Temples of Distinction
You don’t have to be especially religious to appreciate the amazing art and effort that goes into some of the more impressive structures dotted all over Thailand. Bangkok, not surprisingly, has plenty of examples of the art of the temple, or wat. Quite a few are well and truly on the well-worn tourist trail, such as Wat Arun and Wat Phra kaew, but there are a couple which might not be all that well known but are nonetheless worth a visit on a day out in the capital.
The most impressive is Wat Ratchanadda and Loha Prasat, officially located at 2 Maha Chai Road (opposite the Golden Temple) and open to visitors from 9:00am to 5:00pm every day.
Loha Prasat, or the metal pagoda, at Wat Ratchannada, is unique in Thai spiritual architecture. It is also the only structure of its kind in the world. Loha Prasat was modelled after a Sri Lankan temple which was also made of metal and existed 2,300 years ago.
Wat Ratchannada itself was built in 1846 on the orders of King Rama III in honour of a favoured royal niece, Princess Somanasvadhanavadee. The name Wat Ratchannada literally means temple of the royal niece.
The Prasat is arranged like five concentric square towers. The outer, middle and centre towers are topped with iron spires; the remaining two have walkways lined with Buddhist shrines.
Inside, on the ground floor, is a little maze-like, even though you’re always within sight of the outside. A quite large spiral staircase leads up to the central tower. It’s a stand-alone metal column with thick wooden steps. It ends on the roof of the fourth tower, but you are able to get off it at any time and explore each floor in turn.
A final stairway leads to the top of the temple where you can look at the 37 spires, each of which symbolises a single virtue needed to attain enlightenment.
The views of the surrounding areas of Bangkok are well worth the climb to the top.
For a temple with a completely different building element, a visit to Wat Benchamabophit, or simply Wat Bencha, is worth a detour. Situated on Rama V Road in the Dusit area, Wat Bencha is open from 8:00am until 5:30pm every day.
The wat has been dubbed ‘the marble temple’ because much of it was constructed using Carrera marble, specially imported from Italy. There is a quite large open space in front of the temple paved with natural stones, thereby offsetting the beauty of the Italian marble.
This pair, Wat Ratchannada and Wat Bencha, provide a strong contrast to what most people expect to see when they think of a Buddhist temple in Thailand.