South of Main Island
Name: Wat Chetupol (Chao Kun Ku Takia)
Background: This former Buddhist temple (also known as Wat Tong Kung) is now part of a Muslim mosque. It was founded in the middle Ayutthaya period, but locals claim it is anywhere from 400-600 years old. There are many stories about how this temple became a mosque. As the legend goes, this temple was waged as part of a bet to settle a dispute between two magicians. The first one was a Buddhist monk who had supernatural powers. The second one was a Muslim mystic who went by the name of Muhammad. Some accounts say that this mystic came from Persia while others claim he originated in India. The two spiritual leaders pledged that the loser of this contest would convert to the other magician’s religion, and that the building would be awarded to the victor. There was a series of tests such as building a large monument out of chicken eggs, including strategically placed windows, without breaking or cracking one. However, it was Muhammad who won the contest in the end due to an innovative trick. He told the Buddhist monk to pick any coconut out of a nearby tree. When the fruit was selected and cracked open there was a live shrimp inside. The same trick was repeated later with a live fish. Afterwards, the territory became a Muslim site.
Surprisingly, there may be some evidence to support the legend mentioned above. In The Ship of Sulaiman a Persian diplomat wrote about how King Petracha (1688-1703) tore down a temple and replaced it with a mosque in honor of man named Aqa Muhammad (O’Kane 77). The story may have been embellished over the following decades. This temple/mosque was abandoned after the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767. King Chulalongkorn noticed this building while boating down Klong Takain and had it repaired as a place for Muslims. The body of Muhammad is said to be still entombed at this site. There is an octagonal shrine that marks his burial with a domed roof. As odd as it may sound, this shrine is very popular among local Thais. It is not uncommon for a Buddhist to visit this Muslim mystic’s final resting place and make a prayer for some wish to be actualized. If this request is granted than the Buddhist will usually make a donation of several goats.
Name: Wat Kaitiya
Background: This temple is located south of Klong Takian along the Chao Phraya River. It is promoted as a site of an ancient sunken ship. There are a number of tall wooden anchors and a museum of ceramics at this monastery. My students tell me that this temple was the location where elephants were loaded onto boats for transport. One of these boats supposedly capsized in the process. As the story goes, a monk had a reoccurring dream that a boat had sunk in the area. Eventually divers were able to relocate it. However, there is a different side to this story. A number of locals have told me that the story was made up to attract more visitors. It has worked to a degree. I have seen many Thai rubbing dust onto the anchors to predict winning lottery tickets.
Name: Wat Khun Phrom
Background: This temple is crucial for anyone who wants to tour the Klong Takian area. The ferry boat crossing allows both motorcycles and bicycles to board. It saves a lot of travel time. Wat Khun Phrom isn’t very interesting to look at in itself. Although I am told that it existed during the Ayutthaya period, most of this active monastery has a Rattanakosin design. Two sitting Buddha images mark the entrance to the ubosot. The gable of its ubosot has a multi-headed Erawan image. The crematory tower also has an interesting multi Erawan heads impaled on it spire.
Name: Wat Kok Chin Daram
Background: This Buddhist temple is located in a Muslim area. It is surrounded by Mosques along Klong Takian. It is not uncommon to hear Buddhist monks chanting at the same time Muslims call to prayer, which serves as an example of the multi-cultural harmony in this mixed religious neighborhood. This active temple is quite beautiful to behold. The design reflects the mirrored tile temples of the Rattanakosin period. There is a large stone tablet in which a Buddha image is carved into the taming Mara pose. Two wheel of dharma statues stand in front of the ubosot, which are panoramically enhanced by the tall minarets of Masjid Hidayatun Islam.
Name: Wat Kok Khamint
Background: This abandoned temple is very difficult to find. It is covered in heavy jungle growth. There is a small recycling factory nearby, and this is how a friend and I found this ruin. A group of three young Thai men were burning trash in a fire and drinking some energy drinks. We asked the workers if they knew about an unexcavated temple in this area. They were familiar with the site, so we persuaded them to show us. Two workers acted as our guides while one attended to the fire. They broke out large machetes and warned us about snakes. We hiked through some tall grass that was up to our chest while large thorny vines wrapped around our ankles tearing flesh. We made a lot of noise to scare away anything dangerous that may have been hiding; and some of it admittedly came in the form of cursing the thorny vines.
It took about twenty minutes, but we finally hacked a path to the ruin. It was so heavily covered with humid jungle brush that photographs were very difficult to take. Deep red bricks were scattered everywhere. The temple seemed to be oriented towards the east. I could not make out any monastery boundaries due to all the tall grass. However, two structures could be explored. One was the remains of some type of alter. The Buddha image had long since been removed, but there was evidence of a lotus pedestal and some feet and legs of a meditating Buddha image. There was also a heavily eroded chedi nearby. Its design is different than others in Ayutthaya. Looters had dug many holes and the base was scooped away where it met the ground. Somebody had even burrowed underground. There were some preserved stucco designs, but not many other distinguishing marks. This area tends to act as a flood plain during rainy season. This ruin may be destroyed if any more damage is made to it.
