My first true Thai Wat would take me Southwest to the small town of Pra Samut Chedi. It had apparently annexed itself from the neighboring township three decades ago, it remained tied to its rural agrarian roots while the neighboring sub urban villages to the north became more and more like the showgirl they lived next to called Bangkok. It is home to the longest running temple fair at 182 years strong which sees the roads leading to the city blocked off. It is one of two time a year this pagoda is taken back to its rightful splendor and grandeur. As the humidity and proximity to the river weigh down its intended sparkling beauty.
The Wat was built on an island in the Chao Phraya river by King Rama II and finished by his son Rama III in 1842. It was built to house relics the King had brought back from his visits to China. At this time the river sat much higher, and it was the first grand sight ships would see when entering the winding path to Bangkok harbor. Today, despite many attempts by the Kings engineers in the 30s and 40s to reclain its status as an island.
Most of the year, with the exception of the festival and the annual Royal worship trip, it sit in a quiet stillness. The community uses the new Wat and education center built a few blocks down the road, which leaves the old pagoda to meditate and reflect on the ancient revered treasures it holds. It is shepherded today by a two old and happy Thais. Smiling, reading the newspaper, and genuinely happy to see a foreign visitor who came to make merit and holds the old pagoda and the Buddhas inside with reverence and respect.
There is a shallow lake that houses sacred turtles at the back of the pagoda. There is a sign requesting no photos, I wonder if, in the eyes of the Buddhist Monks, since the holy turtles can’t give you their permission, its best to leave them to their peace. The stray dogs, seeking refuge from the heat with the white walls of the pagoda, didn’t seem to mind.
Next it was on to Wat Sarod- holy ground surrounded by a school and local meditation center.
The journey there was a navigation of back alleys and traffic barreling past on both the left and the right of us. Shop keepers stopped and looked curiously at a city taxi cab deftly moving down the ever narrowing streets shuttling a farang through their enclave of Rat Burana.
The Wat itself is down a narrow street, dotted with well kept and flowering small apartments and shops. Unlike the rest of Rat Burana, which is a disheveled grouping of shacks and the auditory dissonance of motorbikes, the small unassuming alley is quite peaceful.
The focal point of the compound is the Ordination Hall. The proud temple that acts as the final indoctrination for monks is considered to be sacred space. It is kept under lock and key, and reserved for ceremonies. To my surprise, the monk who walk up said ” Go. Please. Go in. I will unlock it for you.” He winked at me as he slowly opened the gate and held one finger to his lips and said “quiet please. Not usually open.”
Getting to stand in the courtyard of Wat Sarod’s Ordination Hall was a special moment. Its a beautiful respite to Rat Burana’s gritty and rough exterior.
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With it now around 5:00 we made out way back towards the city, and into the snarl of Bangkok rush hour traffic, and an end to the first day of travels.