North of the Main Island
Name: Wat Borommawong
Background: This temple is located near the present-day elephant camp. It originally went by the name of Wat Taley Ya, which was the name of the neighborhood. King Maha Thammaracha (1569-1590) ordered that the older elephant camp be moved to this new site after the city was first defeated by the Burmese. In the later war of 1767, the temple was fired upon by the Burmese, but they did not destroy this temple. Once the city finally fell to the Burmese the temple was abandoned for over a century. A few monks lived here during the Rattanakosin period, but the temple wasn’t fully revitalized until a wealthy citizen donated money for its repair (Somjet Khromphraya Bamrab Prorapak). It was restored as a royal temple during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (1868-1910) who gave the temple its present name.
Name: Wat Chang Yai
Background: This temple’s name refers to large elephants. On the walls are paintings that date to the late Ayutthaya period. Restorations were later made to these painting during the Rattanakosin period.
Name: Wat Chao Yaa
Background: Wat Chao Yaa was established in the early Ayutthaya period, although many new additions were made over the years. A modern street now splits this temple into two parts. On the east side are several chedis and an old wiharn. On the east side is a two story building and a bell tower, which were built in the late Ayutthaya period. The two story building resembles royal residential quarters that are found also at Wat Kudi Dao and Wat Khun Muang Chai. Kings and princes sometimes lived in this style of building while overseeing construction and renovation projects.
Name: Wat Cheong Tha (Wat Teen Tha)
Background: It is not clear when this temple was originally established or who built it. Some sources date its construction to 1357. This temple was located along an important trading center. There was once a royal silk warehouse and some floating markets nearby. It was also called Wat Teen Tha due to its location near an old dock on the north end of Klong Tho (Wat Buddhaisawan is located at the opposite southern end of the same canal). It was renovated by Phraya Kosa Pan in the time of King Narai (1656-1688), and later by King Borommakot (1733-1758). According to one legend, this temple was made by a wealthy man after his daughter eloped against his will. He planned on giving this land to her for a bridal home, but since she never returned it became a temple site instead. Another theory was that it was named after a grassy clearing used to feed palace elephants and horses. Wat Cheong Tha is also noted as the site where Phraya Tak Sin served as a novice monk before leading Siam to victory after the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767. In more modern times this temple has doubled as a school.
This is a wonderful temple for a visit, but surprisingly little known by tourists. It has many hidden pleasures. There are a number of Khmer-style prangs; some of which still showcase several standing Buddha images. If you look closely at the southern base of the central prang there is a hole in which you can walk inside and view the maze-like construction of its architecture. Don’t miss the wonderful murals inside viharn by the riverside (Klong Muang, the old Lopburi River). The paint is slowly peeling away, so they might not last much longer. Recently, this temple has promoted a special sauna with Thai herbs and lessons in Thai massage.
Name: Wat Chongklom
Background: This temple is located in the Klong Sa Bua area. Records explain that changes were made to this temple during the reign of King Narai (1656-1688), which included the construction of an ubosot. It is mentioned that the head monk of this temple, Phra Thamma Sala Thean, gave something important to King Phetracha here. Yet, whatever the actual object was remains unknown. This temple was restored during the Rattanakosin period. Pottery and tools were discovered at this site during that time.
Name: Wat Gan Sa Bua
Background: Work in Progress
Name: Wat Hassadavas
Background: Records show that this temple served as site of an armistice treaty between Burma and Siam. King Chakkraphat (1548-1569) signed this agreement and gained short reprieve from the White Elephant War, but Burma continued to fight afterward. Once King Chakkraphat’s died Ayutthaya was made into a vassal state. It wasn’t until King Naresuan (1590-1605) that Siam regained its independence once again. Wat Hassadavas was built during the early Ayutthaya period. Its name refers to elephant statues that once existed around the main chedi in the Sukhothai-style. Excavations at this temple turned up pottery and several Buddha images. It has been restored a number of times, but not much of it is remaining today.
Name: Wat Intaram
Background: Work in Progress
Name: Wat Jian (on Ko Loi)
Background: Work in Progress
Name: Wat Kae (on Ko Loi)
Background: This active temple is a surprising find on this seldom visited island. Ko Loi is located just north of the Hua Ror market, but few tourists ever visit it. No motor vehicles or roads exist on this small island, but a cement walking path has been partially installed in recent years. Nevertheless, Wat Kae is best to enter via boat. It has a clear Chinese influence, most likely dating to the revitalized rice trade during the reign of King Mongkut (1851-1868). The monastery is well taken care of by a community of monks. It has many interesting mythological statues such as Rahu eating the sun and arious Hindi and Chinese deities. I especially enjoy the tall bell tower with naga serpents slithering down the hand rails. Wat Kae is worth a diversion.
