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Wat Dhammamongkon – A Unique Bangkok Temple off the Tourist Trail

Main Pagoda

Most tourists when they think of Bangkok, they think of a muddy old river (to quote “One Night in Bangkok”), gleaming golden temples, and red light areas.  All three attract plenty of tourists, and it doesn’t take long before you feel all templed out, being out in the heat, standing in queues, and avoiding common tourist scams.

This week I am going to tell you about a temple in Bangkok that is easy to get to, off the tourist trail, quiet, and has both interesting architecture and a fascinating history.  Enter stage left, Wat Dhammamongkon (also spelled Thammamongkon, Dhammamongkol and similar variations).

Temple entrance

Temple entrance

Wat Dhammamongkon

Wat Dhammamongkon is a fairly new Bangkok temple, having finished construction in 1993.  However, it has become the main temple for locals in the Phrakhanong district of Bangkok and plenty of ancient Buddhist relics have been donated to the temple (and which are on display).  In addition, it is worth a visit purely for the architecture.  In particular its feature building is a 95 metre high 14 storey pagoda (known as chedi in Thai), making it the tallest pagoda of its kind in Thailand.  Anyone catching the BTS through Phrakanong district will catch glimpses of this pagoda.  The pagoda is fashioned on the style of the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, India.  The top of the pagoda contains 17 kg of gold and over 1,000 diamonds.

The Story Behind the Temple

As if that wasn’t enough of a reason to visit.  I have been teasing you with the story behind the temple, so here it is:  The current Abbot of the temple, Phra Viriyang Sirintharo, had received various visions over the years during his meditation of building a large Buddha image from jade.  Jade is a particularly auspicious material to build from given it is one of the strongest and longest lasting stones to utilise.  Then, in 1991, he had a further vision of a 32 tonne jade boulder being discovered under a river bed in British Columbia, Canada.  The Abbot contacted the largest jade mining company in Canada and sure enough on that day they had found a large boulder as per the Abbot’s vision.  The Abbot then raised over US$500,000,000 to purchase the jade boulder and send it (by ship) to Thailand.  In addition, the Abbot went to Italy to hire two of the country’s best stone sculptors to sculpt a 14 tonne Buddha figure in the seated position (in the Rattanakosin style).

To house this special statue, the Abbot also commissioned the pagoda, and the rest is history.

However, as an added bonus, the Supreme Patriarch of Bangladesh donated a strand of the Buddha’s hair to the temple.  The strand is contained within an urn that is on display at the top of the pagoda.

What Else Is There?

In addition to the main pagoda (which includes a lift for those unable or too lazy to climb the fourteen flights of stairs), there are several other buildings, including a more Chinese style building with a Khun Ying statue.  This statue was carved by the same Italian sculptors, from a 10 left-over piece of the jade used for the main Buddha statue.  There is also a Buddhist school here, offering meditation courses, and an amulet market.  When the temple first opened, the remaining fragments from the jade boulder had been fashioned into amulets, blessed and sold.  These are now highly sought after and have increased quite a bit in value compared to the B800 that they originally sold for.  Keep your eyes open though, as you might get lucky.

Temple compound

Temple compound

Photography

For those interested in photography, this temple offers some great opportunities, including intricately carved golden ceilings, the main statute, the Khun Ying statue, and various relics placed around the main pagoda.  For the two main statues, the jade is a very dark green and quiet often comes out black in photos.  As a result, you will want to avoid using a flash and instead try to open up your exposure a little more to capture the deep green.  For a great postcard style shot of the pagoda, there is a great vantage point at the eastern end of the Punnawithi BTS station.  You can get great night shots from here as well, as the pagoda has some great lighting applied to it.

How to Get There

Really easy.  Catch the Sukhumvit Line BTS, heading east (the train marked Samrong) and get off at Punnawithi station.  From the station, head for Sukhumvit Soi 101 (right next to the station).  You can’t miss this soi as it has a big sign at the front for Wat Dhammamongkon.  Walk or take a songtaew or motorbike taxi down the street to sub-soi 20 (Soi Punnawithi 20) on your left and walk down about 200 metres.  You can’t miss the temple as you will easily see the pagoda during your walk.






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