This temple's full name is Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat, but it's better known as Wat Yai, meaning the Great Temple. It’s one of the most important temples in Thailand.  The reason is its Phra Buddha Chinarat statue, a bronze image cast in 1357 under the Sukhothai King Mahatmmaracha. Its most distinctive feature is its flamelike halo (mandorla), which symbolizes spiritual radiance. Only the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok is more highly revered by the Thai people.

The viharn housing the Buddha is a prized example of traditional Thai architecture, with three eaves, overlapping one another to emphasize the nave, and graceful black and gold columns. The mother-of-pearl inlaid doors leading into the chapel were added in 1756 as a gift from King Borommakot of Ayutthaya. Inside, you’ll discover an Italian marble floor, two painted thammas (pulpits), and murals illustrating the life of Buddha. Other than the viharn and bot (ordination hall), the wat’s most distinctive architectural feature is the Khmer-style prang, rebuilt by King Boromtrailokanart. It houses the Buddha relic from which the wat takes its name; mahathat means “great relic.” The small museum holds a collection of Sukhothai- and Ayutthaya-era Buddhas.

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The wat is always packed with worshipers paying their respects and making offerings. Conservative dress is obligatory—this means clothing that covers the shoulders, elbows, and knees; you’ll also need to remove your shoes before entering the wat. Early morning (say, 7am) is a calm, tranquil time to visit.