Name: Wat Kampang
Background: This temple ruin is located on the western side of the Klong Sa Bua loop. It is just slightly north of Wat Na Phra Meru, however it is very difficult to find. It is easier to locate when approached from the cement walking path beside the canal. I first saw the temple during flood season via kayak. It took me months to relocate it by land, because jungle often encompasses it. I couldn’t track down any history about this monastery, and it took seven people in the neighborhood to come up with its proper name. I estimate that is was built during the middle Ayutthaya period given its architectural styles. There isn’t much left of Wat Kampang. There is a high alter where a Buddha image sits in meditation on a lotus. The alter looks very thin since most of the base has eroded away, but half of Buddha’s head is still intact. It looks toward the water, which is also an eastern alignment. Closer to the canal, a small bell-shaped chedi with a lotus peeks out from hiding. A large hole has been punctured in one side by looters. There is a large amount of bricks in the area, indicating the former boundaries. However, there appear to have been little excavation. A family wrapped the Buddha image and single chedi with yellow cloth shortly after my visit.
Name: Wat Khae
Background: Wat Khae was most likely constructed during the early Ayutthaya period. Many additions were added in the middle period as well. One of its chedis is designed in the Lanna style, similar to one found in Lamphun. Perhaps this is because people from the Lanna kingdom lived at this site during the Prasat Thong Dynasty. Excavations at this site revealed Buddha images, tools made from stone and metal, and pottery from Sukhothai, China, Japan, and Vietnam.
Tips: It is confusing to get to this off-the-beaten-track temple. It is located by Klong Bang Khoad (also called Klong Hua Ror). You may need somebody to provide directions. However, this surprisingly large temple could be worthwhile for anthropologists and ruin enthusiasts. The style is unique to this area; several chedis are thin, tall, and circular in design. Some have high and flat bases without staircases (almost like some Pre-Ayutthaya designs). It is highly unlikely to find another tourist on site and the location by the Hua Ror canal makes for a nice quiet picnic stop.
Name: Wat Kanum Yuan
Background: Work in Progress
Name: Wat Khut Tharam
Background: This temple is located in the Klong Sa Bua area. It was built during the reign of King Suriyamarin (1758-1767), who was the final king to rule in Ayutthaya. This late construction date makes it one of the last temples founded before the fall of the city.
Name: Wat Ko Chong Lom
Background: This temple is located on a very small island above Ko Loi. It has no roads or motor vehicles, and even electricity was a recent arrival. Nevertheless, there is a small community of fishers and boat operators on Ko Chong Lom. There is one Chinese and one Thai temple available to service religious needs. Wat Ko Chong Lom isn’t much more than an outdoor shrine with several Buddha images. There aren’t any monks residing on the premises. This temple survives as an example of how extensive temple construction remains in Ayutthaya. The history and foundation dates are unknown to me.
Name: Wat Kok Phraya
Background: This temple was built in the Klong Sa Bua district during the early Ayutthaya period. It has one of the most horrific histories of any temple in Ayutthaya. Some locals feel that it is still very haunted. Wat Kok Phraya was where many members of the royal family were punished and executed. King Ramesuan (1369-1370 & 1388-1395) had the recently appointed King Thong Chan executed here at the start of his second reign. The usurper Khun Worawongsa and queen regent Sudachan had the eleven year old King Yot Fa killed here in 1548. The eldest son of King Prasat Thong, Prince Chai, was killed here in 1656 due to conflicts over the claiming of the throne. King Phetracha had the claimant to the throne, Mom Pi, put to death here in 1688 by bludgeoning with a sandalwood club. A significant number of family members were also killed during the latter Ban Phlu Luang Dynasty years, which would become Ayutthaya’s last.
Name: Wat Kok Phrayaram
Background: This temple is located near Wat Phu Khao Tong. It was built in the early Ayutthaya period. One theory is that it was used to bury some members of the royal family. However, some researchers believe that this temple has been wrongly named. It could be mistaken for the Kok Phraya temple located in the Klong Sa Bua district (near Wat Hassadavas). The remains of this ruin are almost totally flat with the ground. At one time it the temple boundaries must have been very large, but little exists today other than its foundation and some short stubs of pillars. The curious can find it on route to Wat Phu Khao Thong. Turn north at the King Naresuan monument. It is located near the small forest down that road.
