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Bangkok Temples

 

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Thailand has over 26,000 temples (wat). Being the capital of a Buddhist country means that Bangkok is full of some of South East Asias finest temples. Found in every district, these places of worship range from small local temples or wats, to ones of extravagant splendor such as the famous Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Arun. On an unofficial count, there are probably 400-500 sizable Buddhist temples in Metropolitan Bangkok alone. While many of the foreign tourists may be more familiar with hot spots such as Wat Phra Keao, Wat Arun, Wat Pho, Wat Traimit etc. There are actually many other interesting locations equally possess strong Buddhist Interests but probably were less publicized and there are less presence of tourists. Temples such as Wat Rakang, Wat Borworniwet, Wat Intraviharn, Wat Paknam, Wat Prasat, Wat Suwannaram and Wat Suthat etc. may not have the rich background, brilliance of architecture or indirect association with previous reign of Thai Royalties but many of which are equally commanding the same respect among the locals. Interesting enough, most temples usually have a temple icon, either in the form of the main Buddha Image or via legendary Thai Guru monks that took charge of the temple during their services as Abbot.

Religion is very important to many Thai people, and small miniature versions of temples called spirit houses are to be found in most office complexes, shopping centres, hotels and in many homes, draped in jasmine flowers and surrounded by offerings for Buddha. So it’s true to say that in Bangkok you’re never far from a temple of some kind, even if it’s the small shrine set up on the dashboard of your airport taxi!

When visiting temples that the utmost respect is required – usually you will be expected to wear trousers or skirt; t-shirts with elbow length sleeves are also expected and sometimes proper shoes, i.e. not flip-flops, will be required. If you’re planning on doing some temple visiting and you’re unsure as to the correct dress code, just err on the side of conservative dress and no-one will be offended. Some temples have other restrictions too, for example no photography – rules such as these should be clearly indicated but if you’re unsure just ask someone.

 

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Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn): This riverside temple is one of Bangkok’s key tourist attractions and one of its most famous sights – the towering 82 metre spire in the centre of the temple is depicted on the reverse of the 10 Baht coin and in many travel brochures. This temple is often included as a stopover on canal tours but it’s worth making an effort to see even if you don’t embark on such a trip – to get there cross the river at Tha Tien pier – you can’t miss the temple from there. At sunset it presents a fantastic picture silhouetted against the setting sun with the river in the foreground.

 

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Wat Bowornniwet Vihara Rajaworavihara, Usually known as Wat Boworn, is situated near the Banglamphoo Market. This temple was built in between 1824 to 1832 by HRH Prince Maha Sakdipolsep, a son of King Rama III. At first the temple was called Wat Mai, but when king Rama III invited the future King Rama IV, who was then a monk, to be abbot of the temple, the name was changed to Wat Bowornniwet Vihara. King Rama IV stayed here after he was ordained, and founded the Thammayut Nikai, a more ascetic monastic order. The temple is of special importance because King Rama VI, King Rama VII, and HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej were all ordained here. Moreover, the temple is the residence of members of the royal family who enter the monkhood. It has been the residence of many the supreme patriarchs of the Buddhist Church in Thailand, and it is the site of Mahamakut Rajavittayalai, Thailand’s first Buddhist institution of the high education. Because the temple was built during the Third Reign, it was many examples of Chinese art, such as phra ubosot, vihara keng, vihara Phra Sassada and the door of phra ubosot where the Chinese deity ” Siew Kang ” is carved on the walls as a guardian spirit.

Within the phra ubosot there are murals that are the work of Khrua In Khong. Of special interest are the painting above the windows illustrating Dhamma teachings using European figures and scenes. The murals also employed perspective as in Western style paintings. There are two presiding Buddha images in the phra ubosot , namely Phra Suwannakhet or Luang Pho To, and Phra Buddha Chinasi, which was brought down from Phitsanulok.

In the monastic area there are important buildings such as the Phra Panya-a three story European - style building where King Rama IV resided when he was a monk, the Tamnak Phetch, built in the Sixth Reign, the lower floor of which is now used for gatherings of Buddhist monks and which also houses a life-size standing statue of King Rama IV, and another important building is the Phor Por Ror Building that houses a museum where provide the birth-death knowledge.

