To a western visitor the most impressive witnesses to Thai artistic culture are undoubtedly the magnificent Wats. The visitor gets confused by the profusion of strange-looking buildings, and the following account of the individual parts of a Wat may therefore be helpful.
The word Wat originally denoted any religious edifice, but is now applied to a Buddhist monastery. Its compound embraces the temple area and an outer precinct for the monks' quarters, which as a rule contains no ritual buildings. This is called the khana, and consists of several buildings. In some, several monks live together under one roof, but never more than five or six. In some places every monk lives in a dwelling of his own. Usually the buildings for several monks are occupied by the more junior members of the Order. This house is also called khana. Two staircases lead down to the living quarters, which are usually below ground level.
The monks form a group under a chao khana. One of these chao khanas presides over six such groups, and is called raja khana. The chief raja khana, the somdetj raja kijana, is abbot of the whole temple. He directs the members of the Order and administers the monastery. A raja khana's dwelling is generally bigger than that of a chao khana, and has a library. The dwelling of the somdetj raja khana is still more sumptuous.
Within the monastery compound you will find a school and lodging for the pupils (luksit) from various parts of the country. In return for instruction, board and lodging the pupils perform various services for the monks.
In the area occupied by the cult buildings, which is generally surrounded by a wall, the most sacred edifice is the bot (pronounced boht). This brick building has a long undivided nave. The ground-plan can, however, vary widely. The simplest form is a quadrilateral cella with just one door at the end facing the cult image. Larger temples have windows (any number from one to 13) along the sides, and several doors on the main front. In some bots, as at Wat Phra Keo in Bangkok, the wall behind the Buddha image is broken up by doors. The central entrance doorway is always larger than the others. If the interior is too large, two or more rows of columns are employed to support the roof and divide off two aisles. The building may also be extended by a portico. A very elaborate bot may also have a cloister round it, formed by rows of columns. As a rule the internal columns have no capitals, while the outer ones usually do.