Name: Wat Kudi Thong
Background: This active temple is located on the northern side of Klong Muang. It sits back a distance from the canal, so it is easy to overlook. I first saw it during the flood season. I was paddling a boat down the street and noticed a large mound that looked out of place. I resolved to go back there for a closer look after the flood had subsided. This monastery clearly dates back to the Ayutthaya period, but it is uncertain just how old it is. There are the remains of an arched gate and some temple walls directly next to the road. A small bell-shaped chedi is visible from the street as well. The central building for modern worship is perched much higher at the top of a staircase. My impression is that it may be located on top of an older site that had collapsed long ago. Behind the active monastery, there is a large ruin encased by a thick jungle. It is fenced off, so people can’t enter. This is a wise precaution, since some large holes have been punctured into the monument by looters. However, I could still view a large bell-shaped chedi tower (middle Ayutthaya period style). It looked like there could have been several other structures hiding in the jungle. The ruin had very high walls that ran completely around it. I do not know if this temple ever had a proper excavation, but it is massive enough that it could reveal many surprises.
Name: Wat Kwid
Background: This ruin is so heavily eroded that it is comprised of only a lose mount of dirt where a Buddha image once stood. It is enough to know that it was in a meditative sitting pose. I could only find traces of an arm and part of leg. Bricks were scattered everywhere, but it was possible to get an idea of where the boundaries of this monastery once stood. I spotted a chunk of a wall and some stucco designs. This ruin is found on a small road on the eastern side of the Klong Sa Bua route. It would have been easy to pass by without noticing, except that some young children flagged me down on my bicycle. They promised to lead me to this ruin if I gave them some candy. I was surprised when they informed me about the correct name. I have no clue about its foundation date or its history.
Name: Wat Mae Nang Pleum
Background: There is evidence that Wat Mae Nang Pleum was constructed prior to the establishment of the Ayutthaya kingdom, and many scholars date it further back to the Lopburi period. However, there aren’t any records recording its exact date of foundation. This temple is active and the courtyard is well kept. Many Thai tourists flock to see the Buddha image in this temple’s wiharn for good luck. If a wish comes true they will return with offerings of boiled eggs and flowers. In the ubosot next door there is also a Buddha image. Legend has it that a disgruntled Thai man once attempted suicide by hanging himself from the ear of this image, causing it to be break off. It was restored during the Rattanakosin period.
Tips: This temple is worth a visit. The main attraction is its large bell-shaped chedi, which is encircled by some very well preserved Khmer-style lions. There is also an interesting wiharn that was influenced by Chinese architectural style. The ubosot next door has some old wood carvings to see, but much of its woodcraft has now been relocated to the Chao Sam Phraya Museum.
Name: Wat Mahakok
Background: Work in Progress. Near Wat Sam Wiharn
Name: Wat Mondrop
Background: This temple can be seen from the Hua Ror market. It has some interesting Buddha images and wooden buildings. However, I can never get a full view of it. Everytime I get close packs of dogs chase me away. I seldom get more than ten minutes before I see groups of canine racing towards me. One time I had to literally jump into my boat from the dock. These dogs try to bite, too. Maybe there is something cool to see at Wat Mondrop, but for now I am content seeing it from the opposite side of the river.
Name: Wat Na Phra Meru (als called Wat Na Phra Men)
Location: Off the Main Island, Northern Side
Fee: 30 THB for Westerners
Background: Legend has it that this temple was developed in 1503 by Phra Ong Indra during the reign of King Ramathibodhi II (1491-1529). The name suggests that this was a royal cremation site; possibly even used for a king. Royal Chronicles speak of important events here. King Maha Chakkraphat (1548-1569) signed a peace treaty with the Burmese king at this temple. Later, in 1760, the Burmese used this monastery during one of its invasions to fire canons at the royal palace. The Burmese king was severely wounded by one of his own canon’s burst and later died on his way home. The two Buddha images at this monastery are very old. The golden Buddha image in the main wiharn (6 meter high, 4.4 meters in width), with its decorative crown, is in a style associated with King Prasat Thong (1629-1656). The second Buddha image, carved out of green stone was originally located at Wat Mahatat and later transported. Wat Na Phra Meru is perhaps the only temples to avoid total destruction by the Burmese. However, the active temple seen today is the result of numerous renovations. King Boromkot (1733-1758) made a series of repairs as did also King Rama III (1824-1851). Many locals have told me that some old murals were covered over with white paint during a more recent restoration.
Tips: The admission price is far too expensive for this site. Although this temple has two amazing Buddha images and a nicely carved wooden gable, it hardly justifies the steep price gouging. If you have extra money to spare than give it a try. Otherwise, pass it up.
Name: Wat Pra Dong
Background: This ruin is located just south of Wat Kwid. Both are in their final stages of existence. Wat Pra Dong is so heavily eroded that it looks as if the Fine Arts Department has filled in the hollowed chedi with modern bricks to prevent it from collapsing. Part of its spire rests on the ground below. A lot of shrubs cover the area, but it is still possible to see the outline of some type of alter. Surprisingly, there is a lot of laterite around this site. This building material is much less common along the Klong Sa Bua loop. The neighborhood community has added a few touches. Strans of yellow cloth are wrapped around both the chedi and alter. Somebody has placed a Buddha statue at the base. There are signs of offerings leftover. I have no clue about its history or foundation date. It could be difficult to find Wat Pra Dong. It is located down a small unmarked road.