 

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Wat Benchamabophit Dusitvanaram (The Marble Temple)
Located in Dusit, Wat Benchamabophit Dusitvanaram or The Marble Temple, is one of Bangkok's most modern and yet striking temples. Building began in 1899, shortly after completion of nearby Dusit Palace, when King Chululongkorn (King Rama V) asked his half-brother, Prince Narris, to design him a temple.

The result is a dazzling Ubosot (ordination hall) cast in white Carara Italian marble and with three-tiered roof - an excellent example of modern Thai architecture, with beautiful features from near and afar. This T-shaped structure contains an exquisite Sukothai-style Buddha replica called Phra Buddha Chinarahat, the original of which is located in Wat Mahatat. Interned in the base beneath it are the ashes of King Chulalongkorn.

The courtyard exhibits 52 local and foreign Buddha images from the period (33 originals and 20 copies). Each one is different in style and pose, with highlights including the Buddha in walking posture statue, and subduing Mara posture statue. Behind the cloister is a large Bodhi Tree, bought as a gift for King Rama V from Bod Gaya, the place of Buddha's enlightenment. There is also a 'Sala Nam' (water pavilion) and, in between the monks and people area, several bridges in a variety of styles.

 

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Wat Mahathat which is a royal temple of the first grade is situated to the north of the Rayal Palace. It was built in the Ayutthaya period and called Wat Salak. Before the first Grand Council to revise the Buddhist tripitaka (the Buddhist scriptures) was convoked in A.D.1788 , King Rama I renamed the temple Wat Phra Sri Sanphechayadaram and later rename it “Wat Mahathat”

King Rama I arranged a meeting of high-ranking monks to set up an examination system for monks and novices in A.D.1803. During to the reign of King Rama V, he’s donated the wealth of the Crown Prince who had passed away for the renovation of the temple.

The temple is the center of the Mahanikai school of Buddhism, and as such is a center of monastic learning for members of the sect from throughout Southeast Asia. This is an advanced institute of learning for monks, organized in the same way as a university. It was founded by King Rama V with the intention to provide an educational institute for monks of Mahanikai fraternity, in the same way as Maha Mongkut Ratchawitthayalai was for the monks in the Dhammayattika fraternity. It was the first time that the word Witthayalai or University was used in Thai vocabulary.
For the tourist who is passionate about amulet collecting. This is another amulet market. On every weekend, the market stalls are set up on the grounds to compliment the daily vendors of traditional medicines and herbal potions.

 

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Wat Pho or Wat Phra Chetuphon is the largest and oldest temple in Bangkok as it is generally known to the Thais. It’s originating in the 16th century before being rebuilt by King Rama I. It also is mainly famous for the huge Reclining Buddha statue it houses. The highly impressive gold plated Reclining Buddha is 46 meters long and 15 meters high, and is designed to illustrate the passing of the Buddha into nirvana. The feet and the eyes are engraved with mother-of-pearl decoration, and the feet also show the 108 auspicious characteristics of the genuine Buddha in Chinese and Indian styles.

The large grounds of Wat Pho contain more than a thousand Buddha images in total, most of them from the ruins of the former capitals Ayuthaya and Sukhothai. The northern section is generally the only one most people go to, and it includes a large temple hall (Bot in Thai), enclosed by 394 bronze Buddha images. Outside the hall, there are 152 marble slabs depicting the second half of the epic Ramakian story. Also near here are four pagodas, constructed to honor the first three of Chakri Kings. There are also a massive 91 others pagodas of varying size around the grounds, along with the chapels, rock gardens, an array of different types of statues, inscriptions, bell towers and resident fortune tellers. The library is nearly too, decorated impressively with figures and pagodas made of porcelain.

King Rama III had ordered another major renovation of the temple to make it a center of learning and art. This took 16 years to complete. Texts from treatises on various fields of knowledge were inscribed in marble slabs and place in pavilions in the temple and stone statues. Wat Pho thus became a source of knowledge for people of all classes and has therefore been referred to as Thailand’s first university.

The temple is also known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage. Even prior to the temple’s founding, the site was a centre of education for traditional Thai medicine, and statues were created showing yoga positions.

