Nowadays a district of Bangkok, Thonburi was the Thai Capital between the Ayutthaya and Bangkok eras. It has a lot to show to the visitor.
by SeenThat on January 19, 2009
An attractive option for the brave of heart is a half day walk through Thonburi; such an adventure would include all the sites reviewed in this entry and despite the heat and humidity is an awesome way of exploring this part of modern Bangkok.Thonburi, the short-lived Thai capital during the reign of Taksin the Great (1768-1782), was annexed in 1972 to Bangkok; nowadays it would be hard to guess they were different cities in the past, if it wasn’t for the clear border created by the Chao Phraya River.Walking through a big metropolis has its advantages; shopping malls, food plazas and local markets appear frequently along the way, allowing many snack stops while offering plenty of attractions.The walk described here begins at the Thonburi side of Saphan Phra Pin Klao, the bridge over the Chao Phraya River closest to Khaosan Road and ends near Chinatown, drawing a loop which loosely follows the river and crossing it twice. The name of the first bridge matches the name of the avenue at its Thonburi side. Thanon Somdet Phra Pin Klao (usually called just Thanon Pin Klao) is one of the main avenues in Bangkok, connecting the metropolis with the highways leading to the southern parts of the country and Malaysia. The best way of beginning such a walk is well fed and entertained. Accordingly, the Pin Klao Mall is one of the first attractions awaiting the traveller along this avenue. After having enjoyed a coffee, take the Thanon Arun Amarin – the first major avenue crossing it – southwards. Soon after, a sign pointing toward the Royal Barges National Museum would appear. If deciding to visit the site, pay attention to the small signs leading there among a labyrinth of alleys. Beyond the wild dogs – which would be restrained by the neighbours – there is no danger despite the slightly dingy look of the area. The area is home to a Muslim population, offering a good opportunity to see ethnic Bangkok. The museum is quite surprising; a small hangar by the river hosts four or five barges. An entrance fee is accompanied by extra fees for camera and video filming (a separate fee for each).After returning to the main road, keep advancing south. The bridge over the wide canal provides an exceptional view of Bangkok’s Southern Railway Station and of the area in general. Bangkok Noi – Little Bangkok – is a charming neighbourhood with more than its share of temples; near the pier there is a huge market and good branch of Black Canyon Coffee, which offers the perfect excuse for a break in the walk. Pay attention to the traditional Patrvadi Theatre; even if closed at the time of the visit, the beautiful teakwood building is a reminder of other times.Once the Khlong Bangkok Noi (Khlong means canal) is crossed southwards, an area known as Bangkok Yai (Big Bangkok) is accessed. Here is one of the main attractions in Thonburi: Wat Arun. The Temple of Dawn is one of Bangkok’s main attractions and one of its landmarks. Climbing it allows extraordinary views of the river and the Grand Palace which is almost directly across the river. Once out of there, continue southwards. Across Khlong Bangkok Yai is a complex of three temples. Wat Kanlayanmit which is one of the best known and most prominent temples along the Chao Phraya riverside and two less known but maybe more interesting temples: the Santa Cruz Cathedral and the recently restored Wat Payoom. Santa Cruz is one of the main churches in the city, allowing insights into interesting parts of the Thai history. Wat Prayoom features an awesome, sparkling white Ayutthaya style chedi.Wat Payoom is very close to the Memorial Bridge, which despite not being the most beautiful bridge across the river, offers some of the best views in Bangkok as well as allows ending the walk near Bangkok’s main areas. Across the bridge and related to it is the Phra Phuttha Yot Fa Statue, also reviewed in this journal. If still feeling strong after the walk, continue along Thanon Chakraphet and after a few minutes the Chinatown - Little India junction is reached. However, their description belongs to a different journal.