Name: Wat Phra Ngam
Background: This temple was surrounded by small canals in the Klong Sa Bua district. Its main chedi was constructed during the early Ayutthaya period. It functioned as a temple until the last of the Ayutthaya period. A large number of artifacts were discovered at this site. Objects included Buddha images, statues of Naga and other mythological figures, and items from Sukhothai. Pottery was also found from China, Japan, and Vietnam.
Name: Wat Phranom Yong
Background: This temple was built during the reign of King Narai (1656-1688). A wet nurse who worked in the royal palace once owned this land. Her name was Yong and the temple was named after her. This temple was restored by King Chulalongkorn (1868-1910). The highlight is a large reclining Buddha image. It has been painted in an interesting style.
Name: Wat Phraya Man
Background: The date that this large temple was founded is unknown. However, it was restored and made into a royal temple by King Phetracha (1688-1703). It remained a royal temple until the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767. Many valuable artifacts were found at this site: Buddha images, a cauldron for smelting metals, and a large variety of Chinese pottery.
Name: Wat Phrom Niwet
Background: Work in Progress
Name: Wat Phu Khao Tong (Chedi Phu Khao Tong)
Location: Off the Main Island, Northwestern Side
Background: The history of this chedi reflects a tug-of-war struggle between Thailand and Burma. The temple was originally built by King Ramesuan during his second reign (1388-1395). The Burmese build a Mon-style tower over it in 1569 to celebrate its victory over Siam. Before this monument could be properly completed, Thailand retook Ayutthaya. King Naresuan (1590-1605) decided to add the crowning touch of a Thai-style chedi on top of the Mon-style base to celebrate his victory. However, some reports claim that this late construction was actually finished much later by King Prasat Thong (1629-1656). Other sources claim that it was King Boromkot (1733-1758) who added the final touch, but this was perhaps just a renovation. This temple was established near a major battle site. A Buddhist monk supervised the digging of a large canal (Klong Mahanak) nearby to defend the city from Burmese boats. This monk left priesthood to prepare Thai men for the siege, but his defensive moat proved unsuccessful in the end. The canal was named after this monk. Wat Phu Khao Thong was originally accessible by a series of canals, but unfortunately they have been covered over today.
This pyramidal, Mon-style, chedi is tied with Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon as the largest standing building in Ayutthya. It really should be on anyone’s schedule as a site not to miss. Try to time your visit with the sunset or the sunrise, because the view can be breathtaking sometimes. There is a tunnel at the top of the chedi that leads to a hidden alter. If you’re lucky enough to find it open, don’t forget to crawl inside for a closer look. When you visit this massive chedi make sure to see the adjacent temple as well. There is an active temple build on the remains of an ancient ruin. The old pillars can still be seen. The active monastery has a nice Buddha footprint, which is covered with gold leaf. Underneath this Buddha footprint is a hidden alter. You must walk through the tiger-protected staircase to enter it.
Name: Wat Po
Background: I can find absolutely zero information about this site. It is presently being excavated, and it looks like some looting is being done as well. There are still giant fig trees growing over chedis. It has two primary buildings. One looks like it may have been a two story structure like a residential hall. I would guess middle to late period, but I can’t be sure without more research done about this obscure site.
Tips: This temple is nearly possibly to find without a tour guide. Give it a miss unless you really want to see something that few tourists know about.
Name: Wat Rang
Background: I have only seen this temple once. It is located on somebody’s private property, so viewing it is difficult. I stumbled across it only by accident. I was kayaking during flood season and got semi-lost. I could see part of this ruin from a distance, but forgot to bring my camera that day. It is too bad because I may never get a second chance. I can’t recall much worth seeing anyway. It is in the vicinity of Wat Kwid and Wat Pra Dong, which are also heavily eroded. This area near Klong Sa Bua seems to flood often.
Name: Wat Sala Poon
Background: It is unclear when this temple was established, but it is widely noted for precious artwork dating back to the late Ayutthaya period. There is a finely-detailed Tripitaka cabinet, which was hand-carved out of wood by a master craftsman. This artifact was designed to house sacred texts. Sadly, it was in a state of severe disrepair when Thai writer, Suthon Sukphisit, finally located it. The Tripitaka had rotted away while it lay hidden to avoid theft. The artifact was registered with the Fine Arts Department as a national heritage artifact, which led to debate on where it should be stored (the temple or a museum). There is also a revered Buddha image at this temple, which robbers have attempted to steal before. For this reason, the original artifacts are not displayed. As an interesting side note: Wat Sala Poon once served as a school in Ayutthaya. The former Prime Minister of Thailand, Pridi Banomyong, studied there as a child.