Name: Wat Mai (Wat Bang Kacha)
Background: This ancient temple is located across the Chao Phraya River from Wat Phanan Choeng, and a ferry boat connects the two places (bicycles allowed on board). The area served as an important battle site during the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767. The main courtyard was renovated in 2007, but there are many structures surviving from previous times. There is a large wall leftover from the ancient wiharn, which is tucked behind the modern construction. A white Mon-like chedi also exists at this site. It is crowned with the bell-shaped style, but its multiple-tiered bases are heavily redented at each level. Some stacks of Buddha pieces decorate the lower layers. An old ubosot is located in back, but is almost always closed. I am told that it encases a reclining Buddha image. Outside of this monastery there is hidden monument. It is buried in jungle and difficult to see. This late Ayutthaya period chedi has multiple redentations and at least one niche where a Buddha image once stood. There are remnants of lotus flowers around its spire. The exact history of this temple is unclear. It is often mistaken for the Bang Racha mentioned in the chronicles – a concept that has led to much historical confusion. The locals refer to this monastery as both Wat Mai and Wat Bang Kacha, although older residents seem to prefer the former name. I am told that some of these temple’s monks still make alms rounds by boat, but I have yet to see it.
Name: Wat Nang Kui
Background: This temple was built by a wealthy woman to make merit and it was named after her. The exact foundation date is unclear, but my students are under the impression that it was built in 1587. It has a large number of chedis and Khmer-style prangs that attest to its age. After the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767 it was abandoned. King Rama III had it heavily renovated. His repairs included the ubosot’s gable, the sema stones, and the reliquary towers. Wat Nang Kui has grown into one of the most interesting temples in the southern area. A Buddha image from the Dharavati period can be seen in mediation pose at the doorway to the ubosot. There are also a number of wooden artifacts leftover from older days. However, the highlight is a unique Buddha image with an exaggerated smile. The wooden image is referred to as “Marnvichai”. The story behind this image is that it was found floating in front of the temple on morning. Some of my students believe it was intentionally thrown into the river to prevent its theft by the Burmese. This is one other site at Wat Nang Kui that Thai visitors tend to love. In a separate building there is a wooden carving of a female tree spirit. Its creation took place after a large Takian tree was struck by lightening supposedly. The tree was then cut into three pieces. Two of them sit around this shrine, and the third piece is still intact. The female spirit was carved out of this stump and the roots remain intact below. This shrine is a popular spot for Thais to have their fortune told.
Name: Wat Phraya Kong
Background: This abandoned temple is located across the road from the Dominican Portuguese settlement. A display at the Ayutthaya Historical Study Center suggests that it predates the founding of Ayutthaya, but I am not sure why this assumption was made. This ruin is located on an upraised hill. Flooding is common in the area, so the temple often forms into a tiny island. I made many excursions to this site in the mistaken belief that it was the site of a Jesuit church. As the flood subsided I was able to approach from a better angle. The site is clearly Buddhist. I found the remains of a chedi spire and some leftover Buddha images (some made with terra cotta). There is also a large number of bricks and tile. I found pottery shards in a number of styles. It looks as if there has been some minor excavation. Somebody has dug a series of one meter deep holes. I am not sure if this was done by the Fine Arts Department or looters. This is one of the sites that could reveal great deal of history if a proper excavation was made. A number of trenches have been dug to the south of this site. It is not sure what function this served. It may have been for some agricultural purpose, but this area remains unused and overgrown with a forest today.
Name: Wat Phutthaisawan
Background: This temple is the location where King U-Thong stayed while the Grand Palace was being constructed. The main prang was build in 1352, perhaps making it the first Khmer-style prang constructed in Ayutthaya. Many new constructions and renovations were added throughout the Ayutthaya period. After the city fell to the Burmese in 1767, this temple was heavily plundered. King Taksin authorized this destruction in order to fund the building of a new capital and to finance armies for new wars against the Burmese.. Chinese were recruited to find gold and silver in hidden caches. It took three large boats to haul away the precious metals from Wat Phutthaisawan. King Chulaongkorn played an active role in renovating this temple during his reign. The Fine Arts Department continues to help with restoration even today.
This active monastery is well worth a visit. The highlight is a central prang that has been painted white. Inside the actual prang are two interesting Buddha footprints and a reclining Buddha image that hides in the back. There are galleries of Buddha images on all sides of the compound (a total of 108). A large number of paintins are preserved on the second floor of the former residential hall of a Supreme Patriarch. One mural depicts Thai monks on pilgrimage to Sri Lanka in 1753 and 1755. A beautiful reclining Buddha rests outside of the compound on the eastern side of the monastery. There are several ancient wells on this site. One local rurmor is that of these wells was an underground passage way that led to a temple on the other side of the Chao Phraya River.