HERE. My original post HERE
Wat Pa Kittiyanusorn – nearest town: Phu Wiang
Another of those hidden temples that just never show up on sites like Trip Advisor (thank God). Situated outside the small nondescript town of Phu Wiang, a 30 minute drive from us. This is a wat that’s had a lot of money poured into it and is still being developed. They must have a strong abbot in charge because the place is immaculate, which is unusual. It offers a variety of photo opportunities including the impressive reclining Buddha. Google Maps HERE. Original post HERE
Wat Tham Pha Keong – nearest town: Phu Wiang
This is a temple with a mix of styles but the highlight is a large Chinese dragon structure at the back of the wat with views over the surrounding countryside. Make sure you walk through the dragon behind this building. Another big investment in an area of small rural villages. Google Maps HERE. Original post HERE
Wat Nong Waeng Muang Kao – nearest town: Khon Kaen
A city wat located on the shores of the main lake in Khon Kaen. This is one of the most popular temples in the city but like Udon Thani to the north, it isn’t a place packed with Chiang Mai like quality alternatives. The main place of interest is a chedi called Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon and you can climb the nine levels to reach the top passing through various displays on the way. I wouldn’t go back but if in the area it is worth a look. Google Maps HERE. Original post HERE
Wat Pha Sorn Kaew – nearest town:
or Wat Prathat Phasornkaew on Google Maps. This must be one of the most striking wats in Thailand and on my highly recommended list. The five Buddha heads structure is stunning while the chedi covered in mosaics is just beautiful in its detail. Set in magnificent and a largely natural area this wat is worth the drive to get there. Google Maps HERE. Original post HERE
Wat Pha Nam Yoi – nearest town: Roi Et
Another stunning wat in the middle of nowhere. I haven’t been here since August 2015 and at the time I thought it was one of the best temples I had seen in Thailand even though it was still being constructed. Hopefully with more work happening in the intervening two years it has only improved. It is well out of the way of the normal tourist route but it is totally worth the effort. Google Maps HERE. Original post HERE
Wat Phrathat Nong Bua – nearest town: Ubon Ratchathani
The main wat in Ubon, which we visited back in August 2015 as part of the Buddhist lent candle festival, an unique Isaan event not to be missed. This wat is neatly maintained and well supported by Thais so one to include on your to-do list if in this part of Isaan. Google Maps HERE. Original post HERE
Wat Pak Nam Bung Sapang – nearest town: Ubon Ratchathani
I only include this wat as one of those surprising finds you come across in Thailand. The buildings aren’t anything special but the main space is given over to glass displays of …………………gallstones taken from monks!!!! Not something I normally associate with Buddhist temples. Love Thailand! Google Maps HERE. Original post HERE
I am sure will will come across new wats to add to this list so I will keep this post up to date.
For my favourite top nine wats in Chiang Mai please read this post HERE. It is a little old but the information will still be relevant.
Thanks for reading.