Name: Wat Sapan Klew
Background: This temple is located by the technical school on Ko Loi. You can see it from the water, but there isn’t a proper place to dock. Closer views can only be obtained by getting to the tech college first. You can walk along the wall to reach the ruin. The only structure left is a large bell tower. It is still in worthwhile shape. One interesting point is that thousands of roof tile were located all over the place. The ruin had clay shingles everywhere. Trees were literally growing over making a wall. I got chased by a few packs of dogs, but found the tower worth my effort to see it. The students at the school told me that a bridge or causeway was once located here during the late Ayutthaya period. I am not sure if that is correct.
Name: Wat Sam Wiharn
Background: The date of this temple’s establishment is unknown, but there is an active monastery with artifacts from the middle period. The enormous 21 meter long reclining Buddha was built around 600 years ago. King Chakkraphat (1548-1569) rested his army at this site on route to fight the Burmese. The wiharn protecting this image had been totally destroyed by natural elements over the years and there are still giant cracks in its walls. A tin roof serves in place for the time being until enough money has been saved for renovation.
Tips: The highlight of this temple is a 600-year-old reclining Buddha image. This temple is conveniently located near Wat Mae Nang Pleum on route to the elephant village. It is a worthwhile stop if your in the area.
Name: Wat Sri Po
Background: This temple was built in 1749 during the reign of King Borommakot (1733-1758). A stone tablet gives evidence that Phrom Kanyaram was the original builder. This temple was surrounded by fields at that time, and this area was once used as a battlefield between Siamese and Burmese troops. In the 1930s, the government merged Wat Sri Po and Wat Kanyaram into one temple.
Name: Wat Takrai
Background: This temple is located in the Klong Sa Bua district. Its name appears in Thai literature (Khun Chang and Khun Pan). Excavations at this site revealed a kiln and furnace along with various tools and pottery fragments. There is evidence that the land was made higher, perhaps to avoid seasonal flooding. This temple was restored by both King Mongkut and King Chulalongkorn during the Chakri Dynasty.
Name: Wat Tong Pu
Background: This active temple is seldom visited by tourists, but a nice place to stop on a boat ride. It is located on the northern land directly across from Ko Chong Lom. Its highlights are a 600-year-old Buddha image and a mondrop with a Buddha footprint. This temple was very probably among Chinese rice traders and many funeral chedis mark their passing. Some of them have very interesting shapes and patterns with ceramic tile. Wat Tong Pu also has an interesting bell tower that looks well-aged. This monastery has a nice dock for those who want to see it.
Name: Wat Toom
Background: This active temple was built during the middle Ayutthaya period, but the exact date is unknown. A former monk, who ordained at this temple, told me that Wat Toom was used to make an oath of allegiance to King Narasuen. Soldiers and nobility drank water in a ceremony to show loyalty after independence was won from the Burmese. The royal family took interest in this temple after the fall of Ayutthaya. King Rama I (1782-1809) restored it as an active temple. It was also made into a royal temple during the reign of King Mongkut (1851-1868). There is a very unusual one-of-a-kind chedi located at this site, which was added during later years. The temple also has a large elephant statue with three heads (Chang Erawan), which alludes to ancient Brahmin beliefs. However, the most famous item at this site is a Buddha image known as “Pho Tong Suk”. This Buddha image has a crown that can be opened up. Holy water forms mysterious inside Buddha’s head. Some Thai citizens come from miles away to drink this substance for its healing properties. Perhaps there is a connection with this modern practice and the oath of allegiance made to King Naresuan.
Name: Wat Wong Khong
Background: This active monastery is located next to the bridge that crosses Klong Muang north of Wat Mahatat. In the Ayutthaya period this street used to be a canal (Klong Pratu Khao Pluak). A ferry crossing once connected Wat Wong Khong to the main island as well. This temple suffers from floods very often. However, two bell-shaped chedis survive next to the road. They have been darkened by car exhaust over the years. There is an interesting pagoda at this temple, but tourists will find this temple more important as a landmark for when to turn.
Ayutthaya Temples: West of Main Island
The area west of the main island has fewer temples than any other geographic zone. One reason for this may be the local belief that this is the direction for death. Ghosts are said to gravitate toward the west. Therefore, students have warned me to never risk sleeping with my head pointing in this direction. It is perhaps appropriate to associate the west side of Ayutthaya with death, since these temples are associated with war atrocities. Burma caused much destruction here during invasions. One can still find mysterious mounds of unexcavated ruins hiding in rice fields across this area. Nevertheless, population has starkly grown in the west during recent times. There are now large Buddhist and Muslim communities.