The Memorial Bridge is a bridge over the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, connecting the districts Phra Nakhon ("Holy City") and Thonburi. Despite being less useful to the traveller than the bridges connecting downtown Bangkok with the highways leading to Southern Thailand, Saphan Phut is worth a special visit due to the views from it and the nearby attractions.On Kings and KingdomsDespite being relatively new, the Memorial Bridge is deeply related to the history of the Thai Kingdom and its actual dynasty. The modern kingdom was founded when the Chakri Dynasty took over in 1782 and moved the capital across the Chao Phraya River, from Thonburi to Krung Thep, also known as Bangkok. The first king of this dynasty was King Rama I, or King Yot Fa Chulalok. Born in Ayutthaya, he reigned between 1782 and 1809 from Bangkok, the new capital he founded. In commemoration of the dynasty’s 150th anniversary, a bridge and a statue in his honor were constructed.Memorial Bridge - Saphan PhutThe bridge was opened on April 6, 1932, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Chakri Dynasty. In English the bridge is commonly known as Memorial Bridge, however in Thai it is most commonly know as Phra Phutta Yot Fa Bridge (or Saphan Phut in a short form), after King Buddha Yot Fa (Rama I), the first king of the Chakri Dynasty.Despite the heavy traffic, it is possible to walk through the bridge on special paths located on its both sides. That is the recommended way of visiting it; otherwise it is difficult to appreciate the sights along the riversides. Constructed of steel and painted a dark green, the bridge arches provide heavy frames for pictures of the attractions surrounding it, which include most of the sites reviewed in this journal. A cool breeze – an oddity in Bangkok – makes the adventure enjoyable. The Phra Phuttha Yot Fa Statue cannot be seen because it is lower than the bridge and surrounded by a wall.Phra Phuttha Yot Fa StatueThe Phra Phuttha Yot Fa Statue (King Rama I the Great) Memorial was also built in commemoration of Bangkok’s 150th anniversary celebrations; the monument is situated at the foot of the Memorial Bridge on the Bangkok side of it. The king is sitting while inspecting the esplanade and huge garden with a fountain in front of him. A high wall separates the site from the bridge; the semi-circular stretch of road between the memorial area and the bridge should be crossed with great care due to the intensive traffic. Despite its massive size, the garden and the esplanade are rather empty, probably because they are surrounded by main roads with heavy traffic. Thus, the place provides an enjoyable stop for the traveler.Wat RatchaburanaWat Ratchaburana is across the Yot Fa Statue esplanade, towards the east. It was built in the last years of the Ayutthaya Kingdom by a Chinese merchant, and is also known as Wat Liap. Due to its size and history, it is considered one of Bangkok’s main three temples, together with Wat Ratchapradit and Wat Mahathat, home to the Emerald Buddha. Due to its importance, this temple had been regularly restored and is in exquisite shape. An almost unique fact related to this wat is that its ubosot – the ordination hall – was damaged by heavy bombing during World War II. It housed famous murals by Khrua In Khong. The temple can be visited daily between 6 AM and 6 PM.Nearby AttractionsEach side of the bridge keeps nearby attractions for the visitor. The Thonburi side is home to Wat Prayoom, the Santa Cruz Cathedral and Wat Kanlayanmit in the immediate vicinity, while Wat Arun is slightly north. The Bangkok side offers Chinatown and Little India, both a few minutes walk north along Thanon Chakraphet. The flowers market is westward, across the first canal and is an awesome stop if deciding to walk back all the way to Khaosan Road.
by SeenThat on January 5, 2009
Reaching the TempleWat Arun is in the Thonburi area of Bangkok, on the western bank of the Chao Praya River anda cross classical Bangkok, almost in front of the Grand Palace. It is possible to reach Wat Arun with one of the ferry boats crossing the Chao Praya River from the Tha Chang Pier near Wat Phra Kaeo - the Grand Palace - or Tha Tian Pier near Wat Pho. Overland, it can be reached with buses 83, 19 and 57, or by the walking path through Thonburi described in this journal. The entrance fee as of the end of 2008 is 50 baht.Timing the VisitDespite the temple's name, the best time for a visit is during the late afternoon, when the dusk light creates stunning effects on its colourful pillars. The best place to see it is from across the river or from one of the boats travelling along it.Wat Makok: Baptizing BangkokWat Arun was built during the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Back then it was named Wat Makok - the Olive Temple; the small village across the river was named after it, and even after it became the modern Krung Thep and the kingdom's capital, many people still refer to it as Bangkok ("ban" means "village" in Thai - the name "Ban Makok" got mispronounced during time).Wat Arun: Thonburi KingdomFollowing the fall of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, King Taksin the Great transformed Thonburi into his capital. His reigning period (1768-1782) is also known as the Thonburi Kingdom, since afterwards the capital was moved across the Chao Phraya River, in order to provide better defences to its inhabitants. While he was reigning, the temple was renamed Wat Arun - the Dawn Temple - and became one of the most important temples in this short lived capital.The TempleThe unique look of the temple is due to the millions of pieces of colourful