Sunday 3 July 2016
Downtown Bangkok........After three days with no activity I’m relieved to get out again even if it is just for shopping but with the destination of downtown Bangkok, I’m hoping for more than that. Whether or not this will be anything I can call a tour we’ll have to wait as there is the mention of a temple and that means sightseeing. For Bangkok’s main tourist areas I’m not ideally placed in the suburbs and Bangkok is such a sprawling city that it's often easier to head for the countryside. That might explain why Bangkok’s tourist sites don’t dominate this website.
We seem to be heading for Phahurat textile area in the Indian Quarter and that gives me the option to call in at Hua Lamphong Railway Station now deep in the older part of Bangkok. For this journey we decide not to take the car; we’ll use public transport, the lesser of two evils. From Ramintra Road we take a passenger van to Victory Monument. This part is straightforward but to get deeper into downtown Bangkok there are a number of options and we use the cheapest. City bus 12 takes us to Ratchadamnoen Avenue which was constructed in the reign of King Rama V and now includes the Democracy Monument. I soon realise this is now the start of a tour of Rattanakosin Island.
Loha Prasat Metal Castle........We find ourselves outside Loha Prasat or Wat Ratchanaddaram Worawihan and I can see from its architecture it bears no resemblance to traditional forms but the reason for that soon becomes clear. Meaning Temple of the Royal Niece, the temple was built to the order of King Nangklao (Rama III) for the princess granddaughter, Somanass Waddhanawathy. The Loha Prasat is a multi-tiered structure 36 m high and having 37 metal spires, signifying the 37 virtues toward enlightenment. It is the third Loha Prasada (brazen palace) in existence, modelled after the earlier ones in India and Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. Of the example in India there is now no trace and the one in Sri Lanka is in ruin. It means that this temple is now the only complete example in existence. This too could have fallen into ruin because at the time of the death of King Rama III it was incomplete and construction halted. In the early 1900’s some work started but the structure wasn’t completed until the reign of the present King Rama IX and Buddhist relics enshrined in the uppermost sacred tier. Even now as we explore the levels, there is work ongoing to decorate the metal roof and spires.
From the top of Loha Prasat there are excellent views out over the Bangkok skyline and at last I begin to understand the significance of Rattanakosin Island, today hardly an island but it’s clear from what else can be seen in the area that this was the heartbeat of the new era where Bangkok was born in the late 18th Century. Jointly with other important temples on Rattanakosin Island this temple had an application for UNESCO status submitted in 2005.
Loha Prasat Metal Castle - Wat Ratchanaddaram Worawihan, Rattanakosin Island, Bangkok
Mahakan Fort........The Mahakan Fort due to its size is more symbolic than functional, just 38 metres from north to south. It lies at the eastern end of Ratchadamnoen Avenue near the Phan Fa Lilat Bridge. The fort was registered by the Fine Arts Department as an ancient monument in 1949. It has been regularly maintained as a tourist attraction and as a site to impress foreign leaders on official visits.
Mahakan Fort, Phan Fa Lilat Bridge and canal boat terminal, Bangkok
Phan Fa Lilat Bridge.........The Phan Fa Lilat Bridge is registered a national heritage site by the Fine Arts Department. It too has been modified and repaired many times. It lies at the junction of Ratchadamnoen Klang and Ratchadamnoen Nok avenues and spans the old moat of the Bang Lampu Canal. At either end are carved marble poles while its balustrade is of cast iron with a sunflower design. For a traveler to this area it is the last stop on the canal for boats arriving from Prathunam. All this so far is in one small area and not far away is arguably the most significant temple in Bangkok.
Wat Saket (Golden Mount).......Heading from the bridge along Boripat Road the Golden Mount is on the left just five minutes’ walk away. Wat Saket dates back to the Ayutthaya era, when it was known as Wat Sakae. When Bangkok became the capital, King Rama I renovated the temple and gave it its present name. Phu Khao Thong (Golden mountain in Thai) is a steep artificial hill inside the Wat Saket compound. It was built with countless huge timber logs ordered by the King.