Name: Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Fee: 30 THB
Background: Wat Chaiwatthanaram was built in the 1630 by King Prasat Thong. It is one of the grandest sites in Ayutthaya. This temple is unique for this city in that its architectural design is symmetrical. This feat was accomplished by planning Wat Chaiwatthanaram in advance and fully constructing it all at one time. King Prasat Thong built this temple in reference to the early Ayutthaya period, in which Khmer-influenced prangs dominated. Some reports hint that King Prasat Thong renewed attempts to subdue Angkor as a vassal state (gaining new supplies of artisans and slave laborers), while others suggest that he merely sent architects to study Khmer temple design. Whatever the relationship, King Prasat Thong had Wat Chaiwatthanaram built to demonstrate his power as a king and to perhaps quell uprising over his usurpation of the throne – this rebellion was particularly strong among Japanese mercenaries of the court. King Prasat Thong also renovated a number of smaller temples during his 27-year reign.
There are a number of theories about why Wat Chaiwatthanaram was built in the west. One theory is that the spot was the location of King Prasat Thong’s former home, so Wat Chaiwatthanaram was constructed there to make merit for his mother – or possibly stepmother. Bang Pa-In Palace was established in honor of a second maternal figure, which causes debate as to who King Prasat Thong’s mother actual was. Another theory is that King Prasat Thong had a childhood dream in which a golden tower was buried in an anthill at this location. When the anthill was later excavated it proved the dream true. A final theory is that Wat Chaiwatthanaram was established under the religious belief that it would ward off total destruction of the city at the end of the Buddhist millennial year. Buddhist monks predicted the annihilation of Ayutthaya at the millennium unless enough merit had been accumulated by then, so King Prasat Thong launched a massive campaign to build and renovate temples across the city. Whatever the reason behind its construction, the return of the Khmer-style Prang marked a new era of architecture.
Like other temples in the west, Wat Chaiwatthanaram ultimately felt the brunt of war. The Burmese besieged it in 1767 and used it as an army camp while staging attacks on the main island. Excavations revealed evidence of damage by cannon balls, which included cannon fragments. After 1767, Wat Chaiwatthanaram was abandoned and looted for decades afterward.
The Fine Arts Department renovated Wat Chaiwatthanaram between 1987 and 1992. It remains one of the most breathtaking tourist sites today. Wat Chaiwatthanaram is most beautiful when seen at sunset. It is also nice to see when lit up in the evening for night tours and dinner boats. Boats can easily dock during daytime as well. Thai tourists should take special note that Queen Sirikit’s Tumnak Siriyalai Palace is located directly across the river from this temple. Wat Chaiwatthanaram is well worth the admission price. One warning though: Take heed before climbing the staircase leading up the central Khmer-influenced prang. Many tourists find the 35 meter high monument frighteningly steep when descending back down.
Name: Wat Kasattrathiraj (also called Kasatra)
Background: There is no clear record of when this temple was originally built. A plaque outside the temple states that it existed at the time of the ancient Sukhothai Kingdom, but I can find no evidence to verify this claim. The same plaque also states that Wat Kasattrathiraj was founded during the 1650s, which places it near the reign of King Prasat Thong (1629-1656). This would make more sense, since King Prasat Thong is credited with constructing other Khmer-influenced prang in the west. Royal Chronicles suggest that this temple was used by the Burmese as a military camp during the reign of King Suriyamarin (1758-1767). The Burmese fired cannons across the river onto the island city – at the area around the rear palace. Wat Kasattrathiraj was totally destroyed in the process. It remained deserted for years after.
Prince Somdet Chaopa Kromakhun Issaranurak – conflictingly reported as being either King Rama I’s nephew or grandson – had this temple restored under its present name (one that suggests royal foundation). He also invited monks to reside at Wat Kasattrathiraj. This is why it has become a thriving monastery today. Under Prince Issaranurak’s direction, miniature bell-shaped chedis were added to the niches of the newly renovated central prang. In earlier periods these niches were more likely to have Buddha images. This active temple can be a nice stop on boat rides. Wat Kasattrathiraj is clean and well kept. Even the courtyard is tiled. However, this temple tends to flood during monsoon season. Many locals believe that it is located at the lowest point in the city, so they claim that it is always the first to get engulfed by water.
