Wat Sothon Wararam Worawihan
In my library, I probably have just about every guidebook that has ever been published about Thailand. My rough rule of thumb to judge a good guidebook is to look up my home province of Samut Prakan. If the guidebook has it, then I consider it to be a comprehensive guide. Another place to look up in the index is Chachoengsao, a province about 100 kms east of Bangkok. Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Moon, Footprint, National Geographic and many others don’t feature this province. To the credit of Lonely Planet, they did give it half a page about ten years ago. But, not any longer. Joe Cummings did tell me once that he was under pressure from the publishers to cut out little visited provinces as the guidebook had reached its limit in number of pages.
In the old days, it was the foreign guidebooks that were leading the way in Thailand. However, things have changed. Spurred on by the Tourist Authority of Thailand’s “Unseen Thailand” campaign, Thai people have now taken a greater interest in exploring their own country. As a consequence, over the last year or so, we have started to see some good quality, Thai language, guidebooks. One of them on my desk at the moment is “Unseen Thailand” and this book has several pages of places to see in Chachoengsao. This is where I went today. I strongly suggest, that any guidebook writers reading this, should take time out to visit some of these lesser known provinces.
Life along the Bang Pakong River
For most people, it is easy to reach Chachoengsao from Bangkok by train or bus. However, I drove there via the Bang Na-Trad tollway and the 304 highway. It took just over an hour to travel the 80 kms or so. I was actually going today to visit the Thai Food Festival in Phanom Sarakham District. But, as this wasn’t due to start until late afternoon I decided to visit the township first. The main attraction in Chachoengsao is Wat Sothon Wararam Worawihan. This lies alongside the Bang Pakong River. The new ordination hall is massive. It has only recently been completed. The spire is an amazing 84 metres high and is probably the tallest ordination hall in Thailand.
Behind the temple you can join boat tours of the local area. During the weekend and holidays, tours leave hourly and only cost 100 baht for adults and 60 baht for children. The scenery on both sides of the river is very beautiful. During the tour you will be able to witness people going about their normal daily life. You will see humble wooden shacks and exquisite teak houses. You can catch a glimpse of the old city wall and many temples. One of the stops takes you to the hundred year old Ban Mai Market and the Chinese temple at Wat Leng Hok Yee.
Luang Pho Sothon
Back at Wat Sothon, I went inside the newly opened ordination hall to pay respect to the sacred image of Luang Pho Sothon. You are not actually allowed to take a photo anymore, but I managed to take this one on my previous visit while construction was still going on. Like other important and royal temples, you need to cover up if you are wearing sleeveless shirts. A gown is provided free of charge. There is an interesting legend behind Luang Pho Sothon. Apparently, he was one of three brothers who were Buddha images. During one of the conflicts, towards the end of the Ayutthaya period, the three brothers just got up one day and walked down to the river. The strong current took them downstream. One of them ended up at Samut Songkram. Another ended up in Samut Prakan on my doorstep. The third arrived in Chachoengsao.
There is a lot more to see in this area but I didn’t have enough time today. Maybe next time. I will share my photos with you of the Food Festival another day.
More pictures can be found at our sister site: www.thaibuddhist.com