Wat Thong Noppakhun, Bangkok

This time of year it can seem like Bangkok is crawling with tourists, yet it’s amazingly easy to find interesting places that nobody ever visits. Most people don’t cross the river to the ‘Thonburi side’ of Bangkok except to see Wat Arun, the ‘Temple of Dawn’ but there’s a lot more to see on the west bank, and a lot fewer people trying to see it.

Wat Thong Noppakhun
Funerary monuments and the ordination hall of Wat Thong Noppakhun in Bangkok’s Klong San area.

Klong San is just one small area of Thonburi, and it’s an interesting sample of ‘everyday’ Bangkok. The market at the cross-river ferry pier caters mostly to young office girls, with cheap fashion items and beauty boutiques. Beyond the market there are several temples and buildings worth a look, but my favorite is Wat Thong Noppakhun.

There’s very little information available about this temple, including its age. The well maintained ubosot (ordination hall) appears to be very old, probably pre-dating the founding of Bangkok, although the Chinese style of the wiharn (prayer hall) suggests that it was built, or rebuilt, in the era of King Rama II.

The small ubosot is one of the most unique in Bangkok. The sema stones (boundary markers defining the hallowed ground around the ordination hall) are encased in cylindrical columns. Just a small slot on either side reveals that the stones are inside.

The other unique feature of the ubosot are the windows. The stark white walls are pierced by deep oval windows protected by gold and lacquer shutters. The windows are ringed by carved wooden frames inlaid with colored mirrors. Inside are reportedly some quite fine murals featuring the white Siamese cat, but the ordination hall is rarely opened to visitors.

Several chedis (stupas or pagodas) surround the ubosot, some of them quite large. At the north side of the walled compound holding the ordination hall is a slightly larger wiharn (prayer hall). The Chinese porcelain decoration on the gable ends of the wiharn suggest that it was built during the reign of Rama II, when this style was very popular.

Inside the prayer hall are bronze panels depicting the life of the Buddha (the jakata). Outside, the windows and doors are framed with elaborate filigrees of plaster.

Outside the walled area holding the ubosot and wiharn, there is a large area of monks quarters (kuti) with a drum tower and a lovely residence for the abbot. To the east of the walls is a large paved area, to one side of which is a concrete replica of a Chinese junk with a rather sickly boh tree growing in its center. Curiously, a few yards from the rudder is a single plaster Chinese grave.

See my Wat Thong Noppakhun guide entry for more photos and detailed directions. Check the Klong San district map for more ideas about what to see in the area.

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