 

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Wat Chanasongkram is located on Jakapong Road, near Banglampoo Market in the centre of Bangkok. The temple was appointed as a second-class royal temple. Wat Chanasongkram is an ancient temple built before Bangkok was established in B.E.2325. Initially the temple was called Wat Klang-na because it was surrounded by rice fields. After it was renovated by HRH Prince Maha Surasee the name was changed to be "Wat Tongpu" after the name of another ancient temple in Ayudhaya City.

It was at that time that the Tiger General had won three major battles consecutively and before he was due to return to Bangkok stayed at the temple where he is known to have renovated both the principle Buddha Image. The temple was incidentally later renamed by King Rama I the Great as "Wat Chanasongkram", meaning “Temple of Victory”.  (Because of the history of this temple and its association with HRH Prince Maha Surasee many people visit there to pay homage to the Chairman Buddha Image as they believe in doing so will help them conquer their own enemies and troubles.)

During the reign of King Rama II, a royal building was also built within the temple grounds but later destroyed by bombs during the great East Asia War. Until the reign of King Rama IV, monk houses were built in place of the destroyed building and were completed in B.E.2396. During the reign of King Rama VII, the ash of five princes was placed in the wall behind the Chairman Buddha Image. In B.E.2493 - B.E.2506, HM the King Rama IX the Great had renovated the temple, monk houses, chedi, road, etc

 

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Wat Saket is easily recognized by its golden Chedi atop a fortress-like hill near the pier for Bangkok’s east-west klong ferry. Phu Khao Thong (Golden mountain) is a steep hill inside the Wat Saket compound. It is not a natural outcrop, but an artificial hill.

During the reign of King Rama III (1787 – 1851) the decision was made to build a Chedi of huge dimensions to add to the Wat Saket temple. However, the large Chedi collapsed during the construction process because the soft soil beneath would not support it. The resulting mud-and-brick hillock was left alone for about half a century, taking the shape of a natural hill and becoming overgrown with weeds. Since then it looked like a natural small mountain it received its name of "Phu Khao" at that time.

Finally under King Rama IV, a small Chedi was built on the hilltop. This smaller structure was finished under King Rama V (1853– 1910), when a Buddha relic from India was housed in the Chedi. In the 1940s the surrounding concrete walls were built to prevent the hill from eroding.
There is an important festival at Wat Saket every November that includes a beautiful candlelight procession up Phu Khao Thong. Phu Khao Thong has become a popular tourist attraction in Bangkok, but the rest of the Wat Saket temple area is much less visited.

 

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Wat Suthat Thepwararam is a royal temple of the first grade, one of six such temples in Thailand. Construction was begun by His Majesty King Rama I in 1807 (B.E. 2350). Further construction and decorations were carried out by King Rama II who helped carve the wooden doors, but the temple was not completed until the reign of King Rama III in 1847 (B.E.2390). This temple contains the Buddha image Phra Sri Sakyamuni or "Sisakayamunee" which moved from Sukhothai province. At the lower terrace of the base, there are 28 Chinese pagodas which mean the 28 Buddhas born on this earth. Wat Suthat also contains Phra Buddha Trilokachet in the Ubosot (Ordinary Hall) and Phra Buddha Setthamuni in Sala Kan Parien (Meeting Hall)
Phra Si Sakyamuni, Buddha-Statue in Wat Suthat. In 2005, the temple was submitted to UNESCO for consideration as a future World Heritage Site.

 

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Wat Traimit or Temple of the Golden Buddha is located on the end of Yaowarad Road (Chinatown in Bangkok).Phu Khao Thong (Golden mountain) is a steep hill inside the Wat Saket compound. It is not a natural outcrop, but an artificial hill.
Wat Trai Mit, near the Bangkok Railway Station at Hua Lamphong, is home to the famous Golden Buddha which is 3 metres high. 

The Golden Buddha is believed to be 700 to 800 years old as it is in the Mara attitude, typical of the Sukhothai era. It was installed at Wat Phrayakrai in the Yannawa area of Bangkok during the reign of King Rama III where it stayed until 1931.  The temple had fallen out of use and was abandoned so the Ecclesiastical Commission had it relocated at Wat Trai Mit. At this time, no one seemed to know that it was made of pure gold.

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