A River of Religions

Bangkok, Thailand

April 28, 2008

A trip to Bangkok would not be complete without taking to a river. Bangkok is, after all, the “Venice of the East.” Due to limited time, I reluctantly skipped the Floating Market in Ratchaburi. But I took time for Chao Phraya River, the aorta at the heart of Bangkok.

Wat Arun Panorama

The boat ride starts at Sathorn. It is accessible by BTS Sky Train through the Saphan Thaksin Station. A spanking new tourist information center is located near the station. Sathorn is a corporate area of modern office buildings. Tourists in shorts with cameras in hand seemed out-of-place, but this was where we embarked on our Chao Phraya ferry ride.

Sathorn (Between Juphiter and Urhanus?)
Pagoda Boat on Chao Phraya

Make no mistake about it. Chao Phraya is not just a tourist place. This is a functional river. It is used by locals to cross both sides of the city or to avoid Bangkok’s infamous snarled traffic. Boats ranging from large pagoda-size to small rainbow-size constantly navigate the waters. Cruising the river is akin to a pilgrimage. Pagodas, temples, and cathedrals are the most recognizable landmarks along Chao Phraya, turning it into a river of religions. They are mostly on the Thon Buri side, west of the river.

Chee Chin Khor Temple

You will never miss this golden-brown Chinese-style pagoda, especially its sign with an unwieldy translation: Pagoda for the Foundation of Morality and Propagation of Welfare. Say it quickly, five times. It is the base of a local humanitarian society that provides disaster relief and donations to the poor.

Pagoda for Uplifting Morality in Thailand

Santa Cruz Church

I had not expected to see a Catholic church here, but there it was – its dome and cross stood tall alongside the Buddhist pagoda, prang, and stupa. The cathedral was built by the Portuguese, the first Europeans in Siam, in the 19th century. It is also known as Wat Kudi Jeen to the locals. Wat can refer to any place of worship, not just Buddhist temples; thus, a cathedral is a wat too. Say what?

Catholic Church by the Chao

Wat Kanlayanamit

Now this is typical Thai architecture: layered roof and gables with upturned gilded projections. These ornate designs symbolize the naga, a mythical serpent in Hindu mythology. They are the guardians of the wat. The more prominent center building is called a wihan, a hall that contains the image of Buddha. Elaborate mosaic patterns on the roofing are even visible from afar.

Wat You See is Wat You Get: Wat Kanyalanamit

Wat Arun

The main event. Also known as the Temple of the Dawn, it is said to actually look its best at twilight when it is against the sun. I got neither; I saw it in broad daylight. It appeared stone-gray from across the river, but up close it was, in fact, gilded with colorful porcelain. The projecting tower at the center is called prang, a spire that contains a shrine where rituals were held by high priests or the king in ancient days.

Crossing to Wat Arun

The river ferry cruise ends at Tha Tien. You have to take another boat to cross the river to Wat Arun, which was what we did. The fare is unbelievably cheap. I remember paying in coins – the two ferry rides did not cost more than 5 baht. Not bad for a river cruise that showcases Bangkok’s religious side, as opposed to its risqué reputation.

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4 thoughts on “A River of Religions

  1. When I first visit Bangkok I found that I can see Temples everywhere, especially during the tour of the Chao Phraya River. I’ve saw the real lifes of people living on both sides of the river, It’s a heart warming experience for me. One things to remember: when visiting temples, show respect to the Buddha, and the monks. Take off your shoes before entering into the hall and don’t wear shorts or tank tops in temples.

    1. You’re right, Madam Bangkok. Travelling should make one tolerant and respectful of other religions and belief systems. Although I will never be Buddhist (or religious, for that matter), I learned to appreciate temples and traditions of Buddhism when I was in Thailand and Cambodia.

  2. I would be most excited when you go to the real Venice…and see your adjectives of the experience! Of the near thousand pictures I took with my cheap point and shoot camera, there decidedly isn’t a bad, ugly photo. Venice is just beautiful!

    Visit na and I will await your blog on it! 🙂

    1. I so WISH! 🙂 Italy is in the Top 2 of my bucket list (the other is India). But as you know, I’m a financially-challenged teacher, but a teacher can dream, right? 🙂

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