During the reign of King Rama III (1787–1851), a huge chedi was built on the temple mount but the soil could not support the weight but after some decades the mud and brick structure formed a natural hill and was given the name Phu Khao by locals.
During the reign of King Rama IV, construction began of a small chedi on the hill. It was completed early in the reign of his son, King Rama V (1853–1910). A relic of the Buddha was brought from Sri Lanka and placed in the chedi. The surrounding concrete walls were added in the 1940s to stop the hill from eroding.. The modern Wat Saket was built in the early 20th century of Carrara marble. An annual festival is held at Wat Saket every November, featuring a candlelight procession up Phu Khao Thong to the chedi.
Understandably some effort is required to reach the chedi on top of the mound but the views from the summit are well worth the effort with spectacular 360 deg, views of Rattanakosin Island and beyond. Perhaps the greatest surprise on reaching the chedi at the top is the banding around the base of the golden chedi. It reads ‘Leicester City Football Club’.
Not surprisingly this temple attracts many foreign visitors but I get the impression the locals take advantage with their food offerings and pricing and of course there are the tuk tuk drivers. We intend to take in one more temple but it’s at least 15 minutes walk away so a tuk tuk driver gets some business. However on heading down Dinso Road off Ratchadamnoen Avenue there is a much greater choice of dining options. It’s time for a late lunch.
Wat Saket (Golden Mount), Rattanakosin Island, Bangkok
Wat Suthat Thepwararam Ratchaworamahawihan.......Wat Suthat Thepwararam Ratchaworamahawihan is located at the southern end of Dinso Road but before we reach the compound there are more sights. On the left is the Dhevasathan (Brahmin Temple). Its construction was ordered by King Rama I in 1784 for holding Brahmin rites and ceremonies.
Dhevasathan (Brahmin Temple) and Giant Swing, Rattanakosin Island, Bangkok
Just in front of Wat Suthat is the Giant Swing. It was formerly used in an old Brahmin ceremony, and is one of Bangkok's tourist attractions. The swing has two towering red pillars, 21.15 metres high.
Wat Suthat Thep Wararam is a royal temple of the first grade, one of ten such temples in Bangkok (23 in Thailand). Construction was begun by King Rama I in 1807. 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. This temple contains the Buddha image Phra Sri Sakyamuni which was moved from Sukhothai province. At the lower terrace of the base, there are 28 Chinese pagodas. Wat Suthat also contains Phra Buddha Trilokachet in the Ubosot (Ordinary Hall) and Phra Buddha Setthamuni in the Sala Kan Parian (Meeting Hall). In 2005, the temple was submitted to UNESCO for consideration as a future World Heritage Site.
Wat Suthat Thep Wararam, Rattanakosin Island, Bangkok
Out of the blue.......This mini tour was completely unexpected and came out of the blue yet a visit to these three prestigious religious sites in the famous Rattanakosin Island, the very site if the birth of the city is long overdue. It’s now down to the other reason for visiting downtown Bangkok where Indian traders first settled. Katoon is off to the textile market which deserves a chapter in its own right. Unfortunately for me the day has ground to a halt as we arrive by tuk tuk to get some fabric and oddments for handicraft work. By the time this business is over it’s coming to the end of the afternoon and time to head back. First taking a No 7 bus, we arrive at Hua Lamphong Railway Station. I treat myself to half an hour on the platform with some success but there’s still another painfully slow bus ride to Victory Monument this time on bus No 29. It least from here it’s straightforward now retracing steps from the morning. By the time I’ve grabbed something to eat from 7Eleven with beer to wash it down, of course, it’s gone 8pm.
I had intended to be back for the F1 Grand Prix in Austria and the Tour de France but I guess that’s having bread buttered on both sides!