Chinese porcelain coating it; broken porcelain brought as ballast by merchant ships in the 17th century was used to cover its exterior. Wat Arun's central Khmer styled prang (column) - which at a height of 82 metres is Thailand's tallest - rests on three levels of terraces and is surrounded by four smaller corner prangs, intermingled with four mondops. Below it, next to the riverside are six pavilions made of green granite and including landing bridges.On the first terrace, are designs of giants and monkeys encircling the central prang, along with images of other Thai mythological creatures. The second terrace has an exquisite pavilion, with four statues showing events in the life of Buddha. Near the smaller prangs is an Ordination Hall with an important Buddha statue placed by King Rama II. The third terrace offers a view of the river and the surrounding area. It is possible to climb up the terraces and have good views of the Chao Phraya River and Bangkok across it. The Emerald BuddhaAfter the Emerald Buddha was brought from Laos and before it was put in the new Grand Palace across the river, it was kept within Wat Arun. This event was key in the founding of the actual Chakri dynasty.Monetary FameWat Arun is engraved on the inner part of the ten baht coin, the highest value coin in the actual Thai monetary system and the only one made of two different metals; on its other side is the king. However, this coin is a popular commemoration media and many of them feature engravings related to various events instead of Wat Arun.On Urban ArchaeologyWatching the magnificent temple, something kept bothering me. Most of modern Bangkok is east of Wat Arun. Since when dawn temples are on the west side of a site? Wouldn’t "Sunset Temple" be a better name for it? That’s a good example of the effect of time on even the most ambitious enterprises. When Wat Arun was built, even Thonburi was an insignificant town. Then, in 1768, King Taksin made it his capital and Wat Arun was really at its very east, making a perfect Dawn Temple. Later, in 1782, the capital was transferred to the other bank of the Chao Phraya River and Bangkok was born; all of the sudden, the splendid sight at dawn became a glorious sunset scene.
The Santa Cruz Cathedral does not appear in most lists of Bangkok’s main attractions; yet, in its humble way, it illuminates a seldom known – but important – part of Thai history in the last centuries, a part which almost resulted into the transformation of this culture into a Christian one. Moreover, its white cross atop an earth-red dome is a prominent landmark along the Chao Phraya riverside.LocationLocated near the Memorial Bridge, Wat Prayoon and Wat Kalayanamit and at walking distance from Wat Arun, this cathedral enjoys a key spot in Thonburi and is not far away from several central areas of Bangkok.Christianity in ThailandThe Catholic Church in Thailand has a long history. During the 16th century, Portuguese and Dutch traders created commercial contacts with Siam. In 1516, Portugal signed a treaty with Thailand to supply firearms and munitions. After a few failures to introduce Christianity, several Portuguese ships landed in Siam in 1553, and three hundred soldiers entered the service of the Siamese king by his request. Next year two Dominicans joined the soldiers as chaplains and established three parishes at Ayutthaya with some fifteen hundred converted Siamese. However, persecutions and murders stopped Christianity’s advance. In 1567, Portuguese friars established the Catholic Church in Ayutthaya. In 1662, Siam was made a Vicariate Apostolic by Pope Alexander VII and soon after the kingdom gave shelter to several hundred Annamite and Japanese Christians who had been persecuted in their countries.After the Dutch forced on Siam a treaty granting them extraterritorial rights, King Narai turned to France in 1664 for assistance. The last constructed fortifications, built a new palace at Lopburi, and engaged in education and medicine. Moreover, they brought the first printing press into the country. Reports were brought to King Louis XIV claiming that King Narai may convert to Christianity.On 10 December 1685, King Narai signed a treaty with France, allowing Catholic missionaries to preach the Gospel, exempted Siamese Catholics from work on Sunday, and appointed a special mandarin to settle disputes between Christians and others. However, when King Narai was dying, General Phetracha killed the designated heir, as well as Phaulkon - a Christian Greek that recommended to King Narai to bring the French – and a number of missionaries. The designated heir had been Christian, and thus the Kingdom of Siam remained mainly Buddhist.Phetracha became the new king (1688-93), expelled the remaining foreigners and a long period of Siamese isolation from the world began. Siamese Christians experienced a long period of persecutions during the 18th century, despite a favorable attitude towards them by the Siamese kings of the period. After the destruction of Ayutthaya in 1767, King Taksin moved his capital to Thonburi, on the western bank of the Chao Phraya River. Portuguese military support, including the supply of cannon and muskets, contributed significantly to King Taksin's army success to drive the Burmese out of the kingdom.In recognition, King Taksin granted the Portuguese a plot of land to build a wooden church in an area called Kudi Jeen within Thonburi. Descendants of the early Portuguese traders built the first Santa Cruz Church in 1770 on that plot; thus, the church is sometimes called Wat Kudi Jeen.Only in the 19th century, the missions entered a new flourishing period. Napoleon III