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An ornate decorated golden Buddhist temple is one of the main images that is associated with visiting Thailand. Statistically, Thailand is a country where well over 90% of its residents follow a form of Buddhism. However, even though Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, religious freedom is fully accepted, and throughout Bangkok you’ll notice a diversity of religions represented.
Walking around in Bangkok, you might see a Thai Buddhist temple, then come across a Chinese Taoist temple, a Catholic cathedral, a Muslim mosque, and a Hindu shrine, all on the same walk. Learning more about the religions of Thailand helps us gain a larger understanding of Thailand, its people, and its history.
Let’s briefly cover some of the main religions in Thailand, that you’re likely to come across while you’re in Bangkok.
Buddhism in Thailand is considered the official religion of the country, and in many ways, Buddhism is intertwined into Thai culture. In Bangkok you’ll probably visit quite a few temples, Wat Phra Kaew (temple connected to the Grand Palace), Wat Arun (temple of the Rising Sun), and Wat Pho (Reclining Buddha) are three major historical and cultural temples within old Bangkok, but there are countless others as well. The majority of Thais follow the Theravada school of Buddhism.
Buddhism has many ties and parallels with Hinduism dating back thousands of years. At some Buddhist temples in Bangkok, you’ll see Hindu deities represented, and even Hindu rituals being practiced. Ganesha, the Hindu deity known for removing obstacles and having wisdom and success and depicted as an elephant, is one of the most common Hindu deities that you’ll notice in Hindu Buddhist places of worship throughout Bangkok.
China has long been a major influence in the culture of Thailand, and many Chinese principles and parts of religion have been blended into the Thai-Chinese culture in Bangkok. Along with traditional looking Thai Buddhist temples, you’ll find numerous Chinese temples in Bangkok as well, many of them mixing Chinese religions like Confucianism and Taoism with Buddhism. There are many Chinese temples scattered throughout Chinatown, but also around Bangkok, especially in Chinese dominated areas of town. Chinese Buddhism in Thailand often follows the Mahayana school of Buddhism, but it also pulls many beliefs and customs from Confucianism and Taoism.
The Muslim faith in Thailand is quite complex, and it’s been influenced from many different groups and cultures including India, Pakistan, China, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The majority of Muslims in Thailand are from the south of the county and are Malay in origin, but there’s another, smaller population of Muslims in the north of Thailand, who originally came from the Yunnan province of China. There’s an unofficial statistic that nearly one million Muslims reside in Bangkok alone, which is quite a significant number. Most Muslims in Thailand follow the Sunni branch.
Originally brought to Thailand by Portuguese missionaries and soldiers, Christianity has been represented in Thailand since the 1500’s. Santa Cruz Church is the first church to be built in Bangkok (before it was Bangkok), constructed on a plot of land that was given to the Portuguese by King Taksin. The church has a wealth of history attached to it, and though the building has been upgraded from its original wooden structure, its doors have been open since 1770. In Bangkok you’ll also find quite a few modern evangelical churches and Catholic cathedrals as well.
Other religions and temples that you’ll find throughout Bangkok include a number of Hindu temples (as opposed to Hinduism mixed with Buddhism), a Sikh Gurudwara in Pahurat, and a few Jewish synagogues.
While Thailand is officially a Buddhist country, religious freedom is accepted, and there’s a diversity of religions followed. Bangkok, being the largest city and a melting pot in Thailand, is a fascinating place to learn about different beliefs, customs, and practices. On a stroll through central Bangkok, within a one kilometer radius, you’ll see a huge diversity of deities and beliefs represented.
You can explore the diversity further on our Diversity & Harmony Walking Tour
Credit – Official Thailand religious statistics from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/th.html