The tall tower in Chalermphatara Rachinee Park
Suphanburi is one of those places which is a bit off the beaten path. It doesn’t receive many foreign tourists and if you do see a foreigner there, then it is probably either our “steve suphan” or someone else working at a local school. It is about equal distance from Kanchanaburi and Bangkok. I have never stopped in the town before though I did visit Don Chedi a few years back to the see the famous monument for King Naresuan. I went there again last weekend at the invitation of Steve to visit his local town and also to attend the nearby annual Don Chedi Fair. From Bangkok, it takes about two hours to drive there along the outer ringroad (highway 9) and then on highway 340.
I think I need to take a closer look at the latest edition of Lonely Planet to see what’s going on. Even though it is thicker, it seems to be cutting out quite a few destinations. Suphan Buri is a prime example. The older 1997 edition had two pages on Suphanburi but the latest edition has nothing. So, I took along with me the Footprint Guidebook and the Moon Publication Handbook. Out of these two, the latter one written by Carl Parkes is far more informative. However, I believe the 2000 edition is the last one to be printed. The Rough Guide doesn’t have anything too. So, most of my research was done on the internet. I googled “Suphan Buri” and found our own thailandguidebook.com website at second place. The best sites were of course in Thai.
A giant sitting Buddha in Wat Palelai
Suphanburi is not quite like any other city in the country as it has benefited greatly from a former prime minister of Thailand. The name Banharn Silapa-Archa is much in evidence around the city as it would seem that just about everything has been named after him. Our first stop in town was to visit the giant 123 metre high tower in Chalermphatara Rachinee Park. For only 30 baht, we were whisked to the top of the tower for some fine views of the surrounding area. This was a good start to the tour as it gave us a chance to get our bearings and work out where we would go next. The park below, although not very big, was beautifully laid out with water fountains and a swimming pool complete with slides.
Our next stop was to Wat Palelai (locally known as Wat Pa). I knew that this would be a major attraction in Suphanburi but it surpassed my expectations. I am already planning to go back and I will blog again later about this temple. The main attraction here is the 24.5 metre high sitting Buddha. Unlike other sitting Buddha which are cross-legged, this one is sitting in the European style. The left palm is face down on his thigh and the right hand is facing up on his knee. He is about to accept a honeycomb from a monkey (you can just see it painted on the wall on the left) and a water pot from an elephant on the right. I was really excited to see this Buddha image as it is quite rare. This Buddha image is for people who were born on a Wednesday evening like me. (See my previous blog “Buddha Images for each day of the week” for more information).
Another major attraction at this temple is a large Thai style house around the back which is a replica of the one owned by Khun Chang. This is a character from a famous story written a long time ago by a group of writers. King Rama II was the principal editor and Sunthon Phu was one of the contributors. In the cloisters at this temple there are a series of murals which beautifully illustrate this story. For anyone who wants to understand and appreciate Thai culture then the story called “Khun Chang and Khun Phan” should be compulsory reading. I will be writing more about this later.
An unusual “sleeping” Buddha at Wat Phra Non
We next drove around town exploring the area more. We were pleasantly surprised to see such wide roads and everything was so clean. Our next stop was the City Pillar where there is a famous Chinese Shrine. We were there on Chinese New Year’s Day and so it was incredibly busy. A wonderful atmosphere and not to be missed. We will certainly visit again on a quieter day. Next we visited three temples. First, Wat Mahathat which had an interesting Khmer style prang dating back to the early Ayutthaya period. Next we stopped at Wat Pra Rob which according to Footprint Guidebook houses a “striking, large reclining buddha”. We weren’t impressed. However, the temple did have an unusual wooden Buddha footprint. It is locked up in a room but a friendly monk kindly opened it up for us.
Our final temple wasn’t in any of the guidebooks but looked to be quite popular with locals. Wat Phra Non lies alongside Tha Chin River which is probably the main reason locals come here. From the temple you can walk down to a floating platform where you can buy food to feed the thousands of fish. There were quite a few people there and judging by the 30 or so large sacks of fish food they must get quite a few visitors at the weekends. Before we left, we decided to take a quick look at the reclining Buddha which the temple is named after. I am glad we did as the pose this time was quite unusual. Normally, reclining buddhas have him lying on his side propped up by his elbow. This one was lying down on his back with his hands resting on his stomach. Apparently it dates back to the Sukhothai period and is similar to an image found at the location of the Buddha’s death in India.
We didn’t have time to visit everywhere in town so we decided to save some places for another trip. I think next time we will add Suphanburi National Museum and the underwater aquarium at Bung Chawak to our list. The Buffalo Village is apparently a bit of a tourist trap. We said goodbye to Steve and thanked him for showing us around. I think you should spend at least two days here. If you come at the same time as the Don Chedi Fair at the end of January then there will be plenty for you to do and see for two to three days. Use Suphan Buri as your base as there is a good range of hotels there. We enjoyed our visit and will certainly be back for more.
This wasn’t actually the end of our trip to Suphanburi as we had one more major destination to visit on the way back to Bangkok. To find out what that was you will have to wait until next time.