Name: Wat Klang (Wat Klong Takian)
Background: This temple is located at the mouth of Klong Takian, across from St Joseph church. It is referred to as Wat Klang on Phraya Ratchathanin’s map, but the locals tend to call it Wat Klong Takian instead. The history of this temple is unclear. It doesn’t appear on European maps, but the locals insist that it was built in the Ayutthaya period. They point to an old bell tower that has mostly crumbled down to nothing. The temple does have some interesting sites nevertheless. There is an unusual domed chedi on the eastern side of its main building. On the western side is a modern chedi with a life-sized doll of a woman enclosed inside of glass. This is the only example of this style in Ayutthaya, which makes one wonder why somebody wanted this woman’s image to be preserved so clearly. The gateway to this temple has two large guardian figures and a series of animals reflecting the Chinese zodiac signs. These animal statues make a good landmark when on route to Wat Chaiwatthanaram.
Name: Wat Krasai (also called Krachai)
Background: This temple was built in the Prakan district during the middle Ayutthaya period. Its main ubosot, now very eroded, was an important building during the last years of Ayutthaya. Wat Krasai was used as an army camp in 1767 like many other temples in the west (Wat Tao, Wat Surin, Wat Kasattrathiraj, etc.). Wat Krasai was greatly damaged during the final Burmese invasion. Excavations have yielded weapons such as swords, spears, lances, and bullets.
One fascinating element is how locals relate to Wat Krasai today. I have been informed by a number of residents that this temple is haunted by many ghosts, so one shouldn’t make visits. It is believed that some horrible unknown event took place near this site. I am even told that real estate development and road construction is not allowed anywhere near it. Yet, Wat Krasai can still be seen on the horizon, far from the highway, in total isolation. I went on a special excursion to visit Wat Krasai for this very reason and, indeed, there isn’t even a dirt road leading to this temple. The only way to reach it is to navigate around a rice field. Its remote location has lead to massive plundering. Large holes appear all over. A large trench has been dug inside the hallow chedi by someone searching for a crypt. The place is also heavily littered. Wat Krasai looks like it could topple over after another flood or two. Truthfully, Wat Krasai really did feel haunted and full of ghosts.
During this excursion I stumbled onto two mounds where temples once stood. Both temples are unexcavated, and I haven’t been able to track down their names. Likewise, my inquiries about historical events at Wat Krasai also yielded no new results. I do have a plausible theory though. The western area is known for its military history, especially battles that took place during the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767. Thousands of soldiers and civilians lost their lives. A morbid question that seldom gets asked is: How were the bodies of those killed disposed of? It is my belief that Wat Krasai might have served as a religious site of mass cremation and/or burial. Several students claim that, on the main island, many war casualties were disposed of in the Hua Laem area (northwest). Wat Krasai may have been used for a similar purpose. Of course, my belief is based on speculation and the folkloric beliefs of students. Maybe this temple is considered haunted just because it is in the west; the direction of death.
Name: Wat Lot Chong
Background: This temple was once one part of a ferry crossing that led to the Rear Palace (Wang Lang). Klong Klab once flowed nearby. There isn’t much at this monastery that has survived from the Ayutthaya period. It was renovated during the Rattanakosin period and reflects this style today. Tourists won’r find much to interest them at Wat Lot Chong, but the temples makes a good landmark on route to Wat Chaiwatthanaram.
Name: Wat Rang
Background: This abandoned temple is very difficult to find. It exists among rice fields near Wat Krasai. There isn’t any road that leads to it and a small forest surrounds it. Wat Rang is obscured from view in a small upraised hill. A spirit house is located nearby, which is marked by a single tree. I only stumbled across it by accident. A family raises ducks in this remote area. This temple in unexcavated. There is a large number of scattered bricks and a few limbs of leftover Buddha images. It is hard to guess what lies beneath this mound. I can’t track down any history about it.
Name: Wat Sanam Chai
Background: This temple is located near Wat Chaiwatthanaram. It is usually overlooked, but it is worth a diversion. The highlight is an ancient chedi that is built in the Mon style. The French map by Simon de La Loubere points out that a Mon community lived in this area. This chedi may provide evidence of this. The chedi overlooks the Chao Phraya River and it can be entered only on one side. A number of Buddha images can be seen. Wat Sanam Chai is now an active temple. Its main building is decorated with a number of plates. The locals told me that these plates came from China 300 years ago. I am not sure if this is true, but they are interesting to look at. It is possibly to see Wat Sanam Chai by boat, but there isn’t much of a docking area.
Name: Wat Takarong
Background: This temple’s name derives from the merging of two different temples (Wat Tha and Wat Karong). Like other temples in the west, this monastery is associated with military endeavors. It was used as an army camp twice. Siamese troops, under King Chakkraphat (1548-1569), stayed at Wat Takarong during the White Elephant War with the Burmese. The temple was also converted into an army camp during the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767. These dates imply that Wat Takarong existed in some form during the middle Ayutthaya periond, but the temple’s ubosot is believed to have been constructed during the late Ayutthaya period.