renewed the French alliance with Siam and in 1856, King Mongkut signed a political-commercial treaty with France, by which the privileges granted to the Catholics missionaries by King Narai were renewed. Two NamesAs often happens with foreign structures in Thailand, the cathedral has two names. In Thai is known as "Wat Kuti Jiin," after the name given to the Portuguese settlers: "Farang Kuti Jiin" means "Westerners at the Chinese shrine." The strange name is explained by the fact that King Taksin dictated that the Chinese group who migrated from Ayutthaya settle down around the area of Wat Kalayanamit while the Portuguese people would settle nearby along the bank of the Chao Phraya River. The other name, "Santa Cruz" is Portuguese and means "Holy Cross." Timing the VisitThe church and the inner courtyard can be visited during the weekends. The outer parts can be accessed also during the week. The BuildingThe church was constructed several times; the main such events happened in 1816 and in 1913. The last was work of two renowned Italian architects Annibale Rigotti and Mario Tamagno. As a consequence of that, it displays an Italian style rather than a Portuguese one.The Santa Cruz Pier on the Chao Phraya River gives access to the inner courtyard, where a crucifix is in one corner and a statue of the Virgin Mary is within a garden in the other corner. The church structure is of light colour with reddish corners and is topped by a domed belfry. Stained glass windows featuring with biblical images decorate the sidewalls. Related sites and structures are a little cemetery and the convent, which hosts a school.HeritageAs in Macau, the Portuguese heritage here is not very obvious, at the time of my visit, banners with Bible verses were displayed on the outer walls of the temple. To my surprise, they were bilingual in Thai and English, not a word of Portuguese could be spotted in the site.
by SeenThat on January 1, 2009
Following a long restoration process, by the end of 2008 the sparkling white Wat Prayoon is with no doubt one of the most impressive temples in Bangkok, outside of the Grand Palace.Reaching Wat PrayoonThe temple can be reached by foot from the Thonburi side of the Memorial Bridge. If doing so, the temple would appear immediately after the bridge on the right side. Its chedis are a good reference point from the bridge and from the nearby Santa Cruz Church. It is open daily between 9 AM and 6 PM.The Price of a Free MealAfter having walked for most of the day, I left the Santa Cruz Church with an empty camera’s battery. I wouldn’t be able to photograph any other site. However, I knew I’ll be nearby the Memorial Bridge (my next destination) again and wasn’t thus too worried about the event until I saw Wat Prayoon’s chedis gracefully surrounding the cross of the Santa Cruz Church as if they were one temple. I needed that picture.There were neither coffee shops nor shopping malls in the area; recharging the battery in time seemed impossible. Looking around, I spotted an open shophouse, nothing was being sold there but it was open. Seizing the opportunity, I entered."Ha nati mei kap?" I asked the woman inside while pointing my battery at the nearest electricity outlet. She smiled, told me to wait and entered into the house.Soon, the whole family came out. The father told me to plug in the battery and invited me to a meal. The place didn’t look as a restaurant, though I couldn’t guess what else they could be selling. In any case, I had already stated I was there just for five minutes (ha nati) and thus I had an excellent excuse if something went wrong. I sat next to the father, while the other family members began bringing dishes to the table. Soon it overflowed with them. It was a typical Thai meal – sticky rice at its center with many dips – though some of the sweet desserts were unknown to me. They did their best – in Thai – to explain the food. My atrocious mispronunciation of Thai tones kept everybody happy, including me, and soon I discovered that almost an hour had passed. I thanked them and while plugging the battery inside the camera I casually asked how much should I pay for everything. I would have agreed to almost any sum for such a homey experience."Nothing," said the father with a genuine smile. Again, Thai kindness left me speechless.The TempleThe impressive white chedi is the first glimpse of Wat Prayoon a visitor would see; its similarity to those in Ayutthaya is striking. As such it is the biggest in Bangkok, but not the first. King Rama II attempted to build one but it collapsed; on its ruins the impressive Golden Mount was later constructed. His successor, King Rama III managed to complete Wat Prayoon in the early 19th century; it is said the temple was conceived by the king as he watched wax dripping from candles. As of the end of 2008, the chedi displays its original splendour following extensive restoration works.Next to appear are two turtle statues guarding the entrance. Beyond them, the temple includes a mound surrounded by a pool, spirit houses, various shrines and the chedis. The pool is filled with turtles of different species; fruits for them are sold at a nearby stall and visitors are encouraged to feed the turtles with them. The local belief is feeding them leads to special Buddhist merit.Nearby AttractionsAlmost bordering with Wat Prayoon is the Santa Cruz Cathedral, which is also reviewed in this journal. A bit to the north is Wat Kalayanamit, home to the largest bronze bell in Thailand. The nearby Memorial Bridge offers one of the best views over the Chao Phraya River and access to the area just south of Chinatown.
©Travelocity.com LP 2000-2009