Bangkok’s Other Golden Buddha

A 60% Gold Sukhotai style Buddha, a 200 year old Chinese/Thai temple, the first school ever built in Thailand and all just five minutes walk from the Khao San Road. One wonders how this missed all the tour books.

Wat Mahannaparam Worawihan lies on Tanao road which runs between China Town and Ratchadamnoen Road, the area between Dinso and Tanao is now a government family area constructed in the 40’s as modern architecture was thrown up alongside the traditional wooden houses. The planners hadn’t thought much about cars and few roads exist in this tiny enclave. Prior to this the Ratchadamneon area was Paddy fields dotted with feudal landowner’s mansions, which in turn would have been surrounded by cramped clusters of servant’s and labourer’s homes. This pattern repeats itself over much of old Bangkok. A quick walk around any part of the city will reveal terraces of small wooden houses and single rooms and usually quite inaccessibly at the centre a large wealthy teak mansion with surrounding garden. Dinso Guest House, Dimso Road and Villa Guest House, Samsen Soi 1, being examples of these where tourists can stay.

The rice when harvested would have been sent to warehouses in the appropriately named Khao San Road and then sold on by Chinese merchants. This old way of life ended in the late 30’s/early 40’s when dictator Phibun Songkram decided to create Rachadamneon Road, Democracy Monument and the government buildings which loom over either side of the road. The paddy fields and people, mostly Chinese merchants and labourers had to go. Phiboon unleashed the army to remove the people and destroy their homes and the familiar landscape of today was created.

Wat Mahannaparam Worawihan itself for the 150 prior to the clearances had served the Chinese labourers and merchants and the mix Chinese/Thai style of the architecture attests to this. Next to the temple is also the Wat Mahannaparam School, nowadays a small bilingual school but holds the honour of being the first school ever in Thailand dating back over 100 years, previously the only education available was from monks.

Inside the temple resides a huge Buddha in the Sukhothai style, the very first Thai capital in the north. Sukhotai Buddhas art-wise are regarded as the finest from Thai history. Sukhothai was quite a rich kingdom and its Buddhas traditionally had a high percentage of gold. Wat Mahannaparam Worawihan’s Buddha is a mere 60% pure meaning it could only pay off the national debt of a smaller nation compared to the famous Golden Buddha just down the road at Wat Trimit which clocks in at over 95% purity, though apparently has less artistic worth than the 60% one. The Sukhothai style Buddha has a few features to look for, the Buddha has a wry smile on his face which all is unique to Sukhothai Buddhas and symbolizes how prosperous and happy the kingdom was, also the Buddha has downcast eyes, another Sukhothai feature, so the Buddha is looking directly at the people paying him respect and showing he is listening to them.

Behind the temple a maze of winding alleyways is well worth a wander, with century old wooden houses and newer government employees homes from 50 year ago or so. Many of the houses are for sale but unsalable, the central location putting the land price in the 10’s of millions but there being no roads, there is no car access meaning not only could any affleunt new buyer not own a car, they couldn’t get building materials in to renovate their new home.

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