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Bangkok Travelbug June 15 Old temples in Phetchaburi
May 27, 2015

Old temples in Phetchaburi

Hello and welcome back to the Bangkok Travelbug and we continue with another temple tour, this time a tour of very old temples in Phetchaburi, about 140 km south of Bangkok.

We chose these temples because of the beautiful murals in the buildings and the presence of ancient ruins. Such temples are a rarity today and it’s a joy to be able to view them.

Let’s visit these temples located in a very old city in Thailand. One of these temples has ruins that date back to the Khmer Empire more than a thousand years ago.

Itinerary (click on the link to go directly to the topic)

Brief history of Phetchaburi province

The Khmer Empire (9th – 15th C) was an extensive empire based in Angkor Wat in present-day Cambodia. In the reign of King Jayavarman VII (12th – 13th C) the greatest king, the empire reached the height of its glory.

Statue of King Jayavarman VII taken from
a picture in Wat Kamphaeng Laeng

The Khmers were great builders and constructed roads, reservoirs, bridges, hospitals and sanctuaries that spread the influence of the empire far and wide.

Its territories covered many parts of north-eastern and central Thailand. This outer fringe of the empire included the Korat plateau and the Chao Phraya basin, Lopburi and Suphanburi, Ratchaburi and Kanchanaburi and even as far south as Phetchaburi. Some Khmer ruins can be found in Phetchaburi.

With the decline of the Khmer empire in the 13th C, the old town of Phetchaburi became a vassal of Sukhothai and later in the 14th AD, a principality of Ayutthaya.

Phetchaburi unfortunately was in the path of the southern invasion route of the Burmese who passed through in 1767 for the attack on Ayutthaya and again in 1785 in the reign of King Rama I. Traces of the destruction have been preserved till today.

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Wat Ko Kaeo Suttharam

Wat Ko Kaeo Suttharam was built during the Ayutthaya period (14th – 18th C). Typical of the architecture of that period the ubosot (ordination hall) has no windows, only doors to the north and south. There are some beautiful murals in the ubosot on the life of Buddha and places he visited after Enlightenment.

Ubosot or ordination hall

An inscription on the murals indicates that they were painted in 1734. The features of these murals are similar to those in Wat Yai Suwanaram which we will be visiting later.

Inside the ubosot

These murals of the Ayutthaya era have been authenticated by the Fine Arts Department and are considered a national treasure. A monk opened the ubosot for us and also handed me a book on the history and details of the temple for which I’m grateful.

Please turn off your flash when using the camera in the ubosot and remove your footwear before entering the ubosot.

Before leaving, stop by the sala (pavilion) by the Phetchaburi River for some beautiful scenery and where you can really be at peace with nature.

The sala

Phetchaburi River

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Wat Kamphaeng Laeng

This was an unexpected and a surprise find, a real gem! While getting around the one-way streets in Phetchaburi city to our next destination, we noticed the ruins of these old walls that looked very interesting.

Old walls

We decided to stop to take a look and found the ruins of this shrine in the grounds of Wat Kamphaeng Laeng. According to the information boards, this shrine was constructed in 1191.

Ruins of the old shrine, the modern temple buildings are in the background

Wat Kamphaeng Lang has the biggest and oldest ancient ruins in Phetchaburi, designed in the Bayon style during the Angkor period (1180 – 1230). The Bayon Temple is at the heart of Angkor Thom, the royal city by King Jayavarman VII (1181 – 12?*).

These ruins have been verified to be genuine from the architectural design and relics found. All that’s left are the remains of a main shrine in the centre with shrines in the four cardinal directions and parts of an old wall. Each of the shrines is dedicated to a specific deity.

The main shrine

Northern shrine

Eastern shrine

After the death of King Jayavarman VII around 1220*, the Khmer Empire went into decline and like all great empires in the past, soon disintegrated.

The shrines at Wat Kamphaeng Laeng were abandoned until their discovery and excavation by Fine Arts Department in 1987. The present Wat Kamphaeng Lang was constructed in 1954.

*Historians are unsure as to the exact year in which King Jayavarman VII died.

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Wat Yai Suwannaram

Wat Yai Suwannaram is another Ayutthaya period temple but there are no records as to when exactly it was built. In the reign of Ayutthaya’s King Jao Sua (1703 – 1709) the temple was restored by the Supreme Patriarch Phra Suwanmunee.

It’s called Wat Yai as it occupies 20 rai of land (32 hectares or 8 acres) of land. In 1909 Wat Yai Suwannaram acquired the status of a third class royal temple of the Worawihan grade (second grade).

The two main structures of interest in Wat Yai Suwannaram are the sala kan prian (multi-purpose hall) and the ubosot (ordination hall)

The sala kan prian is made completely of teak and the roof is made from fibrous banana tree trunks. The gable is lined with tiles studded with coloured glass.

The sala kanprian in teak

Huge octagonal wooden pillars etched with gold designs (lai rod nam) hold up the floor boards and roof. These designs are in pairs and no two pairs are repeated.

Inside the sala kanprian

The paintings on the wall and windows of the sala kan prian are painted in a special form of Thai art called lai nam kao.

Of particular interest in the sala kan prian is this teak door lined with gold designs. According to records the cut at the top of the door on the right was left by Burmese sword.

Door in the sala kanprian

The ubosot is walled in and the inner walls are lined with Buddha statues. The murals in the ubosot are about 400 years old but are badly faded and in need of restoration.

Buddha images along the cloisters

Inside the ubosot

Murals in the ubosot

Wat Yai Suwannaram was featured in some scenes in the 2001 movie "The Legend of Suriyothai", the story of a 16th C queen in Ayutthaya who sacrificed her life to defend her king in battle with the Burmese.

Within the walls around the ubosot

In the ubosot – note the faded murals

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Wat Mahathat Worawihan

Wat Mahathat Worawihan was built in the Sukhothai period (13th – 14th C). The temple has an impressive landmark, a five prang structure in dazzling white that can be seen from afar.

The structure consists of a central prang that’s the biggest which is surrounded by four smaller prangs. The prangs are walled in and the inner wall is lined with Buddha images as well.

Five prangs

The ubosot or ordination hall has several Buddha images was the centre of activity with many visitors on a Sunday.

Inside the ubosot

It was a pleasant surprise to find these murals on the walls. The beautiful mural on the back wall, though faded, is particularly impressive.

The elaborate arches over doors of the ubosot are another attraction in Wat Mahathat.

In this tour of old temples in Phetchaburi, we’ve covered temples in the 18th C Ayutthaya period, 14th C Sukhothai period and the ruins of a 12th C Khmer shrine, remnants of long-gone kingdoms and empires.

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Map of old temples in Phetchaburi

If the map doesn’t appear click on this link

How to get to Phetchaburi city

Start your journey from Bangkok, cross over to the west bank of the Chao Phraya and get onto Rama II Road. Proceed on this road till you get to highway 35 which passes Samut Sakhon, Samut Songkhram.

Then switch to highway 4 and keep going south till you get to Phetchaburi city.

Sequence of visits

Once you get to Phetchaburi city, we suggest you start your tour from the south of the city and take the suggested route to visit these temples in the following sequence. This is because some of the roads are one-way and you’ll end up going around in circles.
  1. Wat Ko Kaeo

  2. Wat Kamphaeng Laeng

  3. Wat Yai Suwanaram

  4. Wat Mahathat Worawihan

Opening hours

The temples are open between 8:00 am – 5:00 pm.

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Next month

Suphanburi attractions

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Till next month then.

Eric Lim
Tour Bangkok Legacies
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