In recent years, during the Rattanakosin era, Wat Takarong has reemerged in popularity. Large groups of visitors travel here from Bangkok every weekend to listen to a highly revered abbot. The temple property is well manicured and landscaped. Some of its interesting landmarks include the smiling Buddha image in the ubosot, a large teak-wood sala, and circular towers that resemble the meditation buildings at Wat Chao Yaa. However, as odd as it may sound, this temple is especially known for its well-decorated bathrooms. Each stall comes equipped with its own fan. My students still talk about these bathrooms months afterward. This temple has a nice boat dock and can be easily visited along the Chao Phraya River.
Name: Wat Thammaram
Background: It is uncertain when this temple was originally constructed, but historical records first refer to it during the reign of King MahaThammaracha (1569- 1590). Like many of the temples located west of the main island, Wat Thammaram was used by the Burmese for its final assault on Ayutthaya. At least 30 Thai prisoners were executed here by public hanging and their bodies exhibited at a camp by the temple. Phraya Chakri was also imprisoned at this temple site by Burmese invaders. Wat Thammaram is noted for its bell tower and scripture hall. A painting was discovered at this temple which showed the ordination of Buddhist monks during the reign of King Borammakot (1733-1758). This temple is located shortly north of Wat Kasattrathiraj – directly across the Chao Phraya River from Chedi Suriyothai. It can easily be reached by boat.
Name: Wat Worachet Tepbamrung
Background: There tends to be much confusion between this monastery and one named “Worachet Tharam” on the main island. The Fine Arts Department has placed a plaque at this western site that claims King Ekathotsarot (1605-1610) established it in 1605 and dedicated it to his brother King Naresuan, who had recently passed away. The problem is that some resources provide the exact same information about the temple on the main island – which is west of the Grand Palace. Indeed, the Fine Arts Department posted a similar plaque at Wat Worachet Tharam as the one off the main island (perhaps covering both bases just in case). It is highly unlikely that King Ekathotsarot constructed two temples under the same name in the same year. So will the real Wat Worachet please stand up?
This issue is the source of academic debate. The Worachet on the main island showcases a large bell-shaped chedi, which is an architectural style common during King Ekathotsarot’s period. In contrast, the Worachet that is located off the island, in the west, has a Khmer-influenced prang. The question is raised: Why would King Ekathotsarot resurrect a Khmer-influenced prang? The most likely answer is that he didn’t. King Prasat Thong (1629-1656) is usually credited with reintroducing Khmer architectural forms into Ayutthaya. He also demonstrated the desire to construct monasteries in the west because it was near his old neighborhood. Some scholars believe that Wat Worachet Tepbamrung’s was built as a prototype before undertaking the massive endeavor of constructing Wat Chaiwattanaram. This explanation seems more likely.
What we do know about Wat Worachet Tepbamrung was that it was built for forest-sect monks, which explains its secluded location (a long bicycle ride away on the highway towards Sena). Records claim that this site once had a large Buddha image inside its wiharn (traces of which are still on display). It had residential quarters for monks (and still has a small living area for them). There once were copies of the Tripitaka and a chedi containing a valuable Buddha relic. There is also evidence suggesting that Worachet Tepbamrung underwent restoration in the late Ayutthaya period.
Dutch tourists may take special interest in this site, since it may have been the location of the infamous Picnic Incident. As the story goes, in 1636, a number of Dutch expatriates decided to enjoy a sunny picnic one December morn. Unfortunately, two of the Dutch men became very drunk and started making total fools of themselves. The rest of the group promptly excused themselves while the two lushes went for a stroll. On the way, the drunkards got into altercations with temple monks, invaded people’s homes, stole food, and eventually picked a fight with the heavily tattooed slaves of the prince – apparently they swiped away sabers and paddles and refused to give them back. In result, one of these Dutch men, Daniel Jacobsz, was immediately seized and the second, Joost Laurentsz, escaped by jumping screaming mad into the river. Both men, however, were eventually taken to the prison and sentenced to execution by elephant trampling. King Prasat Thong (1629-1656), who was never mistaken for a shiny happy person, had the two intoxicated Dutch men lashed to a pole in the hot sun while salivating elephants wandered around them chewing grass. Jeremias Van Vliet, the company director, wasted the next month trying to save their lives. Van Vliet called in every political trump card he could find and was ultimately forced to bow in humiliation to King Prasat Thong for their release. In the end, the much sobered and bodily detoxified Dutch men were freed, but Van Vliet was severely reprimanded by Dutch authorities for ceremoniously kissing up to a foreign king. The again, maybe all of this actually happened at the other Wat Worachet.